Tag Archives: boundaries

Four Guidelines to Set Healthy Boundaries

set healthy BoundariesAt Cedarbrook I’ve been speaking about Relation-SLIPS…those stupid things  we do that undermine our relationships. One of the most common relationslips is to not set boundaries. I want to offer you four guidelines to help you set healthy boundaries.

People who fail to set boundaries allow anyone into their life. They lose control of their life and often simmer in anger for it.

Now, before I give you some tips on how to set boundaries, I want to answer the question that some people have: where does it talk about boundaries in the Bible? Or, did Jesus have boundaries? Those are fair questions.

People who fail to set boundaries allow anyone into their life. They lose control of their life and often simmer in anger for it.

Jesus Had Boundaries

Jesus definitely had boundaries. Here are a few quick examples:

  • Luke 4:1-13: Jesus used boundaries when he was being tempted by the devil, defining what he was willing and not willing to do.
  • Luke 4:28-30: The people wanted to kill Jesus but he walked away. He wouldn’t play by their rules.
  • Luke 5:14-16: People came to Jesus for healing but he withdrew to pray and rest.
  • Matthew 12:46-50: Jesus’ mom and brothers called him out of a meeting but he refused to listen to them, saying that people who chose to do God’s will were his true family.

You see, Jesus could only lay down his life once. Before that, he had to decide how vulnerable he was willing to make himself in each encounter. He used boundaries to help people understand his limits.

Four Guidelines to Set Healthy Boundaries

Now, let me give you a few ideas for setting boundaries (see other related posts below):

  1. Set boundaries to protect yourself, not punish others. Too often we wait until people have used and abused us before we set a boundary. But by then, we are often so mad that our “boundary” is actually a form of punishment. We come across harshly and offend people.
  2. Set boundaries before things get awkward. The answer to my first point is to set boundaries early on. Don’t assume people will respect your space. I mean, how can they if they don’t know what your space is? It’s not rude or selfish to communicate your boundaries. It’s helpful.
  3. Set boundaries with respect and without apology. Let people know that your boundaries are to help YOU, not because you don’t like them. And don’t feel like you need to apologize or explain yourself.
  4. Set boundaries with appropriate consequences. Where there are no consequences, there are no boundaries. In sports, you pay a price when you step out of bounds.
    • Consequences should equal the trespass. Small transgression, small consequence and vice versa.
    • Enforcement should be without drama. When consequences are communicated in advance you can naturally enforce them without overreacting.
    • Increase consequences until your boundaries are respected. In another post I talk about the four degrees of boundaries. You start small and keep increasing the pain until you get the results you want.


When you set boundaries, you define the “rules of the game.” Games with rules are much more rewarding.


Take Back the Pen in 2016

Welcome to 2016. January is great for fresh starts. It’s a time to collect yourself and try again to achieve your goals. But success in life isn’t always about what you do with your life. Sometimes success is about not letting other people do things in your life.2016

I like to think about it as writing a story…my story. I don’t have total control over what’s written. Good and bad things will come my way that I can’t control. But I have a lot of control: control over my decisions, my attitudes and whom I let write my story.

We may not be aware of what we are doing, but when we let people into our lives, we hand them a pen. We invite them to take part in our story. To whom have you handed a pen?

If you are unhappy with your life today, it could be because you’ve given a pen to someone who is a careless writer. If that’s true, take back the pen. It’s your story. They have no right to your story, unless you give it to them.

The sooner you take back the pen the better. If they’ve done damage so far, what makes you think it will change? How many pages will you let them write before you take back the pen? How bad do things have to get?

If you are unhappy with your life today it could be because you’ve given a pen to someone who is a careless writer.

What you don’t see is how much time you spend worrying about what they will do next. It’s a cloud that hangs over you that you’ve probably gotten used to by now. But imagine the freedom you’d experience if you didn’t live with that constant threat…the fear of “the other shoe dropping” and the ensuing fallout. Imagine your story losing the drama that these people continually bring to it.

If you want 2016 to change for the better, make a list of everyone you’ve allowed into your life that’s negatively impacting you. That’s your “to-do” list for the next few months. Then decide what action needs to be taken with each person to stop them from writing in your book.

I can hear the push back: “I can’t do that!” “What will they say?” “I hate conflict.”

