Learning to Create Boundaries 

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out.
--Robert Frost

Limits are the barbed wire of real life. Boundaries are split-rail fences. When you push past limits, personal or professional, there's a good chance of being pricked as you hurtle up and over. But boundaries set apart the Sacred with simple grace. There's always enough room to maneuver between the rails if you're willing to bend.

We want our lives to feel limitless, so we must learn the art of creating boundaries that protect, nurture, and sustain all we cherish. For most people, creating boundaries is excruciating, so we don't do it until we're pushed to the outer edge of tolerance. To create boundaries we must learn to say thus far and no further. This means speaking up. Expressing our needs. Indicating our preferences. These moments are tense and can easily escalate into confrontations complete with tears, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. This is why many people stay quiet, rendered virtually mute by unexpressed rage and unable to articulate any needs at all.

But even if we are mute, we're not powerless to draw a line in the sand. A talented friend of mine who has several books to her credit has long been married to an intelligent, charming, but critical man. Because her husband is more educated than she, she's always asked him to read her work and make suggestions about it. Unfortunately, he's often been rather harsh in his efforts to help and didn't realize how much of a sting his words inflicted. Sometimes he would even leave her work lying around before looking at it - long enough to convey, if not disdain, then certainly disrespect. After each such episode, it would take his wife days to pick up her pen again. Finally, she stopped showing her work to him, creating an unspoken boundary to protect her dreams. When she finally published her breakthrough novel, her husband was astonished at all the praise she was receiving and seemed embarrassed that he didn't understand what people were raving about. One night, she told me, she discovered him reading her best-seller. "This is good. This is very good," he told her in a surprised voice. "But why didn't you ask me to read it first?"

"Because you had no idea I was capable of this," she replied, with relish, finding her authentic voice at last.

Speaking the language of "no" is a good place to start creating boundaries. "'No' can be a beautiful word, every bit as beautiful as 'yes,'" writers Jon Robbins and Ann Mortifee declare. "Whenever we deny our need to say 'no,' our self-respect diminishes," they tell us in In Search of Balance: Discovering Harmony in a Changing World. "It is not only our right at certain times to say 'no'; it is our deepest responsibility. For it is a gift to ourselves when we say 'no' to those old habits that dissipate our energy, 'no' to what robs us of our inner joy, 'no' to what distracts us from our purpose. And it is a gift to others to say 'no' when their expectations do not ring true for us, for in so doing we free them to discover more fully the truth of their own path. Saying 'no' can be liberating when it expresses our commitment to take a stand for what we believe we truly need."

-Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy©1995

All I Can Do

I daily examine myself in a threefold manner: in my transactions with men, if I am upright; in my intercourse with friends, if I am faithful; and whether I illustrate the teachings of my master in my conduct.

No - simple to pronounce, hard to say, difficult to hear. There are times in my life that I have not said the word "no" and have regretted it deeply. Experiences I should have passed up, you know? There have been other times when I should have said it for the good of the person asking me to do something or go somewhere. To say "no" to them at that time would have made their life more difficult, but not impossible. I thought I'd just smooth the way for them, take care of them, take the difficulty out of the situation by saying "yes" instead, and then living with the consequences. And there were many consequences from that simple act. Many. What a nice guy I was... And after a time, I didn't like myself for not saying "no," either. I then felt that I wasn't really such a nice guy, and I didn't like myself at all. From there it all got real complicated... I began to not like the people I was saying "yes" to, and realizing that was what started a real transformation in my life.

That was when I learned about boundaries. That was when I learned about being absolutely honest with others and with myself. And that was when life became more worthwhile to live.

I learned at an early age that prayer has several parts to it. One part is to be thankful or grateful for what I have. One part is to ask for what I need. And one part is to listen for the answer. The hardest part is accepting the answer when it is "no." This principle is applicable in everyday life, too. In recent weeks, I have asked others for things I thought I wanted or needed in my life: involvement with my oldest son who will be married in February; getting reacquainted with a friend from my high school days. Their reply to my hope to be, once again, a part of their life, was difficult for me to accept. They remember me in ways that are different from who I am now. And they have elected to leave those memories and me behind. Perhaps I need to let them go, both for my own good and for theirs. They have boundaries, just like I do. There is a reason they have them, and I must accept that. It is hard to do so.

The lesson for me was this: if I want my boundaries honored, then I must honor the boundaries of others. They are free to discover their own true path, as am I. My prayers go with them on their journey. In the meantime, I try my best to be is honest, upright, faithful and exemplary. It helps me to sleep a lot better. It is all I can do.


email: Michael@N-Spire.com

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