Setting Loving Boundaries April 11, 2021
By Rich Tafel
Dialogue with Sydney Frymire
To be a follower of Jesus means that we are the highest calling is to love our neighbor. Only when we do this do we love God. Our time here on earth is to be of use in service to humanity. Jesus teaches us again and again in parables and actions that we are here to serve others.
In his last act with the disciples, he washes their feet. The message is to be humble–serve others. Jesus even goes as far as to challenge us to love those we don’t like, even our enemies. Being loving and in service to others by being humble is our life’s work.
But when do we stop? In a world with never ever-ending problems, if you hang a sign outside your door that says, “I’m here to help.” You will have a line outside. In a country suffering a pandemic where people often cannot get counseling or their basic needs met, the demand for help only increases.
Does God ask us to be empathetic and compassionate with no limit to how we serve? Many of us in the social services sector: teachers, health workers, therapists, coaches, and pastors truly enjoy serving others. But where does it stop?
This has been a big challenge for me. I tend to be a workaholic always responding to the next challenge or person in need. This is not new; it is a well-worn pattern.
It’s very common for people to say to me, “Rich, you need to take more time off. You need to stop doing things.” and then almost literally in the next breath ask for help.
Anyone who is in the helping field knows the dangers of helping people too much to the point where the other person can become dependent on them. If a person who told us they had an addiction to alcohol then asked us for a drink, we’d know pretty clearly that’s not helping though it is what they are asking. It gets more complicated when a homeless person asks for support and you have no idea really whether your gift makes you feel better or really helps the person in need.
Where do we draw boundaries?
Jesus often slipped away from the crowd to rest. He often told those he healed not to tell anyone. I think he was teaching us boundaries.
He’s also very dramatic when he says if you’re not welcomed you should take off your sandals and whack them together and leave. You don’t even want their sand with you.
God rested the seventh day creating the Sabbath and teaching us to create boundaries between work and relaxation. I’ve always found it ironic that preachers often work the hardest of the day of rest.
Swedenborg teaches that compassion is done without wisdom. The two must be married together.
But what is wisdom?
Through my many years of many people asking for help, I’ve learned a few things.
First, before I jump in to give my solutions, I just ask, “How can I be most helpful.” Very often I intuit they need my solution, but what they tell me is quite different. I created a boundary before I jumped in and I can decide to help.
Second, I’m stressed out about time. But there isn’t a week that a young person doesn’t email me to ask if they can “pick my brains.” I’ve come to hate that expression. I love helping young people. But the requests seem to never end. One thing I’ve learned is to move their request to a good time for me. What I’ve been stunned by is the number of requesters who say, “No thanks that time doesn’t work for me.” They simply didn’t value me or my time.
Third, the role of money has been fascinating. In my coaching practice, I have gotten people who have told me they cannot pay but need help. Invariably when I give things away for free the other person is late or cancels. Does not charging send a message that my time’s not valuable? Why when we are paying do we treat each other better?
You may notice in my solutions is not saying, “No.” I usually wait until I feel taken advantage of or disrespected leaving the other party angry and often walking away completely. I need to develop a better way to say no sooner.
Brene Brown sums this up nicely.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”
Boundaries are an area I’m working on and I wanted to get some outside professional help today from Sydney who has long been a member of our community. Sydney, I want to ask first if you have any reactions to what I’ve said and any advice and then I have some more questions. We’ll open up the questions to both of us after the service in our discussion time.
Rich’s questions for Sydney:
Q: Sydney, during this pandemic you’ve been meeting with clients from early morning until late at night. How common is the problem of boundaries for your clients?
Q: Since you’ve been spending long hours helping others, how do you structure your days when you work and live at home to create boundaries?
Q: In your role as a therapist, you’re dealing with a series of other people’s challenges. How do you protect yourself from being pulled in?
Q: We’ve known each other for quite some time. You know I love helping people. You also know that I have a tough time saying, “no.” What advice would you have someone like me where I’m supposed to be there for people?
Q: We all know that we can appear to be helping people, but it also can be perceived as enabling behavior. How can we know the difference?
Q: How do you see the intersection between spirituality and maintaining boundaries?
Q:How would you advise someone who has been giving but is burnt by it to engage again?
Q: Do you have any phrases we can use to create boundaries?