Sometimes, I tackle more complex topics.
This is one of them.
I have a very special message for you today, and it’s directed to a very special audience. I’m dedicating this special message to the approval addict, the chronically nice, the people pleaser, and anyone else who needs to love themselves more. These are people who lack Personal Boundaries.
A person without Boundaries doesn’t like himself. In his hunger for love, he’ll bend over backwards to make other people like him. He’ll lose his own personality to please others. Because he’s allergic to conflict, he won’t speak out his wishes or opinions. He fears angry, intimidating people. He usually gets trapped in enmeshed relationships. He allows himself to be abused by Controllers.
Solution? Give yourself the gift of limits. When you give yourself the Gift of Limits, you end up giving the world a bigger Gift of Love. If you don’t build your boundaries, then you won’t help anyone—including yourself.
Let me explain what boundaries are…
What Are Boundaries?The Fence Around Your Life
Boundaries are your sense of self. It’s your love for yourself. It’s your self-value, self-concept, self-definition.
Boundaries are like the protective Fence around the property of your life. A physical Fence prevents harmful stuff—like snakes, or rabid dogs, or vandals, or thieves—from entering your property. A psychological Fence does the same thing—it prevents harmful habits and harmful people from entering your life.
1. Harmful Habits
Remember, addictions are a hunger for love. When you don’t value yourself, you’ll allow harmful habits to come and steal away your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
I remember talking to a beautiful girl. After chatting for awhile, she said, “Excuse me Bo, but I have to puff my cancer stick.” I felt so sad her. Smoking is bad enough. To call a cigarette a cancer stick is so much worse. Because our body is very obedient. It will simply follow what you tell it to produce.
2. Harmful People
If you don’t value yourself, you allow harmful people to steal away your time, or your health, or your peace, or your purity, or your freedom, or your money, or your dignity…
This is difficult to do because we believe that good people always say YES. After all, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
Hey, if you’re emotionally healthy, you should follow this call right away. But what if you’re not emotionally healthy? If you’re an emotionally broken person without personal boundaries, following this call right away will be a disaster.
A broken person is attracted to a religion that says, “Deny to yourself!” and “Die to yourself!” because he doesn’t like himself. Question: How can you deny yourself and die to yourself when you don’t even have a self?”
But that’s what some broken people do. These boundary-less people don’t love themselves, yet they try to give love in an effort to gain love. And they end up even more broken.
Before you deny yourself, build your boundaries! Before you give love to others, receive God’s Love to heal your brokenness, give you a powerful sense of self, and teach you how to love yourself.
Once you’ve built your boundaries, then you can deny yourself for others not based on fear but on real love.
Help Yourself So You Can Help Others
That’s why I love the Good Samaritan story.
I’m struck how Sammie had good boundaries. (Sorry, Jesus didn’t give us a name, so let’s call the guy Sammie.) How do I know he has good boundaries? Jesus included this important detail in the story: The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:37)
I find this little factoid absolutely fascinating. Jesus could have said, “And Sammie stayed with the injured man for three days until he recovered.” But that wasn’t what He said. Jesus said that Sammie delegated the injured man to the innkeeper because he had to take care of his own business. I don’t know what business he was in. Perhaps he was selling Ipads and had to see a customer in the next town.
Sammie probably said, “This isn’t the last guy I’ll be helping on the road. There’ll be more injured, wounded, poor guys along my path. So I need to continue my little business so that I’ll be able to help more people.”
I pick out two powerful lessons here.
First Lesson: When you help others, you should never forget helping yourself. Don’t kill the Goose that lays the Golden Egg. The Goose is you. The Golden Eggs is your service. Take care of you so that you can continue to serve.
Second Lesson: When you help others, do it with a team. Don’t try to do everything by yourself or you’ll burn out. Give yourself the gift of limits and you’ll be able to give a bigger gift of love to the world.
The 4 Most Common Broken Fences In Your Life
How do you build your Boundaries?
After 30+ years of helping people, I’ve noticed 4 of the most common areas where we have broken Boundaries. These are like broken fences where thieves enter and steal God’s blessings from your life:
1. Our Money Fence is Broken
2. Our Body Fence is Broken
3. Our Friendship Fence is Broken
4. Our Helping Fence is Broken
1. Our Money Fence Is Broken
It’s your personal responsibility to build your finances.
In our old way of thinking, Christians should never think about money. I think that’s nuts. When you help others, you should help yourself financially. That’s not selfishness, that’s self-love.
