Tag Archives: Boundaries

Mine, Yours, Ours

As for you….”
2 Chronicles 7:17 (NIV)

Many years ago my friend, a marriage and family therapist, introduced me to three simple questions to ask whenever I am seeking definition of personal responsibility and boundaries in a relationship:

  1. What’s mine?
  2. What’s yours?
  3. What’s ours?

It’s amazing how some of the most profound things in life can be so simple. Time and time again I’ve returned to these questions. I’ve asked these questions in my marriage. I’ve asked them with regard to parenting my children. I’ve asked them with regard to my company and team members. I’ve asked them with regard to clients. I’ve asked them about personal relationships with friends, with organizations, and with acquaintances expecting something of me.

At the heart of these questions is the understanding that individuals and groups of individuals have responsibilities within any human system. When individuals have well-defined responsibilities and an understanding of those responsibilities the system functions in a healthy way. When relationships and human systems break down, it is often because of lack of definition, misunderstanding, and/or the boundaries have been breached.

  • I think this is your responsibility but you seem to expect it of me.
  • I want this to be ours together, but you appear to want to control it as yours.
  • This is an area where I have gifts and abilities and would like to handle it, but you keep trying to insert yourself in the process.

In today’s chapter, Solomon finishes his dedication of the Temple and God shows up in an amazing display of spiritual pyrotechnics. King Solomon, the priests, the worship band, and the congregation are all blown away. Everyone is on a spiritual high. A subtle repetition of phrasing used by the Chronicler is “the king and all the people” (vss 4 and 5) and “all Israel” or “all the Israelites” (vss 3, 6, and 8).

At some point after the successful dedication, God appears to Solomon at night for a heart-to-heart. In his conversation, God defines separate responsibilities for “my people” (vss 13-16) and for Solomon as King (vss 16-22). In other words, “Solomon, you can consider these certain responsibilities ‘ours’ to own as a nation and a people. These other things are ‘yours’ to own and be responsible for as King and leader of the people. And, these other things are ‘mine’ to own conditional to everyone owning the things for which each is responsible. If everyone owns their part then the system will work really well. If not, well the results will not be so good.”

Having just journeyed through the prophetic works of Jeremiah, I know that the kings eventually failed to own the responsibility that was theirs. The people failed to own their responsibilities. The system broke down, and what God warned would happen is exactly what happened.

This morning I’m thinking about my marriage, my family relationships, friend relationships, my work, and the organizations in which I’m involved. I’m doing a little inventory. Where are things working well? Where are things strained and struggling? Where have things broken down?

Okay, so…

Am I doing those things that are mine to own?
Am I allowing others to be responsible for what is theirs, and maintaining a balance of support, encouragement and accountability?
Am I working well with others and being a good team member in accomplishing those things for which we, together, are responsible?

Not a bad personal inventory to repeat regularly.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 34

Note to readers: This is an old post from back in 2011 that got lost in my “Drafts” folder and was never published. So, I’m publishing it today. Better late than never. Cheers!

This post is to be found at the entrance to Ki...
Image via Wikipedia

God spoke to Moses: “Command the People of Israel. Tell them, When you enter Canaan, these are the borders of the land you are getting as an inheritance:” Numbers 34:1 (MSG)

When I was a child my family vacationed each year on Rainy Lake in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. One summer I went out by myself in a boat deep into the middle of the lake where there were several uninhabited islands. I anchored the boat on the shore of one of the islands and began to explore. There on the island, set in a rock, was a bronze boundary marker designating the border between the U.S. and Canada. I thought it was pretty cool when I stood over the boundary marker with one foot in the United States and the other foot in Canada.

Borders and boundaries are invisible lines, and because they are invisible we often disregard their subtle importance in life and relationships. Boundaries separate but they can also define. They sometimes isolate but they can also bring tremendous clarity. Conflicts (international, local, and interpersonal) are often rooted in the violation of boundaries whether it be geographic, personal, relational, social, spiritual or physical. Having and maintaining clearly defined boundaries provides an environment of self-definition, safety, and health out of which growth, life, and abundance can spring.

Today I’m thinking about my own personal boundaries and the boundaries of my friends and loved ones. I’m praying for the courage and wisdom to define and maintain my own boundaries as well as the love and self-control required to respect the boundaries of others.

Side-Note to the Lowly Scribe

Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.
Jeremiah 45:5 (NIV)

History records the words and lives of those who were “great” in their time. Little is said, however, about those who surrounded these individuals, walked the journey with them, served them, and witnessed the events of that person’s life and times.

