[Book Review] Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

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What do you do with the friend who always remembers you only when in need, yet cares nothing about your own wellbeing? How about the boss or colleague who keeps offloading assignments on you at the last minute so you could cover up for his/her ineptness? And sometimes, it could be a very good friend or loved one who has a genuine need but you’re already so stretched with your own personal commitments that ideally, you should turn down the request but you take it on. After all, shouldn’t we show love and kindness to people in need especially when they are so desperately in need?

In Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend teach that boundaries are anything that helps to differentiate you from someone else, or shows where you begin and end. The ability to set clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. It’s easy to focus so much on being loving and unselfish that we forget our own limits and limitations. In relationships, boundaries define who we are and who we are not, which impacts every part of our lives. In much the same way that homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t. Like the homeowner, we should guard our hearts with all diligence and demonstrate a sense of ownership in the stewardship of our time, love, energy, talents, values, feelings, behaviour, money and other intangible resources.

#Boundaries define who we are and who we are not. HT @drjohntownsend & @DrHenryCloud Click To Tweet

While it’s important to love others and be available to them, we need to recognise our own limitations and accept the fact that we cannot always be available to others even when we would really love to. By the same token, we should not expect others to always be available to us. With lots of practical illustrations and scenarios drawn from sessions with some of their clients, the authors teach that setting limits or saying ‘No’ doesn’t mean that we are selfish or unloving. Rather, it helps us to put things in proper perspective and take care of ourselves so that we can receive comfort with which we can then comfort others. “When the Bible tells us to comfort with the comfort with which we are comforted (2 Cor. 1: 4), it’s  telling us something. We need to be comforted before we can comfort. That may mean setting boundaries on our ministries so that we can be nurtured by our friends. We must distinguish between the two.”

Recognise your limits
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Although the New York Times bestseller is essentially about the psychology of human relationships, the authors adopt a biblical perspective, drawing copious references from the Scriptures to support their position. They approach some of these Bible verses from a totally fresh angle that their somewhat unorthodox interpretations might challenge long held beliefs and assumptions of deeply religious readers. Emphasizing the importance of taking ownership and personal responsibility as a biblical injunction, the authors explain that “God also limits what he will allow in his yard. He confronts sin and allows consequences for behavior. He guards his house and will not allow evil things to go on there. He invites people in who will love him, and he lets his love flow outward to them at the same time. The ‘gates’ of his boundaries open and close appropriately. In the same way he gave us his ‘likeness’ (Gen. 1: 26), he gave us personal responsibility within limits. He wants us to ‘rule and subdue’ the earth and to be responsible stewards over the life he has given us. To do that, we need to develop boundaries like God’s.”

We must take ownership of our lives and refuse to weigh ourselves down with other people’s responsibilities or expectations. This is especially important when it borders on bearing the consequences of their actions or inactions. From the dutiful wife who always apologises for her husband’s immature or even irrational behaviour to the professional who covers up for a colleague and the church worker who reluctantly agrees to lead a Bible study session when he would rather be out doing something else, most of us are familiar with the experience of taking on responsibilities out of guilt, a self-imposed sense of obligation or some emotional footwork instead of genuine love and passionate commitment.

Great relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront. -Cloud & Townsend Click To Tweet

If you have ever found yourself saying ‘Yes’ to commitments which you shouldn’t have taken up in the first place, Boundaries is the book for you. If you’ve ever done something out of love and a sense of responsibility only to look back and wonder why you experience resentment and anger instead of the feeling of satisfaction that should accompany the good work you have done, you need to read Boundaries. If you find yourself doing stuff for people not because you can absolutely accommodate them but because you’re afraid of losing the relationship, or because saying ‘No’ will make you feel guilty, Boundaries will teach you that great relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront.

Since it was first published by Zondervan in 1992, Boundaries has grown into a series of seven books covering key areas of life including Boundaries for Leaders, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Teens, Boundaries in Dating, Boundaries with Kids and Beyond Boundaries, You can learn more about the series at boundariesbooks.com where you’ll find purchase links and other resources to help you know when to say ‘Yes’ and how to say ‘No’ to take control of your life.

Your Turn: Have you read Boundaries? Please share your key takeaways. If you’d like to borrow a copy before buying yours, share your experience in the comments and I might get you a copy or loan you my Kindle edition.

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