Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Allison Bottke’s new book, Setting Boundaries for Women: Six Steps to Saying No, Taking Control, and Finding Peace (Harvest House, 2013).
Your adult children ask you for money yet again, and you go ahead and give it them against your better judgment even though they haven’t paid you back for prior loans. Your coworkers delegate tasks to you that they should be doing, but you do the extra work because you want to please them. Your husband tells you that he doesn’t want you to go out with friends, and you stay home for fear that he’ll get angry if you do try to enjoy a night out. Someone from your church contacts you about volunteering for a new project, and out of guilt you say “yes” when you really should say “no” because your schedule is already overloaded.
Sound familiar? All of these scenarios reflect a lack of boundaries – limits that can help you avoid unnecessary stress and enjoy the peace God wants you to experience.
As a woman, you may tend to respond to other people’s needs at the expense of your own and then suffer from the chaos that comes from a life without proper boundaries. Here’s how you can start setting boundaries in your life and start enjoying peace:
Shift your focus from your circumstances to how you respond to them. Dwelling on your current circumstances will only frustrate you because it won’t change anything. But God will empower you to change your life for the better if you change the way you respond to your circumstances. While you often can’t control your circumstances, you can always control how you respond to those circumstances as you surrender them to God and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance to set the appropriate boundaries. Doing so will honor both God and you, because it will please God to see you living with the respect He intends for you.
Keep in mind that taking control isn’t the same as being controlling. Setting boundaries isn’t about trying to control other people; instead, it’s about being clear about what you will and will not accept in your life in order to claim your God-given spiritual authority and guard your heart from harm. You never need to feel guilty about setting boundaries with the people in your life.
Distinguish between helping and enabling others. Consider whether or not you’re actually helping the people you’re trying to help. Helping is doing things for people that they are not capable of doing for themselves. Enabling – which leads people to depend on you in unhealthy ways – is doing things for people that they could and should be doing themselves. Recognize that when you’re enabling people rather than helping them, you’re creating an atmosphere in which others can comfortably continue their unacceptable behavior. Even though you intend to help, if you’re enabling you’re actually hurting other people, and yourself, in the process.
Become a strong woman of faith. Resist the myth that women shouldn’t set as many boundaries as men should set. Expect God to use you just as fully as He uses men, and recognize that setting boundaries is vital in order to fulfill God’s purposes for your life. Instead of letting other people distract you from living the life God intends for you, claim the spiritual authority God has given you by setting the boundaries He leads you to set in your life. Pray for the confidence you need to overcome whatever fears have been holding you back from setting proper boundaries in your life.
Let the wisdom of God’s Word change you from the inside out. Every day, make time to read, study, and meditate on passages from the Bible, praying for God to give you the wisdom you need to apply its principles to the situations you’re facing. The more you learn how to apply biblical wisdom to your life, the better you’ll be able to set boundaries that will help you accomplish God’s will.
Stop your own negative behavior. Ask God to help you identify specific negative attitudes and behaviors in your life that are contributing to a lack of boundaries and the resulting stress. Then decide to stop your destructive patterns and pray for power from the Holy Spirit to each day to replace your unhealthy attitudes and behaviors with healthy ones. Don’t waste time or energy anymore on trying to get the other people in your life to change; that will never work. Instead, focus on simply changing yourself, with God’s help.
Assemble supportive people. Seek the support and encouragement of some caring Christians whom you can trust to help you on your journey to set proper boundaries in your life.
Nip excuses in the bud. Don’t tolerate any more excuses from either yourself (about why you’re not setting boundaries in your life) or other people (about why they want to step over boundaries that you’ve set for them). Ask God to help you stand firm so you can make real and lasting changes in your life. Say “no” clearly and without guilt whenever you sense that you should say “no.” Doing so will give you the freedom to say “yes” to activities that the Holy Spirit convicts you to pursue.
Implement an action plan. Identify specific changes that God is calling you to make, and then do the necessary work to change every day as God leads you step by step. Set clear boundaries with the people in your life – from your husband and children, to your friends and coworkers – and define specific consequences for violating those boundaries. Don’t hesitate to enforce consequences whenever your boundaries are violated.
Trust the voice of the Spirit. Pay attention to how the Holy Spirit speaks to you about boundaries. Listen for the Spirit’s guidance about boundaries every day in prayer, and be sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings in every situation you encounter. In some situations, the Spirit will restrain you from taking action, and in others, the Spirit will urge you to take action move forward.
Yield everything to God. Live to please God alone, and don’t worry about pleasing other people. Let go of everything that holds you back from fulfilling God’s purposes for you, including: unrealistic expectations, negative emotions, and Satan’s lies. Trust God to give you peace in every situation where you set the boundaries He leads you to set.
Adapted from Setting Boundaries for Women: Six Steps to Saying No, Taking Control, and Finding Peace, copyright 2013 by Allison Bottke. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., www.harvesthousepublishers.com.
Allison Bottke is the author of Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Childrenand the founder of the SANITY Support Group Network, and international outreach based on the acclaimed Setting Boundaries book series with groups meeting around the world. She has written or edited more than 28 nonfiction and fiction books and is a frequent guest on national radio and TV programs around the United States. Visit her website at: www.SettingBoundariesBooks.com.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the new Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.