Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend [1992; OverDrive MP3 Audiobook, 2001]
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” — Pope Francis, February 18, 2016
A friend mentioned that this book had been very helpful and eye-opening in the wake of his divorce and what had gone wrong in his marriage, so I decided to check it out. I’m glad that I did.
I think the idea of boundaries is a nebulous one for most people. Consider the following scenarios:
A friend at church without a car asks you to drive him on an extended trip to pick up something he needs in another city
Your child is angry at you because you missed an arts & crafts event at her school
Your spouse frequently stays late at work, forcing you to wait until dinner is cold in order to include her at the table
Your ex regularly tries to cancel visitation at the last minute, even when he knows you’ve made other plans that depend on him taking the kids
Do we normally look at situations like those and think, “this person is encroaching on my boundaries”? Probably not. Yet Cloud and Townsend would contend that these are all boundary issues, places where Christians need to learn when it’s appropriate to say “no.” This can be difficult for us because we Christians are socialized to be self-sacrificing and agreeable. There’s a strong sense that being kind means never saying “no” to others when we can say “yes,” and when we do say “no,” we run the risk of being accused of not being Christian. I’ve had men accuse me of being un-Christian because I didn’t respond favorably to their advances on dating sites. That’s how far off the reservation the “Christians must always say YES” mentality goes.
Cloud and Townsend make the point that Christians are not supposed to be exhausted, reluctant, resentful givers; we’re supposed to be cheerful, deliberate givers. We can’t do that when we’re wearing ourselves out saying “yes” to everyone. We have to possess a sense of ourselves, our responsibilities, and our capacity to help others, then we have to know when someone is trying to shuffle their responsibilities onto us, or when our capacity for helping others has been tapped out. In doing so, we assert ourselves and can make focused, deliberate choices on whom we help.
Any Christian who has survived the horror show that is infidelity has heard it before, usually from another well-meaning Christian: the assertion, the insistence, that we must forgive our (ex-)spouses and their affair partners immediately, regardless of whether or not they believe they have done anything wrong, to say nothing of apologizing and offering to make amends.
A very small portion of those who abuse their spouses with the sin of adultery are sorry. This post is not about the truly repentant. It’s about what Christian forgiveness looks like when someone has wronged you and isn’t sorry.
I’ve nearly finished Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (which I’ll review later). It is a fantastic book in many ways, but in it, the authors give what is, I think, a very common Christian take on forgiveness. They distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation and say that forgiveness takes one person, while reconciliation takes two. They say that Christians must always forgive, and that forgiveness is something that the other person does not need to ask for. Later, they even say that “to not forgive is the most stupid thing we can do.”
2015 was my first year of dating post-divorce. Since the relationship that led to my marriage was something that I stumbled into unexpectedly at the age of 20, 2015 was also (in a lot of ways) my first year of dating as an adult. I probably wasn’t your typical 33 year-old divorcee looking to get back into the dating pool for a couple of reasons: (1) I’m very serious about my faith and want to find someone who will attend church regularly with me, (2) I’ve only slept with one man my entire life, and (3) my preference is to wait for marriage before sleeping with anyone else. Being those things in the age of “casual” sex… oh boy.
I tried three dating sites over the past year: OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, and eHarmony.  Here’s what the past year has taught me:
You wanna see men get emotional? Tell them “no” – The “women are emotional” stereotype was always misogyny at its most transparent, but reject a man’s advances as politely as possible and (in some, not all, of them) you’ll get a sea of raging emotions that rivals that of any teenager. They get mad when you say they’re too old for you. They get mad when you say they’re too young for you. They get mad when you write back to say you’re not interested. They get mad when you ignore their message altogether to show you’re not interested. They get mad when you ghost them. They get mad when you let them know soon after the date that you had fun but you’re clearly not a good match for them. They get mad when they write to you to make fun of your Christianity and tell you to read some Richard Dawkins, and you tell them Dawkins is for pansy pop atheists who need other people to do their thinking for them and to try a little Foucault or Martineau.
There are plenty of good men out there who handle rejection gracefully. But the #ByeFelipe hashtag (which is wonderful, which you should read all about) exists for good reason.
The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman [1995; Audiobook, July 2006]
(Warning: Book Review + Relationship Autopsy ahead)
A friend of mine recommended that I read this book shortly after my husband got together with the mistress that would end our marriage. She described Chapman’s theory to me in detail and said that she felt my husband and I had experienced so many disconnects because we speak different “love languages.” The theory sounded solid, so I asked my husband to read it with me, but to no avail. While I liked the idea of the book, I didn’t actually get around to audiobooking it until now, well over a year later.
