Does your life have appropriate boundaries?

A book I’ve been raving about recently is “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It can be best summarised by its accompanying caption:

“When to say yes, how to say no, to take control of your life.”

I wanted to take a moment to share with you some insights that I’ve found immensely valuable as I seek to take ownership and responsibility for my own boundaries whilst encouraging you, the reader, to do the same! As someone who recognises themselves to be a ‘people-pleaser‘ that struggles to say no, the wisdom within this book has given me the justification and means to not feel guilty every time I say… ‘no’.

Just as God gave boundaries to the laws that he set in motion to govern our universe, so he has given us both physical (Acts 17:26) and spiritual (Prov. 4:23) boundaries. The difficulty is that unlike physical boundaries (walls, fences, the skin on our bodies) our spiritual boundaries are much harder for others to see. Come round to my house and depending on which entrance you use; you’ll be greeted by a gate and a fence. In much the same way our spiritual boundaries should be like fences with gates NOT brick walls which restrict things from neither entering nor exiting.

“We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and bad out.” (pg. 33).

Our gate allows us to choose what we want to let in and throw out!

What I wanted to highlight on this occasion was three of the eight boundary myths that are dispelled in chapter 6. It is my prayer that as you read this brief snippet, it will give you a real desire to understand your own attitude to the boundaries (or lack of) that you have in your life and discover the freedom boundaries bring and the genuine love they convey.


Myth 1: If I set boundaries, I’m being selfish…

Appropriate boundaries increase our ability to care about others. If we give over ourselves to every opportunity that comes our way, we will burn out – there’s no doubt about it. Are we giving 100% of ourselves to the 30% of church life that we’re involved in or 30% of ourselves to the 100% of church life that we’re involved in?

Myth 2: Boundaries are a sign of disobedience…

The opposite is true. Those whose lines are blurred when it comes to understanding their limits can often appear compliant externally but internally, they’re building up resentment and potentially rebellion towards what they’re being compliant to (serving ministry, overtime at work etc.). They’d like to say no but are afraid and so hide their fear with a spiritless yes. God cares about the heart, not the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus supports this when delivering his sermon on the mount by enforcing his follower to, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’” The author summarises this bible principle as thus, “an internal no nullifies an external yes”.

Myth 8: Boundaries are permanent, and I’m afraid of burning my bridges

Just as Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around, you own your boundaries, they don’t own you! If boundaries are responded to with love and understanding by those to whom they effect, there’s nothing to stop you renegotiating these boundaries as lifestyles, circumstances and seasons change. This principle is underpinned biblically; God didn’t destroy Nineveh when they repented (Jonah 3:10), Paul requested John Mark’s company having previously rejected him (2 Tim 4:11).


Final note…

“We are responsible to others and for ourselves.”

The authors carefully explain the difference between this responsibility, and this is what I want to land on to finish.

“Carry each other’s burdens,” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” This verse shows our responsibility to one another. “Many times, others have “burdens” that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help.” On the other hand, Galatians 6:5 says that “each one should carry their own load.” Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular “load” that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load.” The Greek words for burden and load give us insight into the meaning of these texts.

The Greek word for burden means “excess burdens,” or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down. These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves. It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders – those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives. In contrast, the Greek word for load means “cargo,” or “the burden of daily toil.” This word describes the everyday things we all need to do. These loads are like knapsacks. Knapsacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviours, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort. Problems arise when people act as if their “boulders” are daily loads and refuse help, or as if their “daily loads” are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.


Brothers and sisters, let us share our burdens and shoulder our knapsacks. Let us take back control of our lives, living intentionally and loving wholeheartedly in and through the overflow of the Holy Spirit indwelling each of us.

“Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life” by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend can be bought at Jubilee Community Church bookshop!


by Will Norris