My dog, Ruby, is a rascal. She’s a mutt with a lot of Border Collie in her genes, which makes her very smart. She can sit, roll over, and high five—plus she doesn’t jump on people, but she’s never learned to stay. She has hung out in my backyard fence for five years without escaping, but one day this past fall, she decided it was time to break out when she found a weak link in the boundary fence of my yard. I thought I had found the place she was getting out of, but she kept sneaking out. I was getting calls from friendly neighbors that my sweet dog was in their yard playing with their dogs. Finally, I discovered the breach in the boundary fence and sealed it up. She has been safely in the backyard ever since. She’d love to be out gallivanting in the neighborhood hunting squirrels and sniffing all the things, but she is safer in the boundary I have given her.
Boundaries are good things. They are all over our world—such as guardrails on highways, alarm clocks to wake us up on time, and state and county lines. They help us know where we are.
With church programming, Bible studies, school, and other things cranking back up in the new year, so many options are pulling for our time, such as church, work, kids’ commitments, new workout regimens, healthy lifestyle plans, Bible study groups, and so forth. With so much going on, we can get overwhelmed. You only have so much time and capacity for things! If you do too much, you can actually hinder your own spiritual growth. So, how do you choose the best use of your time to achieve a healthy balance? This is where setting boundaries can become your best friend.
What areas of your life can boundaries benefit? Every area of your life can improve with proper boundaries, including your walk with the Lord, time, habits, safety, leadership, health, and relationships—even your relationship with yourself. Here are five steps to take to help boundaries free up your life.
- Determine where you need boundaries.
Write an inventory of the highest areas of stress in your life, where you feel the most pulled, and/or have the most anxiety. List everything, even things for your kids or friends that require your involvement or leadership. Where can you build some space? Once you have your list, rank them from the most crucial to the least.
- Decide what types of boundaries you need and think ahead about the consequences when the boundaries are not kept.
Sometimes boundaries involve both you and others, while other boundaries you set for yourself only affect you. Boundaries you set with others need consequences if the boundary is not respected or if it is crossed.
Boundaries you set for yourself still have consequences, but they often look different. Let’s say you decide out of pressure to lead that Bible study when you don’t have time in this season, but you say yes anyway. Then, the consequence might be frustration or exhaustion.
- Write out your boundaries.
List your boundaries and corresponding consequences somewhere that you can keep handy such as on the desktop of your computer, on your refrigerator, or in a journal, for example. How many boundaries do you need? That will be different for everyone. You may just have one big boundary that will really impact your life, or you may have a dozen.
If you have trouble setting boundaries, then ask yourself why. What are your reasons for not setting them? Some examples can be:
- I don’t want to hurt _______’s feelings if I don’t _______.
- People at church might think I’m incapable or not a good leader if I don’t lead _______.
- _______ will send me on a guilt-trip if I don’t _______.
If you can’t set boundaries in your life, or in other words, if you can’t say no, it’s time to get honest with yourself to figure out why. Are you betraying your own needs to help others? In her recent book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, Lysa TerKeurst writes, “If I am a responsible person but I say yes to too many things because I am too afraid of saying no to others, then chances are high that I’ll drop some balls. It’s not because I’m irresponsible. It’s because what I knew I should do and what felt right (saying no to too many requests) got fractured from what I actually did (saying yes to everything.”1
- Activate your boundaries.
Once you have your boundaries set, it’s time to enforce them. This is the hardest part because it requires change and a determination to stand up for yourself and your needs. People in your life don’t love it when you draw a line, but ultimately, it’s healthy to set realistic limits on what you can and should do. “Should do” is not your friend in these situations. You must determine what you can do and what you want to do. It isn’t selfish to consider yourself and what you want in the equation.
In the book he cowrote with John Townsend, Henry Cloud writes, “We can’t manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a “litmus test” for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our no. They only love our yes, our compliance.”2
Once you set a boundary in your life, you can always refer back to it when someone asks you to do something. For example, you can say, “I’m sorry, I only do two mentoring coffees per week, but let’s get you on the schedule for later this month,” or “I only commit to two church activities per week, and those are set, so maybe next semester.”
- Live your boundaries.
Once you activate your boundaries and diligently practice them, you will begin to reap the benefits of applying boundaries in your life. Even the most difficult people in your life can be “trained” by your boundaries if you continue to hold the line and are consistent. So, hold the line and apply the consequence if it is crossed. It will free up time to play, rest, learn, and spend time with the Lord to grow in your relationship with Him. Think about what you want to do with the space you free up. Living within your boundaries can reduce negative feelings of resentment or anger at yourself and others who once caused your life to be out of balance or overstretched. It can increase your confidence as you live a more balanced life.
Let’s go back to my fence analogy with Ruby. As much as she would like to, it isn’t healthy for Ruby to roam the neighborhood boundary-free. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but I will not be mastered by anything.” It may not be beneficial for you to be part of certain opportunities in the kingdom because it’s someone else’s assignment. God may have a different assignment for you or has placed you in a season of rest.
God certainly knows what He wants you to do and not do. Based on John 15:8, God made us to bear much fruit for His glory. He determines where and how we bear fruit, and He is the best one to consult about boundaries in our lives.
Paige Clayton is the author relations specialist for Lifeway Women and also leads their destination events. She led the women’s events team for Lifeway for fourteen years and recently shifted roles so she can spend less time traveling and more time pursuing licensure as a professional counselor. She is currently a master’s level professional counselor at Lantern Lane Farm in Mt. Juliet, TN. In her spare time, she is a fun aunt to four young adult nieces. Paige is mom to her Instagram-posing dog Ruby and loves singing, being outdoors, and spending time with her friends and family.
- Lysa TerKeurst, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2022), 131.
- Henry Cloud, Boundaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 112.