Our Boundaries Need to be a Fence With a Gate, Not a Brick Wall

By: Bec Smith and Caroline Spencer 

I (Bec) am a pretty private person. I value close meaningful relationships and quiet time to recharge. These are some of the characteristics that define my personal and time boundaries.

Last year I was asked to participate in a Reframe session. Normally I would automatically say “no” straight away. Joining a group of people that I do not know to discuss and share my thoughts, and expose myself on various topics was a long way from where I felt comfortable. It felt like it could encroach on these boundaries.

But here I am now – in a Reframe group, and even helping to provide the content for these discussion groups.

It’s been an interesting experience reflecting on boundaries and personal growth.

Definition of boundaries

What do I mean by boundaries?

Boundaries are the limits (normally physical or emotional) we set to keep us safe and comfortable and allow us to have healthy relationships with those around us.

Everyone’s boundaries are different. Here are some other boundaries I have:

I won’t work on the weekends

I am not a hugger

I don’t like people putting their feet on my coffee table

I discovered these were my boundaries when someone encroached on them. When I received that urgent work email on the weekend. When someone went to hug me. When someone put their feet on my coffee table! As I reflected on the way I responded on each of those occasions, I realised I had a limit, and it was being threatened.

Flexibility in Boundaries

Herein lies the problem with boundaries. They need to be flexible. After all, there might be good reasons why I work on a weekend. Or give someone a hug. There may even be a good reason why someone else puts their feet on my coffee table.

We should think of boundaries as a fence with a gate rather than a brick wall that stops anyone or anything from entering or exiting. Just as a gate can be opened and closed as we need to come and go, our boundaries can be opened and expanded as the need arises. We may alter our boundaries as we become more comfortable in a situation or because the situation is no longer relevant.

Personal growth is important to me. If I want to grow as a person either intellectually, emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually I can’t keep doing the same things. I need to be open to doing different things and be exposed to new ideas, situations, ways of thinking and experiences. This will help to expand my normal constraints. I need to say “yes” to new things and either learn to feel comfortable, or sit with the discomfort I experience.

How a “No” Became a “Yes”

Why did I say “yes” to a Reframe group? Basically because of 2 reasons.

Learning to say “yes”. I thought this could be useful for my growth, and I wanted to be open to different things.

This was a safe “yes”. I really enjoyed the chats and discussions I had with the friend that invited me.

To be honest – the first time I went to Reframe – I was uncomfortable! I had a courage-giving glass of wine to sip on. It was daunting being the new person in a group where everyone knew each other.

That quickly changed however and I ended up having a great night. We had a good conversation, I met some lovely ladies and came away from the discussion feeling uplifted and inspired to keep challenging myself.

Developing More Flexible Boundaries

Reflecting back, I can see how this Reframe experience has expanded some of my personal boundaries.

I am learning to open up more in the sessions and share more about myself and my desires and values. I can see that by letting others in to see more of me, they can help me to continue to grow and challenge myself. If I don’t let them in, how can they help me? By providing different perspectives, they can help to shape and solidify some of my goals, encourage me to think a little differently and challenge some of my thoughts. I can have my own cheer squad that will support my journey.

The most important thing for me though, is when I am testing out my new limits, it needs to be a safe and supportive space. One where I know that I am not judged or criticised for my thoughts or opinions, and I am encouraged to have a voice and share my thoughts.

A Faith Decision as a Safe “Yes”

What Bec writes about flexible boundaries really resonates with me (Caro). I initially had a pretty firm “no” when it came to matters of faith. Even though I had grown up going to church, I decided pretty early on it wasn’t for me. No thank you. Not interested.

Later when at university, I made some friends who just so happened to be Christian. They invited me along to hear a Bible talk. I remember thinking: “Ok, I’ll go and give God one last chance to prove himself”.

You might think, with that kind of attitude, that I was still a firm “no” when it came to faith. But to be honest, at the time I was looking for something – something more. I had a good life. …I guess I just wanted to make sense of it. So there was enough of a crack in the wall to think: maybe this is worth investigating. What if there is something here?

I did find answers and I’ve been a Christian now for 30 years. What I learned over this time, is that to follow Jesus is to be in the wall removal business. Let me explain.

I’m very good at cordoning off areas of my life that Jesus can’t touch. For example, one of the lines in the Lord’s prayer – probably the most famous prayer in the Bible – is: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” [Matthew 6:12]. And yet there are people in my life I have put a hold on forgiving. There’s a boundary there. I know it’s a boundary because I make active attempts to avoid seeing those people.

I think forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply is one of the hardest things in the world to do. And yet there is a beautiful freedom when we can. What I love is that as a follower of Jesus, I’m not in the wall removal business on my own. Jesus smashed the wall of sin separating me from God. So he is ready and willing to help me in my time of need.

It’s scary giving Jesus your whole life (which is why I’m so good at putting up walls). But when I am able to, my relationship with Jesus is that much deeper and richer. Which makes sense, doesn’t it, that true joy only comes when we are “all in” and don’t hold back.

Questions for Thought and Discussion

  1. Have a go at identifying some of your boundaries through this .pdf exercise here.
  2. Do you feel that your boundaries are sufficiently linked to or aligned with your values?
  3. How do you go when it comes to being flexible with your boundaries?
  4. Are there areas of your life where your boundaries are holding you back from being “all in”?
  5. What other questions do you have when it comes to boundaries?

Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.

Feature image: Photo by Thijs Kennis on Unsplash