In today’s very brief chapter (only five verses!), we have a fascinating historical side note given to Jeremiah’s servant and scribe, Baruch. Baruch was the son of a man named Neriah. Baruch took Jeremiah’s dictation and wrote Jeremiah’s prophetic messages down on scrolls. Jeremiah’s never-ending stream of doomsday prophecies certainly took its toll on Baruch. I’m sure he would have appreciated an open prescription of Zoloft had it been available in the day.

The other interesting thing we learn from the anthology of Jeremiah’s life and work is that Baruch had a brother named Seraiah who was a servant of King Zedekiah and who ultimately accompanied Zed when he was taken captive to Babylon. So in the back story of today’s chapter we have a tale of two brothers.

Seraiah served the King and was afforded all the worldly power, comfort, and privilege of being in the royal entourage. Baruch, on the other hand, was the lowly scribe of the unpopular Jeremiah. Jeremiah was reviled by the king and those in power. He faced continual death threats. He was belittled, insulted, laughed at, and eventually imprisoned. Baruch was right there by Jeremiah’s side, enduring it all right along with him. Seraiah got to serve Cabernet to the King while Baruch followed a naked Jeremiah through the streets of Jerusalem listening to the insults of passersby and wanting to slink under the nearest rock. Baruch felt the weight of Jeremiah’s gloomy predictions, and he seems to have felt fraternal frustration of not measuring up to the success his brother found.

Today’s chapter is a short but very specific prophetic word from God through Jeremiah, to the scribe Baruch. Yes, God tells him, there are bad times coming. Don’t worry about greatness and success (FYI: your successful brother is going to end up a captive in Babylon). There’s a lot of bad stuff coming, but no matter what happens and where you end up, you’ll escape with your life.

This morning I’m thinking about a conversation Wendy and I had just last night on our patio. Our life journeys lead us to places where we walk along side events that are really happening to others. We witness them. We feel for those involved, but the truth is that we are not intimately a part of the event itself. I’ve learned that this is an important distinction to see and to make. My ego likes to make everything about me, so I take on other peoples events and circumstances and make them about me, my feelings, and my life.

I’m reminded by today’s little side-note of a chapter that God not only sees and knows the heart and circumstances of the great prophets, but also the lowly scribe who his quietly playing his own little role in the Great Story. I sometimes feel that I’m in a culture where I’m expected to react to every news story, empathize with every victim, and take on every cause. Silly. Baruch’s journey was not his brother’s journey nor was it really his boss’. His journey was his own.

God knows, I’ve got my own journey to walk. I don’t need to take on another’s.

Relational Investment Choices

Friends talk
(Photo credit: Ruud Raats)

Do not speak to fools,
    for they will scorn your prudent words.
Proverbs 23:9 (NLT)

I have a retirement account and a person who manages my investments in that account. Each month I check the account to see how it is performing. I need my administrator to make wise investment choices for me. If it is invested well and I get a good return on my investment, the compounding interest will give me even bigger yields and provide for my future retirement.

As I get older I find that I look at relationships much like I do financial investments. The days roll by and I realize that I have limited time on this Earth. I want to invest my time, energy, and resources in relationships that are life giving and produce good results for both me and the other person in the relationship. My financial advisor would steer me away from foolish stock or mutual fund choices that would not be in my best interest. In the same way, I find myself evaluating the veritable plethora of choices before me regarding those with whom I spend my time and relational energy. 

I have no time for fools. That’s like throwing money into the stock of a company headed into bankruptcy. I find myself wanting to invest in a diverse portfolio of relationships with my limited means. Some relationships are sure things and safe investments. Investing in my wife and kids and family are no brainers and I need to invest heavily in those. Wise friends are like well performing funds which are solid, dependable and offer a good return on investment. I need to direct a good chunk of my relational investment in those. I also want to find those relationship investments which are diamonds in the rough. Like penny stocks, it may not seem like there’s much there, but a little investment could pay off substantially for both parties and bring great reward.

If you study Jesus relationship choices you’ll find that He made very clear and even harsh decisions about whom He would invest time, energy and resources. He rejected some who wanted to follow Him. He said “I have no time for you.” He chose three among his closest followers to pour a greater investment of Himself into, and in doing this He created hard feelings among the twelve. In his final three years of life on this Earth Jesus made conscious choices, as the eldest son of his earthly family, to pull investment out of his earthly family and pour it into a diverse portfolio of risky relationships. His twelve closest followers can be described as risky penny stocks at best, but Jesus saw the future yield His investment in them would produce.

This morning I’m asking myself these questions:

  • In whom am I investing my time, energy and resources (emotional, relational, and spiritual as well as financial)?
  • What foolish relational investments have I made which are draining my resources and leaving me with a personal deficit? From whom do I need to pull my relational investment away?
  • Who would it be wise for me to put more relational investment into? How can I make that happen?
  • Have I fallen into the trap of spreading my relational resources so thin across so many relationships that I can’t possibly manage it all well? Is it time for me to adjust my relational portfolio, make some tough choices and bring it into a manageable level?

