Somewhere along the line, the word "boundaries" got complicated. It went from marking the edge of
a territory to having all sorts of relational implications that are anything but clear.
In their purest form, boundaries tell us where a space ends or begins and are meant to clarify and direct. For our forefathers, they created order out of a vast new world. They keep Appalachian Trial hikers from getting lost on an already long journey. And they keep my neighbors' dogs' poop off my grass. See? We want and need boundaries. So why are they so darn confusing in relationships? I don't have all the answers, but here's a place to start:
Know why you're drawing the boundary.
Boundaries are meant to protect, clarify, direct, and keep the peace. If you're creating boundaries for other reasons (i.e. "This isn't convenient" or "This isn't easy" or "I don't like this person"), check your motives. We mask a lot of selfishness in the word "boundaries."
Ask for wisdom.
If your boundary-making is rightly motivated, though, then you're wondering when to begin or end a friendship/relationship, and that's a murky matter. Do a lot of listening--listening to people wiser than you, and listening to God. Don't make any quick moves; be deliberate and patient about seeking wisdom. And remember that a boundary for some isn't a boundary for everyone. Without wisdom, you'll make too many lines, too few lines, or lines that just won't work.
Draw the line
The Israelites cried out for God to deliver them from the pursuing Egyptian army, and God did make a way through the sea, but first He said something unexpected to Moses: "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on" (Exodus 14:15). We absolutely need to begin with crying out to God for wisdom, but then we need to move on--not that we stop crying out to Him, but that we don't stop there. Prayer moves us to action.
So, once you've determined to start, continue, or end a relationship, figure out where the lines are, and know that the process of "figuring out"is evolving. You'll stumble and mess up. You'll try something that doesn't work and stumble upon something that does. That's okay. I don't know many (any?) people who create boundaries perfectly the first time.
Color inside the lines
You've drawn the lines and now you have to do the hard work of following through. The boundaries have given you a new sort of freedom because you've clarified expectations, but you have to color inside the lines you've drawn. This, of course, is the hard part. It means breaking habits of engaging or disengaging, and old habits really do die hard. Give yourself grace to mess up (because you will), but also make it hard for yourself to mess up: gather a few people around you who know about the lines you're drawing and ask them to help you stick to it.
Let's get really practical. If you've committed to pursuing, be intentional about time with that person; call, text, get together, drop by, make a plan. If you've committed to ending, be intentional about latching those fences. Delete the number, resist communicating when you want to, and be okay with things feeling distant and awkward. So easy to type, eh?
And an important side note: drawing the line doesn't always mean announcing your line. In many cases, no one but you has to know the line's there; other times, the line needs to be clearly communicated. Again, seek wisdom.
Have you ever looked at early maps of the United States? They're way off. The guys drawing those maps didn't have drones and computers to create accurate lines; they were walking the lines. We're like them. We don't have the luxury of a bird's eye view to our lives because we're living them, which means our perspective will change over time, as will (possibly) our relationships. Relational lines don't have to be permanent. It's why adopted children reunite with birth parents, fizzled friendships rekindle years later, and teachers can be friends with their students once they graduate. People change. Circumstances change. So our lines need to be moveable. Not always, but sometimes.
Here's the bottom line (get it?):
Spend more time considering the WHY of your boundaries than you think you need to.
Be okay with messing up along the way.
Don't get judgy and throw your boundaries on others, or adopt theirs just because.
Be intentional, prayerful, and humble throughout the process.
Like our country's map, the lines won't always be straight and symmetrical, but the ones you create (thoughtfully) are better than no lines at all.