The basic premise of The Five Love Languages is a simple one: people give and perceive love in different ways (“languages”) and couples often experience disconnects because one person’s way of showing love falls flat with another person. The five languages Chapman lays out for us are Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, and Receiving Gifts. For example, a woman who experiences love primarily through Receiving Gifts may not feel loved when her husband regularly compliments her and says how much he appreciates her (Words of Affirmation). That same husband may feel baffled that his wife feels so unappreciated when he tells her how wonderful she is all the time. He is giving love in his primary love language, but she feels love in a different way, therefore they disconnect and both feel frustrated.
Today was a different kind of Christmas for me. The brokenness that is divorce means that I only see my children every other holiday. My XH has them in Florida, visiting with their grandparents. I spoke to them on Skype today and they seem well. They return tomorrow, and we will open the presents under the tree on Sunday morning, so it isn’t much of a delay. Still, it is sobering to realize that I will only spend four more Christmas days with my daughter before she becomes an adult. Today I only had my brother with me for Christmas, and though he is wonderful and I love him a lot, it’s been my loneliest Christmas so far.
I don’t feel alone though. As hard as it is to be without my kids, I know that, given the circumstances, everything is as it should be. Their grandparents love them and they are making new childhood memories in Florida, and I won’t have to wait long to see them. I have a roof over my head, food to feed them, and there are presents under the tree for them. God has blessed us.
I spoke earlier this year, in my testimony, about my beliefs on the Incarnation and what it means for humanity. I will lay down my life to empower the weak and helpless, just as Jesus did for us by choosing to become human, walk among us, and die for us. Christmas is when we remember that first step he took for us.
Last year’s post on the 4th Sunday of Advent featured a long list of hectic things that had been happening to me as a single mom.
Things have been tamer for me as of late. Then today happened.
Today I went to a lovely and fun evening Christmas service at Willow Creek Community Church, had a really fun time with some people there.
My disabled daughter also smacked into a pillar and chipped her tooth while she was there. And when I got home, my son dropped my smartphone (which probably retailed for $500-$600 new when I first got it 20 months ago) and the touch screen shattered. It isn’t registering touch, so it’s currently completely unusable.
Earlier this year, I attended a soft skills training on “stress management.” It was a small class (3-4 people plus 2 instructors), so everyone in the class got to share a bit about what makes them stressed. I found myself talking a lot about my kids. Working to support my kids, commuting long distances to support my kids, living on a tight budget because of my kids, and the endless grind of the life of a single mother with so few breaks from the kids.
At a different point in the class, the instructor asked us to write down what makes us feel happy, and at the top of my list was . . . my kids. When my little boy giggles at me, when my daughter is being goofy, when we do something together as a family. The source of my greatest stresses in life is also the source of my greatest joy.
The third Advent candle represents joy. The pink also reminds us to look ahead to Christ’s sacrifice. The joy of the Savior’s arrival in this world is linked to the anticipation of his sacrifice for us all. We can’t have one without the other.
Tonight, I’m gathering my children around to light the third Advent candle and sing “Joy to the World.” May you find joy this Advent Sunday.
I’ll never forget the definition of love that was given to me at a youth conference, years ago, when I was maybe 12. It must have been a good youth conference, because that definition has stayed with me my entire life.
“Love is choosing the highest good for the other person.”
In our society, talk is cheap. A classic hallmark of emotionally immature people is saying “I love you” too early in a relationship. This kind of thing can even be a mark of abusive behavior, called “love-bombing.”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent for the year 2015. We enter into my favorite season from a past year that has been one of continuing transition for my family. I switched jobs (just two weeks ago), started a certificate program at the local community college, have made good progress on my thesis with a solid goal of finally finishing my MA degree in May 2016, and have gotten acclimated to the life of a single mother and divorcée. My brother, who lives with me and had been my primary caregiver for my children, went back to work for the first time in six years, which has meant putting my son in part-time child care and my daughter in after-school care. As I look to the future, I am pondering the possibility of returning to my family in Seattle next summer, after I finish both my programs. It would mean trying to line up both a job and a place to live before making the cross-country move, so I am apprehensive about the future.
Yet, I am hopeful. My favorite passage in the Bible reads (emphasis mine):
Jeremiah 29:11-13 ~ “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Hope is a powerful thing. The Reformer Martin Luther once said, “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” Often we think that we have no hope, but if this were true, we might not choose to keep going. And when we look to God and his promises for our hope, he can do amazing things in our lives. On the dawn of Christ’s coming, Israel looked to God for the hope of the promised Messiah.