Sometimes healthy relationships need boundaries – Relationships: Family, Part 5

Sometimes family relationships need boundaries.  As a family grows, we simply cannot care for everyone deeply, and frankly some people don’t want to be cared for.  Worse, some people are toxic.  Some are abusive.  When people behave badly, it is okay to impose boundaries on theme.  We place boundaries on relationships to stop the hurt, the bleeding. If, for example, you are being abused in any way, you need to get to safety and place a boundary on the abuser so they cannot hurt you.

In fact the most loving act you can take might be putting boundaries on them.  People will almost certainly not respond well when you place a boundary on them, because to them it doesn’t feel loving.  So even if you are loving, gentle and kind as you impose the boundary, they will likely be offended and feel that you are being harsh, unloving and mean.  But imposing boundaries on people might be the most loving step you can take. 

Placing boundaries might actually be the necessary first step in growing goodness, peace, love and self-control within certain relationships.  The growth of the Fruit of the Spirit almost always takes work on our part, and growing that fruit will look different depending on the relationship.  Though seemingly counterintuitive, growing the Fruit of the Spirit in a broken relationship often starts by creating a boundary on that relationship.

Boundaries don’t need to be forever. But they might need to be. As time goes by, God can help people do the oftentimes hard work to change and be different.  It can be scary and difficult to think about removing a boundary on a person who has hurt you. With the boundary up, you are safe. Maybe you don’t see them privately anymore. Maybe you don’t go to family gatherings anymore. But you hear they have changed. People in your family say they are different. Is it true? Can you trust again? Or will they hurt you? These are important questions. Remember that God can transform even the most difficult situation.  So work toward reconciliation and healing broken relationships.  That means speaking truth.

Where this can be confusing is that the Bible says two important things about love that seem to conflict with each other.  Take a look at these two verses. Do you see how they seem to contradict one another?

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love” and yet Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:18, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Is there a way that these two statements don’t conflict?  I think so.  We are not to ignore sin.  Including in a family.  We speak truth about sin, and we do so in love.  Consider how Paul describes this love in the love chapter 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Covering over sin doesn’t refer to ignoring it as if it has not happened. Instead Paul clearly teaches us that we can be loving about addressing sin. Here the Fruit of the Spirit is essential. When we address sin, when we confront, when we disagree, we do so in self-control, with gentleness, kindness, and patience.  Our posture matters.  Our tone of voice matters.  Our word choice matters.  When we confront, we are not only concerned about the reality of the pain that we have felt, we are also concerned about the other person who has hurt us, and how we can share the love and grace of Jesus with them.   Even when we are hurt, we can be other-focused because of what we talked about last week, our relationship with God.  We are strongly rooted in the God who deeply loves us so we can communicate our hurt, our truth in love. In God we have everything we need, so we find our stability in him. From that firm foundation, we can lovingly confront others.

That doesn’t mean that speaking the truth will always go over well.  We might sometimes need to learn to be okay with a change in level of relationship.  When a relationship moves from a closer level to a more distant level, we can feel the pain of that distance.  This pain is especially acute in family relationships. We are right to believe that family should be close.  However, your family relationships might not always be close.  Michelle and I have extended family members that are not close.  There has been and continues to be brokenness.  Sadly, there might always be.

But God’s heart is for healthy people, and that means healthy families. Therefore God seeks to work the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives to help us pursue healthy families.  So what do you hear God saying to you in regard to your family?  Where do you need more of his Fruit? Do you have any relationships that need healing? Any that need loving boundaries? Any relationships in which you need to take the initiative, confess your poor behavior and ask forgiveness? What step will you take today?

Photo by Simone Dalmeri on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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