If my Christmas feels out of control and produces more anxiety than joy and peace, I’m probably to blame. Nine times out of ten, when I honestly evaluate those things that cause me the greatest stress and anxiety, it’s my fault. I’ve failed to establish and maintain clear boundaries, have given other people’s behavior and opinions power over me, or both.
Most often both.
Let me explain using a parenting example. When our daughter was in high school, she went through the messy phase that seems inherent to adolescence. I’d nag, cajole, pester, and remind, and yet, dirty clothes remained on the floor, dirty dishes on counters, and piles of randomness cluttered nearly every surface.
As this problem continued, my frustration grew, until one day I realized … the situation was largely my fault. Though I’d stated my expectations, I lacked direct and clear follow-through. In getting upset, nagging, or running around tidying things up, I’d taken ownership of my daughter’s behavior.
I had three options:
- Communicate natural consequences and follow through.
(And if I do that, there’s no reason to get upset. I simply enforce the consequence and move on.)
- Remain perpetually frustrated.
- Determine to let the situation go.
Though this holds true year round, our lack of boundaries and unhealthy responses are felt most strongly over the holidays when obligation, expectation, financial strain, and reduced availability magnifies and reveals every dysfunction.
And whenever God allows something unhealthy to come under the spotlight, He’s giving us the opportunity to align ourselves and our lives more closely with truth and bring increased wholeness to what is now broken.
I think we probably know this, at least in theory, but many times, we’re afraid of what our healthy decisions might cost. We may know Great Aunt Leola’s expectation that all families, regardless of their schedule, commitments, or personal needs and desires, attend her Thursday night dinner, are unrealistic and unfair. But we fear, should we do what we feel is right for ourselves (our sanity!) and our family, we’ll lose the relationship or create uncomfortable tension.
Therefore, we determine her feelings and perceptions, regardless of how unjustified, and lack of conflict are more important than emotional and relational health. Than true peace, which, biblically speaking, means wholeness. We can’t set a boundary unless we’re willing to stand by it, regardless of how things play out and others respond. Otherwise, our boundaries are merely suggestions that will likely leave us feeling more frustrated and defeated than before.
The other morning, I spoke with a group of single moms on pursuing healing and learning to recognize what is and isn’t about them—what to take ownership for and correct and what to “shake off” in a refusal to “own” someone else’s opinions and poor behavior. The question that followed: How?
I think what they were asking is, “How can I stop getting so emotionally entangled in other people’s opinions, behaviors, and perceptions (which usually means, when evaluated at its root, how can I care less what others think about me)?
To which I responded: What gave them the right to hold that power? What did they do to warrant this, and what makes them—their opinion—more important than you and your emotional health?
That’s a question we have to ask ourselves each day, because until we’re able to say, “Nothing and no one gave them that power,” we’ll likely remain victims. Worse, we’ll teach our kids to do the same, and we’ll all suffer for it, the person with the poor behavior included.
Along these same lines, if we’re the ones attempting to override someone else’s boundaries, we must ask ourselves: Who gave me that power? Who gave me authority to force my dysfunction onto others? And what might Jesus have to say about that?
Because as the saying goes, truth without love is hurtful and abrasive, and love without truth is deadly. It kills relational intimacy, personal integrity, robs us and our families of peace, and perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction.
But truth and love combined? That’s power. The power of life, transformation, hope, and peace. True, biblical peace, not simply the momentary conflict avoidance that has killed way too many happy holidays.
Let’s talk about this! How much of your current stress is caused by lack of boundaries? What areas might God be wanting to bring wholeness to this holiday season? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!
For those in the Omaha Metro area, fun news! I’ll be leading Wholly Loved’s new Bible study, Becoming a Princess, this January at Wildewood Christian in Papillion. I hope you’ll join us each Tuesday from 6:30-8:00pm as we learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His peace and power in our most challenging circumstances, rest from our striving, and daily live in God’s grace. I’ll share more details along with a sign up link soon!