Christian Caregiveing 6- Boundaries

Today we are continuing our sermon series on Christian caregiving. We are going to be dealing with boundaries today.

If we have compassion for others and we want to do the right thing and believe God is calling us to help make the world a better place, eventually we will deal with issues having to do with boundaries. 

There will be situations where you are asked to do something by someone and you feel uncomfortable about it and you might not know why. Many people are afraid to get involved with hurting people because they are worried about getting stuck in uncomfortable situations. This gets somewhat easier when we have a good sense of boundaries. 

What are boundaries? Basically boundaries are knowing where you end and another person begins. It is knowing where your responsibility is and where your responsibility isn’t.

God allows people to make choices. He will give them information and allow them to feel the consequences of their choices. In the book of Judges we read that, 
“the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals [other gods]. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. ” (Judges 2:11-12).
 Over and over God told the people what would happen if they walked away from Him. They could only survive in the land under His protection. If they walk away from that protection they are putting themselves in danger. The consequences were that they were raided and plundered. Their enemies got the upper hand on them and attacked them. And their armies couldn’t be successful when they had walked away from God.

The book of Judges is a book about consequences. Eventually, in their distress the people would cry out to God. God would send a judge, who was a powerful leader and warrior who would save them from their enemies. Once they were saved they would soon turn again to their old habits serving other gods and disobeying the commandments given to them by Moses. Enemies would rise up against them again. In their distress they would cry to God for help, and God would send another judge to save them from their enemies, but soon they would return to their old ways. This is sometimes called the Judges Cycle. 
You can see the same pattern over and over. So in chapter 3 we read, 
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died” (3:7-11). 

Healthy boundaries means (among other things) allowing people to feel the consequences of their choices (as opposed to saving them from those consequences, or you feeling the consequences rather than them). As Galatians 6:7 says, 
“God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap".
 This can be very difficult for some of us who really want to help people (whether they want our help or not). In the normal ways we care for others, I do think it is important for us to allow people the freedom to make their own choices and at times, reject our help.

 For example, if someone repeatedly refuses to seek help for an addiction that is hurting those around them, counselors will sometimes organize an intervention where family and friends basically tell the addict how much they love them and what the consequences are for their continued addiction. Consequences might be losing visitation rights with a child, losing the option of using a vehicle, or evicting them until they choose to go to treatment. They then feel the consequences of their choice rather than continuously being saved from the consequences of their actions. The person struggling with the addiction will sometimes try to make others responsible for those consequences. For example, they might say “I can’t get to work because you won’t let me use the car”, or “you kicked me out of the house”, when really these are the consequences for their behavior. The consequences are essentially their choices because they wouldn’t have happened if they chose to seek treatment instead of continuing in their addiction. (Of course this has to be done wisely and not with cruelty. Boundaries, for a Christian, have to be about love and the long term healing of the person we are dealing with).  

Moving to the Gospel we see Jesus advise us about boundaries in Matthew 18. This is a process every Christian should have memorized. First, 
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt 18:15). 
So first we go to the person that we have the problem with. We don’t gossip about them until everyone in the church has heard about it. We speak to them directly. If they don’t hear you or they disagree with you then, 
“take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16). 
Maybe it is a misunderstanding, so you need to get other witnesses who know the situation. Choose people you both respect, not just people who you know will be on your side. If others come with you and it seems obvious that this person does have a problem and is just being prideful and stubborn, then 
“tell it to the church” (18:17).
 I take this to mean telling it to the leadership. And if the leadership of the church speaks to the person and they refuse to listen then they essentially have rejected the authority of the church and are choosing to live apart from the community. We don’t like that idea in the church because we don’t like that use of authority. We have come to have an image of love that says love means letting people do what they want. But, for those of us who are parents, we are very quick to correct our children and it is because of love that we do. A parent who doesn't care if their child is playing in the street isn't being loving. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is allow someone to feel the consequences of their actions and then, hopefully upon reflection, they might choose a wiser future action. We cannot make someone change. But, we can choose to protect someone from feeling the consequences of their actions (which can be grace), or we can choose to allow someone to feel the consequences of their actions.

