During a recent dinner with a friend, we got on the topic of boundaries. We both shared how easy we found it sometimes to say “yes” to people and things. Most, if not all, of what we were saying “yes” to was good. Yet, in the process of saying “yes,” we were failing to understand what we were simultaneously saying “no” to.
The conversation reminded me of something I discussed in my book in the chapter on boundaries. It’s something I call “space theory,” and no, it does not have anything to do with outer space. Rather, it refers to the maximum amount of “space” we have in our life for eating, reading, working, hanging out with friends and family, etc.
It’s a fairly simple principle. We each have been given a certain amount of “space” to steward before we run out, and whenever we say “yes” to something or someone, we are saying “no” to something or someone else. It’s a not a shame tactic. Instead, it’s a tool that helps us prioritize our time, energy, and resources appropriately. That is precisely what boundaries help us do.
So, what exactly are boundaries? And how are they helpful? Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 9 of my book Thriving by Following that explains exactly that:
“Boundaries help us define what is and is not ours — what is and isn’t our responsibility. Going deeper, they help define who we are and who we are not. In an amazing book called Boundaries (which I highly recommend to anyone and everyone), Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend contextualize boundaries as a way of understanding where our ‘property’ begins and ends.  As an example: When I cut my grass, I am not going to cut my neighbor’s yard. Not because I’m a mean person, but because I’m not responsible for their yard; they are. That doesn’t mean I can’t cut their grass out of the kindness of my heart. Rather, it is an example of clarifying responsibility.
In the same way there are dynamics of physical boundaries, we also have spiritual, emotional, mental, and social boundaries. Boundaries are integral to defining us and our life. Without them, we’re just a formless amoeba floating in a sea of nothingness.”
Boundaries ultimately help us do a few things. First off, they help us recognize our limitations. Both gifts and weaknesses define where we start and end. We are not machines. For example, we need rest and sleep. This “weakness” is not a curse but actually a gift. Secondly, boundaries create margin. Rather than filling every waking second with some task or activity, boundaries create margin in our lives so that we can adjust to last minute demands or do something “fun” on a whim. Lastly, boundaries remind us to live from the heart. When we say “yes” externally to something or someone but internally say “no,” we are being dishonest with ourselves and others. Truly saying “yes” and “no” helps us to live authentically with each and every person we meet.
I used to know someone closely that had serious boundary problems. They had a strong tendency to overwork, usually to please people and find value and worth in what they could produce. They also had a difficult time saying no, which meant they had trouble prioritizing their time and what really mattered (such as family). To top it all off, they were always hurried and exhausted, didn’t get enough sleep, and had terrible boundaries with technology. As a result, they could barely make it through one day without their life caving in.
Who am I talking about? Me. Yeah, I used to be that person. But boundaries — and I truly mean this — have changed my life. They’ve taught me how to “yes” and “no” appropriately and authentically, how to prioritize my time, energy, and resources, how to honor God, myself, and others, and how to take care of myself spiritually, mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically (in other words, holistically).
Wherever you are on your journey of setting boundaries, start small. Start setting boundaries with “baby nos” in a group of people where you know you will not be judged or condemned for doing so. Once you’ve grown in confidence in this familiar, loving setting, start branching out to more difficult boundary-setting situations. Always keep ties with this community so you can come back to it for support. You will most definitely need it again as you grow in integrity and confidence through setting boundaries.
Here are some example areas you might try setting boundaries in: relationship with God, self-care, immediate family, relatives, and friends, work-rest relationship, school, church, food, and exercise. Start small and make it your own, doing what’s best for you and the season of life you’re in. Try something out and see how it works. There’s always room for growth, change, and trying something new. And as always, do this prayerfully in relationship with God, who will give you the wisdom, understanding, guidance, and strength needed to accomplish all He has called you to.
Good luck on your journey of setting boundaries!
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, Thriving by Following. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did enjoy it and want to stay up to date, you can reach me here via email, or connect with me on Instagram. You can also find my book on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback.
Chapter Excerpt Reference:
 Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 31.