Saturday, April 23, 2011


The purpose of anything is of primary importance. To know that the purpose of a clock is to tell time will always help in defining whether something is actually a clock or not. A beautiful gadget, pink with flowers and large hands, as well as small ones, hanging on a wall, doth not a clock make. If it isn't telling time it may be called a clock, but you would have to use other words in speaking of it also. Words like broken, no good, useless, or even, "It's pretending to be a clock," But it isn't fulfilling the purpose of a real clock.

This means the purpose of boundaries will be very important for us to know so we can be aware that when other people use words when speaking of boundaries like unchristian, barriers, roadblocks, anti-scriptural, and many others, they are speaking of something other than real boundaries. Some people use such words for boundaries, and even worse. Whether their words are legitimate or not depends on the purpose for boundaries it would seem to me.

Setting boundaries in human relationships is really simply about learning to be responsible for my own choices and feelings. In simple terms, boundaries are, "For the purpose of taking personal responsibility for my part of any relationship I have with someone no matter what happens or who is involved." It is this purpose that would reveal whether a boundary is legitimate or is actually a barrier, wall, or an element of manipulation or something else

Healthy boundaries will allow for the development of healthy relationships where we can be genuinely close but neither person is losing themselves or smothering the other person.  To lose yourself to another person is more cult-like than it is Christian and allows someone to be Lord of your life rather than Jesus being your Lord. To smother another person is to assume Lordship over them and is also cultic and not Christian.

So you can see boundaries help you know how you may cross an unhealthy line in doing for someone else that for which they are really responsible or the acceptance of others doing something for you for which you are really responsible. Thus, healthy boundaries can bring about healthy relationships for both whether in a marriage, parent-child, friend, work, or church membership context.

Illustrations will help perhaps. How about your door? The front door is a boundary. It is saying to whoever it is approaching, "This is as far as you can come without permission!" I know some people leave their door open and unlocked perhaps, but I think that is dangerous for their family. We can argue all day that it used to be done or that it ought to be able to be done. But the fact is, it can't healthily be done in our present day and good safety be present for your family. This is true as well if there are small children inside who need to be protected from going out into a busy street.

Now if someone takes it upon themselves to come in your closed and locked door without asking permission or waiting for your invitation, it's called breaking and entering. It's a crime. I think it's a crime in relationships to act that way too.

Now, apply this to Jesus saying to the rich young ruler what was needed in answer to his question and remember that he went away sorrowfully. Remember also that there is no indication Jesus went after him any more than Jesus went after the folks in Jerusalem when He would have gathered them to Himself but they would not. Then there is the prodigal son who had wasted all and was in the pig pen and had to come to himself without the father jumping in and cleaning up his mess for him.

The father didn't do that for him did he! He didn't even go after him!! Most parents who are always going after their kids to clean up the messes their kids make would describe their actions as loving actions, but the father of the prodigal would disagree. He would point out kids need to face the consequences of their choices to be able to healthily "come to themselves" without which true repentance will never come. True love is loving enough to not take on the responsibility that belongs to another.

I know in Luke 15 the woman swept and hunted for the coin and the Shepherd left the ninety and nine and went after the one. But the father didn't. Perhaps there is a point of healthy relationship being made here that we often do not see. I think that "perhaps" is correct.

What has just been illustrated is healthy boundaries. Remember our definition? Boundaries are for the purpose of taking personal responsibility for my part of any relationship I have with someone no matter what happens or who is involved. In the case of the rich young ruler or the prodigal son it is not assuming their responsibility as my own. Same thing.

Some people learn this secret to good relationships in their family of origin. Some don't. They are adults before they learn. I'm in the second group. It can be painful and difficult to learn to live with healthy boundaries, but it was this that seems to reveal Jesus as never being a victim but always choosing to do whatever He believed was His responsibility before the Father and taking the consequences.

While we will never be Jesus, we can be Christ-like in our relationships and the pain and difficulty of learning such things as healthy boundaries are worth it in the long run. It's called real relationships.

Mary loves a saying she heard someone use years ago that stuck with her. I have come to love it too.  It goes this way...."You will never have a healthy relationship with anyone unless you are willing to lose that relationship." If you don't believe that statement ask the father of the prodigal. 

I believe that is the purpose of the freedom Adam and Eve had originally. They made a mess of what they were responsible for to be sure. But that's the reason we can have a healthy relationship with God today post-fall.

 He always enters into a relationship responsibly, if He chooses to have one, out of love, and He did, thus the message of gospel. Then, when we take our responsibility of repentance and faith, if we choose to, a new healthy relationship is born. [I know and believe all the reformed theology about our willingness is by His power, but it doesn't negate our responsibility in it at all.]  

Boundaries make for risky ventures into relationships. But pretend relationships, like pretty things that hang on a wall never telling time, won't do, if you need to know the time of day. We do need real relationships.

More next time.

Paul B.


Rodney Sprayberry said...

Excuse any typos I am on my blackberry...

Your door analogy is a good one I think..
Some of us keep everyone locked out.

Some of us let other come and go as they please.

Some of us believe we can enter the "space" of another any time we please.

Some of us barricade our own doors and kick others down.

Some of us need to learn that it is ok to say no you cannot come in.

Some of us need to learn it is better to be invited in than barging in.

Some of us need to learn the value of locks and keys.

Some of us need to learn "doors" swing both ways.

Some of us need to remember " doors" are given and designed by God to help us to have healthy interactions with others.

Paul Burleson said...


I had intended a simple illustration to be used as a small window into one facet of human relationships. You have taken that simple thing and made it profound. Well done my friend.

