We previously looked at scriptural support for boundaries as well as the ultimate goal of reconciliation. Also, we defined what boundaries are and reviewed some reasons that may warrant them. Now let’s continue by answering “who” may require boundaries and “when” boundaries may be considered.
WHO – INDENTIFYING THE BOUNDARY TARGET
Would boundaries be appropriate for everyone during my personal quiet time? Should children have boundaries so I can spend quality time with my spouse? Does an ex-spouse need boundaries to maintain relational civility? Are there unhealthy or unsafe people in my life from whom I need to distance myself? Would there ever be an appropriate time to implement a boundary with my boss?
Here is a radical thought: be careful when placing boundaries on friends or family. They deserve and expect open dialogue and conflict resolution instead of distance and avoidance. If the conflict is with a friend, that relationship demands a thorough discussion toward resolution. Yes, even if both sides agree to disagree. If resolution is not possible, then you might question the level of friendship.
If the issue is with a family member, here again that relationship demands open, non-judgmental dialogue. Understandably, family relationships can get complicated. These are my blood. We share a genetic pool. I’ve grown up, roughed up, laughed at and with, and grown the closest with them since childhood. If at all possible, family should be the last group to warrant boundaries instead of reconciliation.
Scripture outlines the process of reconciliation. If we “remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and…be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Reconciliation Versus Boundaries
The issue is twofold. When someone has something against me or when I have something against someone, both scenarios require open dialogue. The first step is bringing up the topic so all parties are aware of the issue. Satan loves enflaming division based on perceptions instead of reality. After disclosing the issue, then seek common ground. If agreement is not possible, unity must still prevail. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). We are to be peacemakers. “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).
Although individuals may end up disagreeing, they can still be civil. If both are Christians, they have the same Holy Spirit living inside. Both should listen to Him and follow His lead. Under His guidance, reconciliation is possible. Unfortunately, not everyone is at the same level of intimacy and fellowship with God. Some people struggle with repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is where boundaries may enter the picture. The Biblical term is “breaking fellowship” (Ephesians 5:11). However, even that is not meant to last forever—only until the guilty or offending person(s) returns, repents, and offers reconciliation. This is where setting aside personal grudges, blame, or hurt feelings happens and we “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Is My Heart Right With God?
Sadly, there are unsafe, unhealthy people who need and deserve boundaries. If open dialogue turns ugly and reconciliation attempts fail, severing the relationship with time, distance, or no further contact may be necessary. Before going there, first answer these questions: Have I done everything God asks of me to repair or reconcile the situation, offense, and relationship? Is my heart right before Him?
WHEN – HOW LONG SHOULD BOUNDARIES LAST?
Even Jesus had boundaries when He escaped for time alone. He needed quiet time with His Father. Often, He left the crowds when He needed rest. He left His disciples behind when He anguished in the Garden of Gethsemane. During His time alone, He left ministry behind, no one was healed or fed, and no one heard His good news of salvation. And yet, He still separated Himself.
His boundaries were for divine purposes, not due to hurt feelings or disagreements. Even when His discussion with the Pharisees and religious leaders became heated and they disagreed deeply, He went on about His business. He still loved them, still died for them, and forgave them from the cross. From His example, we learn disagreements may happen, unity and fellowship may be broken, but loving concern and forgiveness are always possible.
As believers we are called to unity. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We have one Lord, we are of one faith, and we are headed to one eternal destination. This earth is our crucible—a place of refining, purifying, and transforming. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Conflict may happen, however, the intended universal outcome is reconciled and reinforced unity. The outcome is to, “all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Maybe the disagreement with a friend is an opportunity for a fresh perspective. Perhaps an unhealthy relationship needs to be abandoned. Instead of setting boundaries, God may be using conflict or disagreement to mold us into Christlikeness.
Before setting, and even during, potential boundaries, consider how God may be using the situation to transform you until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19). This is His ultimate goal and your highest purpose.