If you’re a parent, then let me speak to you. I know you love your kids. But don’t spend everything for your kids. Give yourself the gift of limits. You need to set aside a portion of your income for your future personal needs. Because if you don’t invest for yourself, you’ll end up burdening your adult children to pay for your old age. You want to be grow old and grow rich at the same time.
2. Our Body Fence Is Broken
I see this so often: When mothers no longer have time for themselves because of the children’s needs.
Don’t do that. Or you’ll burn out.
My message to mothers: Eat the right food. Take vacations. Exercise. Take time to pray. And see to it that you have “alone” times. And time to be with your girlfriends. I love it when my wife goes out with her girlfriends. Because I know that when she comes home, her Love Tank is full, and she has much love to give to me and the boys.
I see this same “burning out” among Christian Leaders. If you’re a Christian leader, be like Sammie. Delegate. Work as a Team. Meet your physical needs. Watch what you eat. Establish an exercise program. And take vacations. It isn’t a sin to ask for one!
3. Our Friendship Fence Is Broken
When you were growing up, your mother told you, “Choose your friends.” I’m going to say the same thing to you.
Don’t just spend time with the people who are most available to you or with the people that’s right in front of you. Be deliberate with who you spend your time. Because your future will be shaped by the people you hang out with.
First, there are Nourishing Friends. After hanging out with them, you feel inspired. You leave their presence encouraged. Enlightened. Elevated.
Second, there are Negative Friends. After spending time with them, you feel drained. Deflated. Depleted. Discouraged. Damaged. And sometimes, devastated.
If Nourishing Friends are Terrific Friends, then Negative Friends are Toxic Friends.
It’s their negativity that saps our energy. They complain a lot. They love to criticize others. They love pointing out the faults of others.
Here’s my advice: Love yourself and avoid Toxic People. Life is short! You only have a short time on planet earth. Hang out with the people that nourish you.
Some Christians think that because God calls us to love all sorts of people, we have no choice but to spend time with the Toxic people 24 hours a day. We feel guilty and think, “My gosh, if God chose to spend time with the lovable only, then He wouldn’t have spent time with me.”
But that’s precisely the point. You’re not God. You have limits. Love yourself and give yourself the gift of limits.
Look. I’m not saying, “Don’t love Toxic people.” We should. But if you’re spending 80% of your time with Toxic people and 20% of your time with Terrific people, you need to invert the proportions. Be deliberate in choosing who you hang out with.
4. Our Helping Is Broken
We don’t know how to help others. Many times, our helping doesn’t help at all. It doesn’t help the person we’re helping and it doesn’t help the helper.
The wisdom of the Bible can fix this. The Bible is brilliant. I find it amazing how a 2000-year-old text contains practical solutions to modern psychological problems. (Actually, they’re not really modern—they’re just named in a modern way.)
Take Galatians 5. This chapter contains two seemingly opposing instructions. In verse 2, it says Carry each other’s burdens… And then in verse 5, just three verses after, it says for each one should carry his own load.
At first, I was confused. Do we help or do we not help?
The Answer is in the Greek text. If you look at the original Greek translation, it’s clear. “Burden” means Boulder. And “Load” means Knapsack.
So the literal Greek Translation can be like this: “Carry each other’s BOULDER… for each one should carry his KNAPSACK.”
Help those who CAN’T carry their burden—But don’t help those who can but WON’T.
In other words, don’t take on the personal responsibilities of other people. If you do, your helping isn’t really helping, but harming.
Let me give you an example. If you’re a mother, you brush the teeth of your toddler. But at a certain point, you ask your child to take personal responsibility for brushing his teeth. It will be very awkward if you still brush the teeth of your 27-year old. There’s something bizarre if Mom says, “Son, open your mouth. Wider please. I need to reach your left molar. So, how was your sales presentation this morning?”
Give yourself the gift of Limits by knowing where your responsibility ends and where the other person’s responsibility begins.
A Story With A Big Question
I read this story from Rabbi Edwin Friedman. I got the main concept but changed a few details:
Imagine you’re standing on a bridge.
Suddenly, a man comes running to you with a rope tied around his waist. He hands you the end of a rope, and asks, “Can you hold this for me? Really tight, okay?”
“Uh, okay,” you answer, not understanding why. When you hold the rope, he walks to the edge of the bridge and jumps off!