Part of dealing with boundaries is dealing with natural consequences for a person’s behavior. But boundaries can also be quite subtle. Looking at the letter to the Galatians, we hear Paul speak about bearing one another’s burdens. In Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book “Boundaries” they talk about backpacks and boulders. All of us have a backpack to carry full of our own usual responsibilities and cares. Galatians 6:5 says, 
“For each will have to bear his own load”. 
That is normal. We shouldn’t expect that we can give someone our backpack, put our feet up on the couch and have someone else deal with our daily responsibilities… unless we have become very ill. In that case we are no longer dealing with a backpack, we are dealing with a boulder. We all need help with our boulders. Boulders might be a serious illness, or a traumatic death, or the loss of a job. It is regarding boulders that Paul says, 
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:7). 
 We are not able to deal with boulders on our own. It requires strength, resources, and knowledge that we don’t have. It would be impossible to push the boulder on our own. We can get in trouble when we mix these up. We might reject help with our boulders that will crush us if we try to deal with them on our own. Or we might be asked to carry someone else’s backpack that is really someone else’s responsibility to carry.

The reason we tend to have problems with boundaries is that quite often we are dealing with a deep identity issue. From a young age we might have been given other peoples' backpacks. For example, some people grow up with parents that are incredibly irresponsible and abusive. The child learns they have to take on a parental role by taking care of the house and taking care of younger siblings from a very young age. They can learn to feel responsible for things that probably aren’t their responsibility. When that child grows up they might feel the need to care for people in a way that disregards boundaries, which means they can easily get taken advantage of. This person can have a very hard time saying “no” to any request. They might even feel a very intense guilt saying ‘no’ to relatively inconsequential requests. To avoid the guilt they might just say “yes”.

In the church it is very important that we don’t manipulate people into certain tasks because there might be people who will help because of their guilt, which means they can become quite bitter and resentful. It is important that we make opportunities for service and giving known, but we have to be very careful about manipulating people into doing something.

As I said, quite often our boundary issues come out of an identity issue. "I feel responsible for everyone around me." "I feel the need for other peoples’ approval." "I feel the need to be seen as successful." "I feel the need to be seen as nice and selfless and helpful." From our identity we will have behaviors that will sometimes lead us to work too many hours. Or we will allow people to manipulate us. Or we will do things we really don’t want to do out of guilt.

So what do we do? First, it is important to know our identity issues. Know what your pattern is, which often comes from earlier experiences and relationships. Next, and this is the harder task, we want to correct our identity so that we see ourselves as children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ.

Jesus knew who he was and so he wasn’t manipulated. He was completely free in his choices. He saw his responsibility to God as being first and so everything was in order under that. In Mark 1 there is a moment when a crowd of people in need were looking for Jesus- they were people with all kinds of problems they wanted Jesus to fix. And Jesus left them to go to other towns. Jesus was not a slave to people. There were times when he did heal a great many people who came to him, and no doubt there were many long days, but Jesus was also willing to leave and go preach somewhere else, or to leave the crowds and go pray. Jesus allowed his relationship with his Father to determine his interactions with others. 

I remember struggling with living up to peoples' expectations. Somehow I became convinced that being a good Christian priest meant not disappointing anyone. Well when I realized that was impossible I hit a wall. In that time I also remember reading through one of the Gospels and being very aware of how often Jesus didn't live up to the expectations of those around him. He was born, not to the high priest's wife to be groomed in the life of the Temple, but to a young unmarried nobody promised to a carpenter. Jesus disappointed some of the crowds who expected healing. Jesus disappointed his own disciples by not being a warrior messiah like David, kicking out the roman army. I disappointed all the religious groups (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots) of the time by not siding with them. I was shocked as I read through the Gospel at how often Jesus was almost rude (by modern standards) in not living according to someone else's expectations and requests.  

And so it should be for us. We are surrounded by needs. If you are on facebook or social media you will constantly see people’s needs. You will see many many asks for donations and to sign a petition. You will see emotional cries for help. If you turn on the TV and listen to the news you will be bombarded with people in crisis. Those who are sensitive to the needs of others can be left exhausted. It is impossible for you to fill all those needs- to answer every request to give- to answer every cry for help. We should follow Christ’s example and first know who we are and what particular gifts and missions God has given us. Then we can help on the basis of God’s call, rather than the unending stream of requests for help. In the midst of the sea of needs we attempt to discern God’s call and allow that to guide us. 

For more on boundaries see:
Cloud and Townsend's book "Boundaries"
"Speaking the Truth in Love" by Haugk and Koch


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