Aussie John said...


There is so much of what you write with which I am in full agreement.

I'm not particularly happy with the term "boundaries" as it carries the strong suggestion of legalism (marked, unchangeable borders etc), a one size fits all. I'm also aware that the word is one of the "in words" in the so-called, Christian psychology circles.

The word "responsibility" seems to me more Biblically appropriate.

It seems to me that was what Jesus was more about than setting boundaries.

Maybe I'm simply confused. What think ye?

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I hear you and would agree except for a couple of things.

One is that the word 'boundaries' can be used, as I am using it, legitimately, to refer to the" marking of the limits of an area" much as the boundaries of space.

Since I'm wanting to point out that all relationships do have limited areas within which they are to function, it seemed to me to be best to use it. But I could be incorrect. When someone with your spirit wonders about it, I assure you, I will keep examining it.

Another is, BECAUSE the word is understood by this present generation, I think it helps to use it and, perhaps, as you indicate, since it can be misunderstood by some, I would need to keep it well defined.

I particularly agree with the use of the word 'responsibilities." But I've chosen to replace the word most often used by others, which is "rights," with "responsibilities" for the very reason you suggest.

Those who try to speak of boundaries outside the Faith usually say something like "A boundary establishes your RIGHT to respect etc. I choose to not use the word 'right' at all. Responsibility is best biblically it seems to me as you said.

Finally, I think by the time I finish I will be able to show that, while the truth of it fits all, the way it looks will not. As I've search and research this over the past few years, I've not found a better word that speaks to the point being made as of yet and, since I'm convinced the point is too significant to miss, I'd be wide open to a better word. I would appreciate any help in coming to one. Let's try to get one to catch on.

Thanks friend.

Aussie John said...


I truly appreciate your response. I certainly agree with the tenor of what you are writing and look forward to the continuation.

I have found,as you no doubt have, that words can be misconstrued between those of different cultures and yet speaking the same language.

Australians, although this is rapidly changing, see the word "boundaries" as something rigidly inflexible, such as the Old Covenant generally was. This is something the church has found difficult. Boundaries, as generally understood, set Christian against Christian by denomination and creed, neighbor against neighbor by lines defined on deeds, and I could go on. The same is found in many homes of older Christians who find it much more difficult to open their homes to the brethren; "my home is my castle and the front door is the boundary which none may pass". These are legalities which I still find ingrained in myself, especially in connection with relationships with older folk, and the respect with which they are, and ought to be held by those younger (I find it most difficult to call someone older than me by their first name).

As I see it, the New Covenant, and its core commandment to love God and one another sets a completely different scene.

I trust you see this as an explanation rather than an argument against what you are saying.

By the way, I'm very glad for the parenthesis in the second last paragraph :)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to move from “doors” to fences. It's been said, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

That usually means cows don't get on other people's property, but it also is a border for keeping people out.
There are many signs – Posted No Hunting – Posted Keep Out.- Posted No Fishing.

But without the signs, what does a fence mean? In a nice way it is saying all the above, but the fence is no longer a symbol if permission is received.

That's the key for good relationships. Without asking permission, fishing etc. becomes an act of intrusion.
It's saying 'I'm so important, I don't have to ask.
That's based on ego. (E G O - edging God out.)

Many can talk the talk but can't walk the talk. It's been often said, “They're easy to get along with”, and “They have to be tippy-toed around.” Each of us have our personal borders.

Like Paul's great sermon to us: our actions come from our RELATIONSHIP with God.

Christiane said...

I remember when my son was in high school that our home was 'open' to his friends. The pool was filled with them in summer, and the family room included them on many occasions in winter, and our dining table. Mountains of spaghetti, and meatloaf/mashed potatoes, and chili were consumed. Pizza boxes stacked to the ceiling (I always fed 'em) and empty three-liter bottles of soda on counters everywhere . . .

those were among the happiest days of our lives, and we didn't know it at the time . . .
a lot of 'my kids' still come back to say hello, and some of them still call me 'Mom'. :)

We 'drew a circle that brought them in'. And we were ALL the better for it.

I miss those days. GOOD memories.

Paul Burleson said...


You are a most fortunate person in so many ways. Your children, I'm sure, reflect on those days with gratitude as well. They are also fortunate. Memories like that need to be recalled and thought on regularly. Thanks for sharing them.

I have spent a great deal of my time the past fifty years of ministry in the midst of relationships and families who have a different kind of memory. Most of the pain they faced and remember was pain brought about because of not knowing or having healthy boundaries in personal relationships.

Driving home a moment ago I received a call on my cell from a young man who is facing a violated vow in a marriage because of the lack of boundaries. We will talk at length later.

So I rejoice with you and I weep with him. But it's good to be able to talk about all this in a blog isn't it!!. Boy the means God has given us in this day to communicate are incredible.

Christiane said...

Yes, it IS good.

The sadness of a young man facing a marital situation complicated with broken vows is an example of how boundaries can be transgressed, and the pain caused must be terrible for him. I'm glad he has you to speak to, Paul.

I look back on my son's teen years, knowing that some of his friends' parents were 'not there for them'. Those parents (and I don't judge) for whatever reason, didn't have the time to give them, likely because of professional responsibilities. Those young people certainly didn't lack for material benefits . . . but they needed their parents more.
I think we helped them by giving them a place to come where they felt someone listened and cared.
I often think how my son has benefited in the military from families of his service friends who welcomed him in their homes from time to time. We were so very grateful for that.

Christiane said...

Sharing a famous quote:

""Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up. " G. K. Chesterton