“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
When I think about my childhood, I feel the weight of a ball and chain.
Allow me to explain. You see, my father was the ultimate provider, over-working himself with three jobs (as a laborer). My mother reared five of us, kept house and tirelessly served the deaf through ministry. Momma gave her best, despite battling debilitating migraines and depression. I’ll forever remember her daily retreat into our darkest bedroom, refuge from piercing light and those spontaneous shrieks which naturally trail children. This is when my siblings and I learned the art of divulging in hushed tones while crafting our own meals (curious combinations of random contents from the fridge).
Both parents expressed a desire to do more, but the reality was, I became my mother’s surrogate husband, caregiver, babysitter and therapist.
There were no family vacations or extravagant holidays. Other than escaping the mundane through colorful books and crafting, my childhood was speckled with heavy conversations and feeble attempts at solving adult problems. I always seemed to wrestle this nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right…but I didn’t know any other way.
Although I had a relationship with Jesus, I struggled knowing my purpose and identity. In my teens, I fluctuated between feelings of suffocation and overwhelm to wrestling herculean guilt and shame. I continually fantasized about running away, changing my name and enjoying the freedom of a whole new identity.
When I left for college, it was the first time I was removed from my bubble of circumstance. Only then did I realize our household was steeped in un-healthy co-dependance.
“Mom is a good woman. She needs help. What kind of a person wouldn’t step in and do such and such?”
These thoughts kept me in a swirl of resentment, shame and self-loathing.
I prayed God would show me how to love and support my family in a way that didn’t drain every ounce of life-force. I yearned for good memories and warm feelings but my life had become the path of least resistance to meeting a lot of needs…needs that weren’t my own.
My prayer was finally answered when a friend recommended Henry Cloud’s, “Boundaries”. That’s when the light bulb really went on. What I’ve learned is this: I cannot give from an empty cup. When I give from depletion, I step out of my true identity. I am no longer a caring empath but become the very opposite: a bitter and resentful four-letter word.
I must have the freedom to choose so I can gift my time and efforts from a place of abundance. This aligns me with God’s original design. The truth is, when I give from a heart of willful joy (not guilt or obligation), my presence truly unburdens others.
I’m still learning what is mine (to carry) and what is not. The good news is I haven’t left the country or changed my name! I’ve committed to engaging my loved ones in a meaningful, productive way by continually reminding them (and me) everyone has right to their own experience (of me). This one expression has shifted the dynamic within. It pauses toxic loops of people-pleasing and fortifies my innards to know other’s opinions (and endless needs) are not something I can control or meet. This simple reminder awakens me (and the one I’m speaking to) from the trance of our familiar habits.
God did not design us to manage others! He designed each of us to have a healthy dependance on Him. For me, embracing this truth was the key to unlocking personal freedom. I hope it does the same for you.
Journal prompts for Proper Boundaries:
Journal to yourself:
Think of the situation (or relationship) causing you duress.
- List your responsibilities.
- List the obligations (or ‘shoulds’) that aren’t yours, but you’ve taken up.
- Define your needs.
- Define your desires.
- Make a list of what you will make yourself available for.
- Make a list of what you will no longer be available for.
Journal to God:
- Thank God for your unique gift of caring for your loved ones. This is NOT a curse.
- Recognize God works with peace, so take a moment and ask God what His peace feels like in your body and mind. Sit in the stillness of this peace.
- Ask God to help you write an acknowledgement for what this person/situation has taught you about yourself.
- Visualize what restoration looks like in yourself and this relationship.
- Ask God for the first steps to creating healthy boundaries with this person. Journal His answers and when the situation arises again, go back to God’s directions.
Thank you for the family you’ve entrusted to me; help each of us to remain sensitive to the lessons we are learning with and through each other. Bind us with unconditional love, loosen us from spirits of control, guilt and manipulation.
I give my childhood disappointments to you. Forgive me for comparing our household with others. Unburden me from the weight of resentment and hope deferred.
Bless my heart to be grateful by highlighting my blessings.
Unravel any un-healthy dynamic; separate what is mine to carry and what is mine to let go. Help me establish healthy boundaries so I can enjoy the relationships you’ve given. Give me the patience and wisdom to lovingly enforce any changes that need to be made.
If I want something new, I must heed your voice and be the change my family needs to see.
Bless our home with harmony, abundance, good communication and loving support. Let your peace lead and heal this home. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7