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.