[An index of all Tom’s chapter-a-day posts covering every book and chapter]

The Erosion of Relationship

Jacob Talks with Laban (illustration from the ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps?” Genesis 31:27 (NLT)

The pattern of deception and manipulation we’ve seen within the family system of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob continues to escalate between Jacob and his Uncle Laban. It finally breaks the relationship.  Jacob sneaks off in the middle of the night. When Laban asks the question above, the unspoken answer is obvious. Jacob doesn’t trust Laban because Laban has proven untrustworthy. Laban doesn’t trust Jacob because Jacob isn’t trustworthy. There can no longer be relationship between them because the foundation of relationship has been destroyed. There is no mutual trust on which to build life together.

Honesty and trust are critical to a healthy, growing relationship. Deception and passive aggressive manipulation will eventually make any kind of intimacy untenable.

Today, I’m reminded of my responsibility in the circles of relationship and influence around me. I cannot control others, but I must control my own actions and manage my end of relationships. That responsibility includes my being appropriately honest, transparent and worthy of another person’s trust. It also includes the responsibility to set boundaries between me and others when it is necessary to protect myself, my loved ones and others from relational harm.

 

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 19

Don’t move your neighbor’s boundary markers…. Deuteronomy 19:14a (MSG)

Last night my wife and I received a pleasant visit from our two little friends, Nathan and Aaron, from down the street. The young brothers, ages five and two, stopped by with their parents and first thing they wanted to do is play a little basketball with our adjustable Goalsetter basketball hoop that I lowered down to six feet in height.

I have two basketballs which I pulled out of the garage. I gave one to the older brother and then pulled out the second for the younger brother. Immediately upon seeing his younger brother receive the second basketball, the elder brother dropped the ball in his hand. “I don’t want this one,” he said as he lunged to grab the ball out of his younger brother’s hand. At the sound of the blood curdling scream which began warming up in his brother’s throat, the elder brother dropped the second basketball on the ground, picked up the first and ran out of the garage. Let the games begin.

For the next half hour I watched with fascination as the two brothers jockeyed for position in every way imaginable. This is my ball; that one’s yours! Get out of my way; it’s my turn! I was standing here first. No, Tom, you just lifted him to dunk the ball; I get to do it now.

Dear God, bless their parents. A lot.

The truth is that the nature of conflict really hasn’t changed in the thousands of years which have passed since Moses handed down the laws to his people. Our culture and technology may look very different, but people are people. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still find ourselves embroiled in interpersonal conflicts, neighborly disputers, familial conflicts and international conflicts because of boundary disputes.

Conflict always arises when boundaries are not clearly defined, when boundaries are encroached upon, and when boundaries are violated. It’s not just the well documented boundary lines between parcels of land which create dispute, but the invisible personal boundaries which are set between every person the world around them. These are the boundaries which define: What is mine? What is yours? What is ours? When boundaries are not clearly defined or clearly communicated then the seeds of conflict are planted. When boundaries are breached and the incident is not clearly addressed and negotiated, conflict bursts forth in anger and dispute. When boundaries are routinely violated, the continuous conflict bears the fruit of deep bitterness which will eventually choke the life out of a relationship.

Today, I’m thinking about my own personal boundaries and my responsibility to define and communicate them clearly for others. I’m considering the conflicts in my own life and how boundaries, ill-defined or poorly communicated, may be at the root of the dispute.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 11

“These are the instructions on animals, birds, fish, and creatures that crawl on the ground. You have to distinguish between the ritually unclean and the clean, between living creatures that can be eaten and those that cannot be eaten.” Leviticus 11:46-47 (MSG)

Last week Wendy and I were talking to the mother of a young toddler. She commented on the fact that her daughter, like most children that age, will put anything in her mouth. She said that she and her husband and been doing yard work with their little one playing around them. Before they knew it, their little one had streaks of dark brown mud running in streaks down the corners of her mouth. She’d attempted to eat her first mud pie.

When children are small, we do a lot of rule making.

  • “Don’t eat that, it’s dirty.”
  • “Don’t touch that. It will hurt you.”
  • “NO! That’s not good for you.”
  • “Did you touch that? Go wash you hands.”
  • “Wash your hands before supper.”
  • “There will be NO dessert until all of your peas are gone!”

Throughout the book of Leviticus, when I read the list of do’s and don’ts I hear the voice of a parent setting boundaries for their children. Some of them are no brainers. Some leave me scratching my head. Then again, so did some of the rules handed down in my house growing up.