You have to decide which you hate more: conflict, or a bad story. You can do it. Yes, it will be hard, like pulling out a thorn, but it will change your life. When it’s all over, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

It helps to have a support system. So share your list with a counselor or supportive friend and ask them to hold you accountable. If you need advice on how to confront someone constructively, I outline this in a few posts in this blog and in my book STUCK. But make it your priority this year to take back the pens from people who have abused the privilege of holding one. The only people holding pens should be you, God, and a small circle of trusted friends.

If you’ve had success taking back the pens in your life, leave a comment below. If you think this might help others, please click one of the SHARE buttons below. Thanks!


Out of Exile : Day 38 – Traveling Companions

Our 40-day journey is nearing the end. I hope you are getting your questions answered. If not, let me know before this train comes to a halt.

Today, as I continue to offer a way to return from exile, I want to talk about a touchy subject: your fellow travelers. It’s touchy because the truth is you might get stuck in exile if you are afraid to distance yourself from them. 

Some people like exile. They like the drama. They like being contrarian. They’ve never fit in. They wouldn’t know what to do if life was “normal.” 

You see, some people like exile. They like the drama. They like being contrarian. They’ve never fit in. They wouldn’t know what to do if life was “normal.” 

You think they want to return from exile. They don’t. They like to TALK about returning. But they don’t want to return. They like to make PROMISES about returning, but they have no intention of doing it.

Meanwhile you wait for them. You hope for them. Your pray for them. You believe in them…until you don’t. Until it becomes painfully obvious that they don’t want to leave exile. They never did. Deep down they like people feeling sorry for them. They thrive on pity and self-pity. When this realization hits you, you getting a sinking feeling as you think of all the time you’ve wasted on them.

So here’s the hard part: you may need to walk away from them if you ever want to return from exile. I know you don’t want to do that. Exile is hard enough with someone, let alone on your own. Plus, they always lay a guilt trip on you when you mention it. So you give them more time.

But seriously, walking away might be the right thing…for you and them. Your sticking with them only enables their self-defeating behavior. And besides, you won’t be alone forever. Eventually you’ll find other people headed in the same direction you are…healthy people…humble people… people ready to live the new life they discovered in exile.

I think you know what I’m talking about. You know WHO I’m talking about. The question is: will you walk away and return from exile or allow them to lead you in circles through the Wilderness forever? It’s your choice.

What do you say? Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you ever had to do this to find freedom? Let me hear from you by leaving a comment below.


Setting Boundaries: More Questions

A friend of mine surprised me with his comment about setting boundaries. He said the idea of setting boundaries has caused as many problems as it has solved.setting boundaries

That caught my attention. He said setting boundaries has given some people the idea that they have the right to cut people out of their lives rather than engage and resolve problems.

He’s probably right to some degree. There probably are some people who will use any excuse they can find to do what they want to do. For them, boundaries justifies their actions. But, in general, I’d like to see more people using boundaries, not less, as long as they are applied with wisdom and grace.

I started out my list of questions by referring to Jesus’ story of the “Good Samaritan”. This was a man who wasn’t afraid to drop everything to help someone. He didn’t use a boundary to save himself from helping the man. This is our starting point. This is the norm. But setting boundaries becomes important when you encounter destructive people. They aren’t victims like the Good Samaritan encountered. They are victimizers who take advantage of their relationship to you. When this happens you need to set boundaries to protect yourself from their abuse.

Questions to Help in Setting Boundaries

Here are some final questions to ask yourself when people ask you to “take their rope.” Track back to hear the original analogy.

  • Am I trying to escape another responsibility by picking up this one?  Check your motive. Caretakers love to take care of other people so they don’t have to deal with their own issues.
  • Do I know how long a time commitment I’m signing up for? Am I being realistic? What if things don’t work out? What if it takes twice as long?  Am I prepared for that? Do I have an exit plan? Be careful. Many people are overly optimistic and fail to count the cost.
  • Who can I ask to help me? Just because you say “yes” doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Form a team.
  • Am I responding out of guilt? Good Christians should do this. My mom would do this. Am I responding out of obligation? You “owe” them. Am I responding out of shame? What will people say if I don’t? If the answer is “yes” that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t do it. It might just mean you need to change your motive.
  • Can I do this and not be resentful? Play the martyr? Expect payback?  Again, the answer might be “no” but maybe you just need to change your attitude. Learn to be a cheerful giver.

