When and how to set holiday limits and boundaries in a biblical way- the holidays don’t have to be emotionally draining!
The holidays bring a mixed bag of emotions for most people. It’s a season of peppermint mocha’s, warm scarves, sentimental traditions, and gathering with people you care about. It can also be a time that reminds us of broken relationships, hurts, people you’ve lost, and experiences you’ve lost out on. Setting boundaries is probably the last thing on your mind.
You might be thinking,
“Things aren’t good with my family. I don’t want them here, but it will cause a lot of drama if I leave them out. I feel like I need to do the loving and gracious thing by inviting them over… but it also feels like I’m brushing everything under the rug. I feel stuck.”
Especially in these times of social distancing, political toxicity, and difficult conversations, the holidays can bring with it the dilemma of how to balance what the “biblical response” is and what you can emotionally tolerate. As Christians it can be a hard to find balance or set limits and boundaries. The great news is that it’s a skill Jesus demonstrated for us in a variety of situations. Did he always rebuke people that were out of line? No. Did he tolerate people that were abusive or constantly sought to criticize him? Also, no. There are multiple examples of how Jesus set boundaries with people.
You may have heard this concept of “having boundaries” in relationships, but many people struggle to articulate what this means for them and how to establish boundaries. In his book, Boundaries, Dr. Cloud defines boundaries as “A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not.” Boundaries are decisions set for yourself and not for others. They govern your own decisions and are not intended to control another person.
Let’s take a look how Jesus was able to accomplish this and manage the pressure in his ministry.
Reminding others of your role and what your priorities are:
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” MATTHEW 12:46-50
Jesus demonstrated boundaries by reminding his family, who were wanting his attention at an inappropriate time, that in essence he was busy and it not the time or the place to call on him. Why did he speak about his family to the crowd in this degrading manor? Jesus saw past his family’s question to their motive; they were trying to use Jesus’ position of authority to elevate their own status.
Regardless of other’s motives or your awareness of their motives, it is important to ask yourself “what is my role” and “what/who are my priorities.” Doing so will keep you grounded and unwavering in the face of pressure from others. Here is an example of what I mean:
When I leave my office, there is always a part of me that stays a counselor, it’s just a part of me. Typically, once people find out that I do, there is a range of reactions from “OMG… are you psychoanalyzing me right now?” to, “Oh (sympathetically), good for you!” Truthfully, I’m very aware of the roles I have, and which one needs to take priority. When I’m with friends or family, my role is friend or family member first; I am a counselor second. Also, A counselor’s role is not to heal people; it’s to help people find the resources to heal themselves or turn them to the one who can. Understanding what my role is helps me determine what is my responsibility, what boundaries I need to set, and what I can let go of.
Using silence strategically:
He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate… And said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. LUKE 23:10-11, 13
Despite the insults, criticism, mocking and accusations, Jesus stayed silent. Was this because he knew he needed to go to the cross and had a bigger purpose in mind? Likely yes. Let’s consider a scenario where Jesus argues back and reveals the corruption of the religious leaders of the time; there’s a good chance even that wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Jesus had demonstrated in the past that rebuking and calling out the religious leaders never resulted in them treating Jesus nicer, it only made them angrier (Matthew 23: 13-29). But there is a bigger take away from this passage: Jesus’ silence only gave evidence to his innocence, because he wasn’t behaving in a way that matched the religious leaders’ accusations. Had Pilot not felt pressure from the people to crucify him, he would have let Jesus go. You, likewise, do not have to defend yourself verbally in the face of criticism. Setting a boundary of silence for yourself, in some situations, is actually more effective than forming an eloquent rebuttal. Silence creates a one-sided fight that at some point the aggressor will give up on.
Taking care of personal needs to meet the demands of others:
There are numerous accounts of Jesus going off by himself to rest (he took naps!), being unhurried by time, doing a lot of walking, and eating healthy foods. (Matt 26:20; Mark 1:16, 4:38; Luke 7:36; John 10:40, 12:2).
Although Jesus was the Son of God, he was also human and had human needs. He prioritized his biological needs of eating, sleeping, and solitude despite the needs of others because he was only as effective as his human body could carry him. Likewise, we can set healthy boundaries by making our personal needs a priority. When going into tense situations, you are more likely to be able “hold your own” if you’re well rested, unhurried, and have eaten a sandwich.
Setting expectations up front to let others decide if they can accommodate:
When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” LUKE 18:22
Jesus was a master at both setting the expectation and giving people grace to decide for themself when they were ready to make a change. From the beginning, God has demonstrated his love for us by giving us the choice to choose to follow him. In the garden of Eden, it was God who planted the tree of good and evil, why? Because forced submission is not loving.
Loving and showing grace to those who have created turmoil and tension in your life does not have to be completely submitting yourself to the situation and their behaviors. It can be sharing expectations up front while graciously accepting they might not be able to meet those expectations.
For some people, this type of boundary is the hardest. For others, like my husband, this is their favorite to set! For instance, I love party planning and hosting; my husband does not. He doesn’t like the notion of people staying for prolonged periods of time without any control over when they leave. So, he became really good at setting a boundary by giving specific end times for our hosted events. He is so good at this that I when I saw this colorful party banner online that was displayed beautifully on a mantel with the statement, “Please leave by 9”, I couldn’t pass it up. Maybe it was both the ridiculousness and reality of that banner that compelled me to actually buy it. Either way, the one thing my husband really never has to deal with anymore is the anxiety of feeling trapped; he knows his boundaries are clear and there is a nine pm end in sight.
The notion that having boundaries is not gracious or loving is simply not true. In fact, I believe Jesus demonstrated the opposite. Having an understanding of what separates you from others as well as your own limitations actually helps you to love others more effectively.
Don’t go into the holidays with guilt, drama, or fear weighing you down. You can live in emotional freedom despite the circumstances surrounding you and your family.
If the idea of boundaries or setting limits with yourself and others still feels impossible, contact us today to find a counselor who can help you unpack and understand what boundaries can look like for you.