You’re stunned. You pull the rope with all your might to prevent him from falling further into the water beneath the bridge.
“Don’t let go of me or I’ll die!” he screams from below.
You answer back, “You’re crazy! Why did you do that? Climb up the rope!”
He says, “You’re now responsible for my life! Don’t let go of me or I’ll die!”
You look around. There’s no place to tie the rope. The guy was right—he was now your responsibility! But you feel your strength weakening…
Here’s my big question: What will you do?
There are certain people in this world that will give you their own knapsack (not boulder) and ask you to carry it for them.
But if you’re a person with no boundaries, you’ll take their knapsack or responsibility, thinking this is what Christian Love is. But actually, you may be helping not because you love, but because you want to be loved.
Many years ago, I was helping a very poor family. So I hired the father to work for me as a messenger. But he wasn’t doing his job well. No matter how his supervisor coached him, he didn’t want to work even to satisfy the basic requirements. Plus, everyone in the company didn’t like to work with him anymore.
So I had this problem: Do I let him go? But his job was the only thing that fed his family. Guilt prevented me from firing him. But something in me told me I should.
And that was when I realized something. What if my helping was no longer helping but harming? What if I was holding him back from changing his life? I realized that the job I gave was his comfort zone. If he stayed there, he would never change for the next 30 years. It was clear that he would remain a mediocre messenger for the rest of his life. But if he no longer had that comfort zone, there was this slight chance that he would be forced to change. By not firing him, I was preventing this chance (no matter how slim) from happening.
Here’s my lesson: Don’t always save people from the painful consequences of their decisions. (It was his decision to be an inefficient messenger, not mine.) Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do is to allow a person to experience the bad results of his bad choices.
The Bible talks about Tough Love.
St. Paul said, If one will not work, neither let him eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10) Pretty harsh, don’t you think? But that’s the point. That harshness may be the trigger that will force him to change his life.
The Bible also says, A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on. (Proverbs 16:26) Don’t always save people from their hunger. Because that hunger may move him to change.
Let me now go back to the story of the bridge and, just like a few Filipino Telenovelas, offer you two endings.
First Version: Happy Ending
The man hanging from the rope screams again, “Don’t let go or I die. I’m now your responsibility!”
You shout, “I refuse to make your life my responsibility! You were the one who jumped off the bridge in the first place. I warn you, you have probably five more minutes to climb up here. After that, my physical strength would be gone. When that happens, I have no choice but to let you go!”
The man shouts, “No, I am your responsibility. If you let go, I die! You can’t let go…”
After five minutes, your strength is gone. Your arms collapse and you let go. The rope slips through your bleeding hands. The man screams and falls into the water.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t die. He swims to shore. At that moment, he has an “Aha” moment. He realizes he should stop jumping off bridges. He changes his life.
Now for the second version…
Second Version: Tragic Ending
You scream to the man, “I can’t hold on anymore! I probably have five more minutes before I lose all my strength…”
The man screams back, “You have to hold on. If you let go, I die. And my blood will be in your hands.”
Stricken by fear, you tie the rope around your waist—and you hold on for as long as you can.
But slowly, you’re getting weaker. You feel dizzy. Your body inches towards the edge of the bridge. And then it happens—you fall off the bridge.
The man you were trying to rescue hits the water first. He does not die. He swims to shore. But when you hit the water, you could not swim because you were so weak.
And you drown and die.
Dealing With Controllers
Obviously, I like version one.
But you’ll be surprised how many people follow version two.
The man who jumped off the bridge is what you call a Controller. A Controller doesn’t respect the boundaries of another person. He wants to impose his will on you.
There are two types of Controllers in this world. The AggressiveController and the Manipulative Controller. (The man with the rope was a Manipulative Controller.) To control you, the Manipulative Controller uses guilt while the Aggressive Controller uses anger.
And the only way to deal with a Controller?
Love yourself and give yourself the Gift of Limits.
For many decades, I’ve received the “ropes” of other people and held on. How could I let go? I’m a Christian. I’m a Christian Leader. With much guilt, I held onto the ropes of other people. But along the way, I felt exhausted, empty, and even depressed.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t really loving.
Soon, I realized that I need to help myself so I can help others. When I have a healthy sense of self, then I can freely CHOOSE to deny that self, die to myself, and live for others.
I give myself to others not because of fear or shame or guilt.
I give myself to others because I truly love.
May your dreams come true,