Boundaries: Let Him Drop…or Not?

Two days ago I posted an illustration that got some interest.  It was a scenario where a man with a boundariesrope tied around him gives another man the end of the rope and then jumps off a bridge, leaving the other man to keep him falling to his death. The man holding the rope offers to hold the rope long enough to let the other man climb back up. But the man on the rope refuses. He just wants the man on the bridge to continue holding him.

Let’s Talk About Boundaries

The story was a simple illustration to show how people so easily make their lives our responsibility and to help open up a discussion on boundaries. I had no intention of providing an answer to the dilemma.

But within minutes of posting I got a comment back on my Facebook fan page from a woman who said she didn’t want to wait for my answer to the dilemma!   She didn’t appreciate the cliffhanger!  She wanted to know what I would do.

Given her question, I decided to postpone my other thoughts on boundaries to tell you how I would process the “rope” dilemma. Once I started thinking about my answer my mind flooded with decision-making principles.

Let Him Drop

What’s the right answer?  Should you hold the rope or let it go?  My quick answer is: let him drop!  If I gave him a chance to climb out and he just wanted me to hold him indefinitely, that’s not fair. HE put himself in that situation. It’s not my responsibility. I have no problem letting him drop because I refuse to take responsibility for something that he threw in my lap.

I see people holding ropes like this all the time. Parents hold their children, children hold parents, etc., pretty much every family scenario. It happens at work and among friends as well. People need both the wisdom and courage necessary to let the rope go without feeling guilty. Hopefully you’ll gain both over the next few posts.


But…and this is where it gets messy…should I cut the guy some slack?  Maybe he had a bad day, or a bad year, or a bad decade.  Maybe he’s not functioning at full capacity.  Should I give him a few minutes to think it over?  A day? A week? More?

If someone has ever handed you a rope, you know how sticky this gets.  I don’t think there is a “right” answer.  Everyone has to answer that question for himself or herself based on their values and priorities. And no one should judge another’s decision because we all consider different factors leading to our decision. We each have to decide for ourselves what the cost and benefits are of holding the rope.

I mean, think of it…the scenario raises a lot of ethical issues. For example, if you think you would be inclined to let the man drop, would you let go if he was a famed neurosurgeon?  The president of the United States?  The president of Cuba?  Ahhh…you see? It’s not so simple.

What if the President Hands You a Rope?

I recently heard Hilary Clinton answer why she took on the grueling job of Secretary of State after she swore she never would. Her answer was similar to many people who have taken a post at the request of the president: Because the president asked. You don’t easily turn down the president.

In essence, the president handed Clinton the “rope” with the United States hanging in the balance. She wasn’t able to let go.  I probably would have done the same.

Some Ropes Are a Calling

Sometimes, in a case like Clinton’s, the rope is a “calling”, something “bigger than life” that maybe  God has asked you to do. It’s a life of sacrifice for a greater good. But these “callings” are the exception.  If you see every rope as a calling you’ll never make it to your first appointment of the day!

So the question is: how do you know the difference between a calling, being helpful, and enabling someone who is trying to pass off their responsibility to you?  I’ve got a number factors to discuss in upcoming posts that might help you decide whether you should hold the rope in your hand.

Be sure to tell your friends to get in on this discussion of boundaries and subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss anything. I’ll send you a free e-book, Forgiven…once and for all, when you do.


8 thoughts on “Boundaries: Let Him Drop…or Not?

  1. Elli Hunt

    I would have refused the rope in the beginning! The minute you accept it you are allowing yourself to be dragged into another person’s irresponsible choice. In some cases one must set some ground rules, look for acts that align with these rules.

  2. Caralyn

    Elli, it’s easy to stand at the outside and say you’d refuse the rope, but when you grow up and your mom puts that rope on you slowly, very slowly, by the time you’re older you think it’s normal to have the rope around you.

    Remy, thank you for your post. I figured for the most part this is what you would write and let me explain why I was anxious to hear you out…once you decide to let go of that rope, you are NOT supported. See, if mom died, then I’d get all sorts of attention, love, flowers, cards, food, etc. But because in the end I had to choose to become estranged (after unsuccessfully putting up boundaries that were received with hurtful words…I’m a bully, uncaring, unsupportive, a horrible person…), GUILD is placed upon me, and as a result SHAME, and rather than having support I’ve felt that I’ve had to hide myself (figuratively, but I guess literally, too, because I’ve pulled back from life in general and am very sad).

    The worst part is that it’s Christians that don’t understand. Rom 12:18, “If it is possible, live at peace with everyone.” That’s what we’re taught in church. We are NOT taught boundaries. We’re told to turn the other cheek, time and time again. This is the advice I get…this and the suggestion I should go to counseling (an impossibility with a mom who lies, manipulates, and is generally mentally unwell).

    The wisdom was there to drop the rope. It took a little more courage, because I have kids that until then *thought* they had a good relationship with Nana (except my oldest, 12 at the time…15 now…she could see what was happening). It’s the guilt and shame that by far has been the hardest, even though I know 100% in my heart I did the right thing.

    And here’s the other thing: no one says that the rope is tied to a part of your heart, and when you let it go, that part of your heart will be ripped out and taken down. Is life easier now that the rope has been let go of? Yes, in some ways. It’s healthier for my marriage. I don’t have to deal with the insanity anymore. On the other hand I am still as much a prisoner as I was when I was holding the rope. And no one understands. I guess they could be too busy holding their own ropes.

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      You brought up some important points: your mom putting the rope in your hand slowly, the guilt that is imposed, and the loss that comes with dropping the rope. I’ll factor these into my upcoming posts. Thanks.

  3. kristia (@justkristia)

    I really enjoy your writings. I look forward to learning more and more about myself as I read, even if it is sometimes painful. Pain with progress is the season of life I am in now…but I look forward to what God will make of me through it. Thank you.

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