Setting Boundaries is About Investing Well

You get the idea. I’m sure there are other questions to ask yourself. I’d love to hear what questions you ask yourself. The goal here is to be a wise investor. You don’t want to just invest your money wisely but your time and talent as well. We all have to answer to God for how we spend our time, money, and talent. Be careful not to let people manipulate you for their personal gain at your expense. But, as my friend warned, don’t use “boundaries” as an excuse to walk away from a hard relationship. God might be asking more of you than that.

You might find my book STUCK helpful in dealing with hard relationships. Subscribe to this blog in the right margin and I’ll send you a 60 page preview of the book.


Setting Boundaries – Good Questions to Ask

This post continues offering questions to help you decide whether to “pick up the rope” or take-on responsibility that someone offers you. Track back for the full discussion of setting boundaries and how to decide whether to help someone.

Will holding the rope be a short-term fix or a permanent situation?

In other words, is someone asking you to help them for the short-term until they can get back on setting boundariestheir feet or are they looking to you to sustain them indefinitely?  For example, let’s say you are short $50 for rent this month because an illness caused you to miss work. I might be willing to help you out if I have the extra money.  But if you continually mismanage your money and ask me for $50 every month, I’m not going to help you with that.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but I see parents support their adult children this way all the time. Helping a chronically irresponsible person makes you an enabler and that hurts everyone. Setting boundaries in advance of the “ask” will help you make the right choice.

Have I consulted with my loved ones about holding this rope?

Some people drop everything to rescue someone in need, not realizing the cost to their loved ones. They presume upon the willingness of their family to help “hold the rope.” That’s not fair to them. Before you agree to a “calling” like this you need to lay out the cost to your family and friends and have their full agreement before you accept someone’s rope.

In the early days of ministry I often failed to include my wife in decisions like this.  I didn’t factor in the cost to her or my children. I would commit to holding a rope and then guilt my wife into supporting me because it was the “right thing to do.”  No, the right thing to do is to get full buy-in from people who will be impacted by you picking up someone’s rope.

There is no virtue in hurting one person to help another. Setting boundaries not only helps protect you but it helps protect those you love.

Is there something in me that needs to be needed?

It dawned on me many years ago that many people in helping professions (pastors, counselors, etc.) need to be needed. They are in a helping profession to compensate for their insecurities. They feel important when people turn to them for help and answers.

Because of that awareness, I scrutinize my motives in wanting to help people.  Am I really concerned about someone’s need or am I more concerned about feeling good about myself?  Am I looking for a quick boost of self-esteem given by rescuing someone? I never want to help someone with that kind of impure motive. Only God can give me the sense of worth that I need.

Setting boundaries brings freedom

Setting boundaries is something that takes thought and courage. We are so easily pulled in ways that hurt us or those we love. But when you do the hard work to define and implement boundaries, you’ll be amazed at the freedom they bring to your life.

I hope these questions help you to make good decisions about your relationships. I have a few more questions to share later this week.

Subscribe to this blog and I’ll send you a 60 page preview of my book, STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships.



Responsibility: Mine or Yours?

Last week I started a discussion on how to decide whether you should “hold a rope” for someone else. What I’m talking about is boundary setting so you don’t take responsibility for more than you should or enable someone else’s irresponsible behavior.

Track back to read the other posts. I’m offering a number of questions to help people set boundaries. Here are three more:

Is this person trying to pass on their responsibility to me?

Imagine a world where everyone carried their own weight. Maybe that’s heaven! Some people make it their lifelong career to give away their responsibility.  They pushed it off on their mom and brother, then their classmates, their girlfriend/boyfriend, and co-workers.  Through the years they develop the slick ability to never own anything while those around them constantly catch what they let drop. It’s a good deal for them!responsibility

I don’t know about you, but I have enough responsibility. I can’t afford to take on what’s not mine. So I never automatically assume the responsibility when someone hands me a rope. You shouldn’t either. When someone gives you their rope don’t be afraid to ask questions about whether this is their responsibility.  If it’s theirs say, “No thanks. I think that’s your responsibility.” You might say, “But what if they let everything drop and it breaks?”  It’s amazing what consequences teach people. The reason people don’t take responsibility is that someone has always been there to block the natural consequences to their irresponsibility.

Am I the only person who can help?

