Day Twenty One (Establishing Bonds and Boundaries) — (January 26th)

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We walk to freedom

What we see right now we’ll never see again

As we crossover to Your promise

Our past, behind us

Nothing can stop us now

As we crossover to Your promise

–    Travis Greene, Crossover

So far in this section, we have explored the necessary components to spiritual growth. For us to grow, we need to practice the elements of grace, truth, and time within a community. But practicing those habits is just the beginning. To “grow in community,” we must also develop healthy boundaries as we bond with others. 

Many believe they can handle living with a sense of absolute independence, but an observation of morning routine reveals a state of dependence we may not realize. We are so interconnected that when we get out of bed to start our day with we lean on the work of people all over the world. This morning you possibly woke up under blankets made from Asia, slipped on shoes designed in Europe, sipped on coffee from South America, while tapping on a phone containing metals from Africa. Our personal lives are interconnected with others within a global economy, and that connectedness carries profound impact. Our relationships can shape our world in very literal ways–like our cell phones and coffee–however the influence of our relationships is incalculable. We were made for relationship because our Creator is relational. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit express bonding and boundaries with each other perfectly, and they empower us to relate to others in community.  Shallow relationship and isolation cause us to live out limited versions of our true selves. We need to draw from the love of God and others to fuel our transformation and growth. We see authentic bonding in the way Jesus describes his relationship to the Father, and to us:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  

(John 15:1-2, 4-5)

Bonding is the ability to establish meaningful spiritual and emotional attachments to others. In John 15, Jesus teaches us that bonding with him (described as “abiding”) is essential to bond with others and bear fruit or be productive (more will be shared about “bearing fruit” in upcoming devotionals). When we bond with each other, we share in others’ most profound thoughts, dreams, and feelings based on a trust that no one will be rejected. Bonding is a basic human need. God created us with a hunger for relationship—with him and with people. Without a stable, bonded relationship, the human soul will suffer, remaining stunted.  We grow most in a safe relationship with God and others.

 “Our well-being depends on the status of our heart, and the status of our heart depends on the depth of our bonds with others and God.” – Dr. Henry Cloud tweet

We struggle to bond for many reasons. The main reason we struggle to bond is a tendency to project our past onto our present relationships. We experience reminders of previous pain, believe that because someone hurt us in the past this current circumstance will result in a repeated offense. When we conclude that people are untrustworthy, it becomes impossible to bond with others. Sometimes counseling is the best way to help us process our previous wounds so that we can differentiate between the present reminder and the past hurt.

 We can bond with others because we can trust God to have both control and our best interests at heart. His love for us means that he is for us, and has a plan to work even the painful experiences for our benefit. He is good, and he is in control, so we can take the risk of connecting with Him and others. Taking the risk to connect opens up opportunity for bonding.

 We ought to note that bonding with flimsy boundaries can cloud how we view ourselves and how we view others.

 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

 Notice that Jesus, while expressing an intimate bond with the Father, still identifies their distinctions. In his metaphor, he declares several boundaries. He states he is the “vine”–the source of our lives. The Father is the “vinedresser,” the one who orchestrates and determines where the vines are planted. The followers of Jesus are the “branches,” the ones who would bear fruit because of the vine. Jesus took control and ownership of his identity as the vine and commanded that we embrace our identities as well.

 Boundaries, in a broad sense, are lines or things that mark a limit, or border. In this circumstance, they are an expression that we are our own persons apart from others. A property boundary defines where a property line begins and ends, and a psychological or spiritual boundary defines who we are and who we are not. A violation of healthy boundaries occurs when people are not free to establish their limits or what they will do or say. This violation can manifest in forms of peer pressure to do something “because everyone’s doing it.” When someone forcefully crosses another person’s boundary, that is called abuse. Emotional, physical, and spiritual abuses create a host of issues–especially for those who have been abused. These wounds stifle healthy growth by shattering boundaries.

 We can think of boundaries as two neighbors’ yards in front of their red and blue houses. If each neighbor cuts their grass and takes care of their own yards, they have healthy boundaries. But if the neighbor with the red house decides to redesign the yard of the neighbor with the blue house without asking, the neighbors will have conflict because boundaries were crossed without consent. At the same time, if the neighbor with the blue house refuses to cut her grass, but insists that the neighbor with the red house cut the grass for her, they will also have a conflict. The owner of the blue house is refusing responsibility for her yard, and then makes an inappropriate demand of her neighbor. When we take ownership of what does not belong to us,  or refuse to take responsibility for our own yard, we create problems.

 Refusing to take responsibility for yourself reveals a lack of healthy boundaries, as does attempting to take responsibility for someone else. For example, you can’t take responsibility for your attitudes and someone else’s attitudes at the same time. At times, parents, teachers, and friends may expect more from us than what we want and believe we should do. In these moments, remembering that God has created us and called us uniquely can help us to distinguish between the things we need to own. We need healthy boundaries for healthy bonds.

 When we can value the place that others have in our lives, while holding on to our identity as being made in the image of Christ, then we are abiding in Jesus and growing in community.

 When we realize that it’s not selfish to establish our own boundaries, then we can strengthen our ability to say “no.” Saying “no” to taking responsibility for that which is not “in your yard” empowers you to be proactive about defining who you are and who you are not. Saying “no” to harmful things allows you to say “yes” to the beneficial things. Establishing bonds and boundaries are both critical steps to growing in community. To exercise building bonds and boundaries, you need accountability. Everyone needs someone committed to helping you grow. Healthy accountability groups and relationships establish trust with each other–which includes clear boundaries.

Holding someone accountable means encouraging growth while everyone owns their personal choices. Whether we need others’ strength to refuse temptation, or to propel us into our full potential as we drive toward our goals, we need groups of people holding us accountable.  tweet

The momentum of mutual encouragement cannot be overstated.

 1) How do you want to grow in bonding with others, or setting healthy boundaries? 

2) What relationship or experience in your past has impacted your ability to bond or set boundaries now?

3) How will you develop better bonds and boundaries?

4) Who can you ask to partner with you in accountability?


Written by: Rasool Berry

Edited by: Christina Utley

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