Living with Healthy Boundaries
Rev. Dr. Paul Suich
“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.” The Message Bible
A Simple Idea
Simple ideas do not always have simple execution. Living with healthy boundaries has a relatively simple idea—live in accordance with who you are, allow for both rest and activity, aspiration and contentment, giving and receiving, speaking the truth and forgiving, and operating as one who lives for the glory of God in a vibrant network of relationships. A simple set of ideas that have thousands of choices per day; the execution is anything but simple.
A Time for Every Activity
King Solomon of Israel lived and ruled about three thousand years ago. He observed that there is a time and place for every activity under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is a time to plant and another to reap (Ecclesiastes 3:2), but if you try to plant at the time of harvest, you won’t do well as a farmer! To live with healthy boundaries, you must have both an understanding of where you are in time and where you are with respect to yourself, to God, and to your neighbor. You will do well to understand the rhythms of sleep and work, of food and energy, of purpose and challenge. Maturity may well be considered as your ability to learn how to live with healthy boundaries.
Clearly, we don’t live healthy lives all the time in every aspect of life. Each of us does better in some areas than others. Some of us are better at different life challenges. Cloud and Townsend (2017) identify four developmental challenges of healthy living in the book Boundaries. Which of these would you say is your strong suit?
- forming and sustaining connections with people
- living within limits
- accepting the reality of problems and strengths with vulnerability
- owning my personal responsibility, even when I have been wronged
To live with healthy boundaries, we need to know where we are strong, and where we are likely to avoid, take shortcuts, borrow more than we can repay, and try to hide from what scares us.
Once you have identified where your strengths and weaknesses are, you are in a much better position to live with healthy boundaries.
- I can make plans to connect more honestly with my friends, family, and intimate partners.
- I can eat (healthy calories), sleep (8 hours), and spend (less than what I earn) according to what I really have and need.
- I can rejoice in what I do well and make plans to address my character flaws and weaknesses.
- I can make the most of my hard situation, even though I did not cause it.
We can’t live in a healthy way if we are avoiding relationships, overstepping our limits, denying either problems or goodness, or waiting for someone else to be the adult. Healthy living is an ongoing refinement that requires us to be willing to learn from failure, to set incremental goals, and to be aware of who we are and are not.
The One Thing
Jesus tells the story of two men who prayed to God at the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 18:9-14). One of the men was a leader of a synagogue, someone dedicated to religious observance and keeping the rules of religious life. When he prayed, he thanked God for what a good person he had become. He contrasted his life in his prayers with people he considered to be moral failures, and he extolled his practices of fasting and charity. The other man was notorious for cooperating with an occupying government, collecting taxes for the oppressors of his countrymen while cheating others to make a living. He could not bring himself to even look into the heavens as he prayed because of his shame. He begged for acceptance in spite of his wasted life. Jesus’ conclusion is that only the man who was ashamed went home as a forgiven man. Only the second man wanted a healthier life. The first was so satisfied with his performance that he did not notice his contempt for others, nor did he think that he needed to be forgiven by God for his contempt.
Here is a valuable lesson for living with healthy boundaries: identify the one boundary that you truly want to work on.
- How will you become more consistently aware of that boundary (of time, energy, relationship, or feeling)?
- What one thing can you do to address the boundary before you cross it? How can you do something proactively?
- Whom can I enlist to be part of my strengthening process? With whom can I be both honest and real?
- How will I address failures in my pursuit of this healthier boundary?
We began with a passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Church. The Ephesian church members had been going it alone, calling their own shots, and living life without regard for their emotional or spiritual health. Their One Thing became looking at one another in a new light, working together, making their unity their central point. This allowed them to grow as people.
If you have One Thing, you will be much more likely to grow better at recognizing and staying within that Healthy Boundary.
Rev. Dr. Paul Suich
Dr. Suich has served as the head of the St. Andrew Ministry here at FPC Lakeland since June 2001. He came here from Augusta, Georgia, where he led the counseling ministry for ten years at FPC Augusta and had worked in community mental health prior to that. He attended the Psychological Studies Institute and Georgia State, earning a Master’s in Christian Counseling, the University of Georgia where he earned a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology, and Asbury Seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity. He grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, and attended Davidson College, a Presbyterian affiliated school in North Carolina. He and his wife Cynthia (also a professional counselor) have two sons, two daughters-in-law, and one grandchild. His hobbies include photography, genealogy, gardening, and woodworking.