When someone presents me with a valid need I don’t assume that I’m the best person to solve the problem.  It really helps that I have a strong faith in GOD and not in MY ability to rescue people. There are millions of people on this planet.  God doesn’t need ME. In some cases, I might be uniquely suited to solve a problem. But odds are, I’m NOT the only person who can help. There has to be more pressing reasons for me to pick up a rope than just being handed a rope.  I might offer to hold a rope temporarily while I determine if I’m the right person or until I can find someone else.

Am I willing to extend myself, or drop other ropes to pick up a new one?

Some people feel like they are a bad person or bad Christian if they don’t help. But you have to factor in the full impact of picking up a rope.  I may help you, but by helping you I might have to stop helping someone else. Is that fair?  Maybe.  Most people don’t STOP helping one person when they START helping another. They typically just pick up another rope, which means they fail to help anyone well and burn themselves out in the process.

My wife is very good at challenging me about my schedule. I’ll casually say, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to start teaching a class every Tuesday.” Her classic response is, “That’s great honey. What are you going to drop from your schedule to make this possible?”  It’s taken me a few years (read decades) to learn, but with a full schedule I HAVE to stop something in order to start something else. No excuses.

Because I accept very few ropes, I’m available to fulfill MY daily responsibilities as well as having enough margin to respond to the crises that arise throughout the week where I’m truly needed. People appreciate that availability.

Set Boundaries with God’s Help

Boundaries take wisdom and courage, two things God is happy to give you if you ask. I don’t always mention this because I don’t want to overplay the “God card”, but I use these questions in my prayers to God to help clarify what I should do.

I still have a few more things to say about boundaries in coming posts. Come on back and leave a comment if you can relate to what I’ve said.

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A Decision Making Process for Establishing Boundaries

I’m continuing a discussion that I started on boundaries last week. Track back to understand the illustration of “the rope”. Put simply, “the rope” symbolizes your taking on someone else’s responsibility. Today, I want to start to discuss a decision making process to help you know whether or not to pick up ropes that people hand you.

Ropes Can Come in Disguise

Someone commented that they wouldn’t accept the rope in the first place. Yes, that’s wise. But sometimes ropes come to us in disguise. You aren’t aware that you have a rope until you try to move on in life and someone jerks you back. They feel abandoned or rejected and don’t want to let you go. You look down and realize they put a rope in your hand a long time ago.

Someone else gave an example of how this happened in her life. Her mom used guilt to get her to take the rope. As a child she didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.  This can happen in a job setting too where you want to please a boss by taking on extra responsibility. But then, what you thought was an exception becomes a new level of expectation.

A Decision Making Process

I want to talk about how to let go of ropes gracefully. But over the next few posts I want to discuss a decision making process to determine if you should pick up ropes in the first place. I have a list of questions that I ask myself when trying to determine my involvement in helping someone.

As a pastor of a larger church, I have people handing me ropes all the time. I learned early on that if I accept every rope handed to me I will only be able to help a select few people.  But I’m not called to serve a few. I’m called to serve hundreds of people. Before I pick up a rope I have to decide how it will impact my ability to help others.

But this dilemma isn’t unique to me. This is true of everyone; it’s just magnified by my position. Everyone has to count the cost of picking up ropes.  So let me share with you some of the questions I use to process which ropes I pick up.  There’s no particular order I’m offering these questions. I’ll just tackle one today:

Can I bring an immediate solution to this problem?

Jesus told a story about robbers that attacked a man and left him for dead. The first two men to decision making processreach the victim were religious and found reasons to ignore the man.  The third person to reach the victim was less religious (if you know the story, he was a Samaritan: from a group of people Jews looked down on for not being full Jews) but he tended to the man’s needs and made sure he was nursed back to health.

The moral of this story is that people who truly know God help others. It doesn’t matter how religious you are: if you ignore the needs of others you don’t really know God. The Samaritan didn’t offer any excuses. He did what he needed to do to help. He was given “a rope” and he took it, no questions asked.

I mention this story because if we want to love God and love others, our first response should be to help others. This is a good starting point. Let’s be careful in this discussion to not become like the two religious men in Jesus’ story who found excuses to not do the obvious thing: help a dying man!  If my involvement can help someone immediately, then most likely I should help.

But of course, some people take this story to the extreme and feel the need to help everyone, no matter what the cost to them or their family. And/or their involvement doesn’t actually help a person. In some cases it makes things worse.  I’ll talk about reasons to not pick up the rope in my upcoming posts.

Learn more about boundaries in my book, STUCK. Subscribe to this blog today and I’ll send you a free 60 page overview of STUCK.