For a while I thought being a good follower of Jesus meant saying yes to everyone. I thought I was supposed to help out every time someone asked and take every opportunity to serve. Isn’t this what Jesus meant when He said for us to lay our lives down? Wasn’t it mean to say “no”?
This didn’t work out well for me though because in the end, it’s incredibly stressful and overwhelming to say yes to everyone. I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned that helps me protect what God holds me responsible for in my own life.
Cleaning Up Your Yard
A couple years ago, we bought a house with a beautiful yard. Unfortunately, this yard doesn’t look beautiful all by itself. There’s work that goes into it, and it’s our job to make sure it’s taken care of. We may try to convince the neighbors to come over and do some yard work, but it probably won’t work. What happens in our yard is our responsibility, no one else’s.
I’m going to let you in on something: you have a yard too. It’s inside of you. Self-control is knowing how to manage your yard. It’s having a say in what happens around you.
Now some of us may have crazy yards. It looks like we have no boundaries and all sorts of people and things are in our yard. It may be our mom’s feelings, husband’s choices, or kids attitudes. You know someone else is in your yard when you feel responsible for their happiness. If they’re unhappy, you start running around trying to figure out how to make them happy. You might say, “Ah!! I have to make you happy for things to be okay in my yard!” This is dangerous. We start to sacrifice our bodies, our minds, our wants, and our needs because we’re trying to make sure that other person is happy. Instead of stressing over their emotions, a better option would be to recognize that their feelings are not actually in your yard. They have to take ownership for their well-being, just like you have to take ownership for yours.
So how do we help people out of our yard? By setting boundaries.
Proverbs 25:8 says, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”
It’s our job to have boundaries, to have walls that are healthy around our lives. What does this look like? People are adults, and they can act however they choose, so we can’t actually set limits on them. We can set limits on our exposure to people. We can give ourselves space from people who act or react in destructive or unhealthy ways. Part of being kind to yourself is not giving people full access to you all the time. It’s okay to pull back, and say, “I love you, but I need some space here. I’ll catch you later.” Start to set those boundaries so they don’t have access to everything in your life.
“Part of being kind to yourself is not allowing people to have unlimited access to you all the time.”
When you first start to set boundaries with people, they may not like it. They may even accuse you of not caring or being unloving. When this happens to me, I have to remind myself that I have done nothing wrong. How they choose to respond to me is up to them. How I choose to respond is up to me. I still care about them, but I’m choosing not to give them access to what I hold most precious to me which is the core of who I am. I have to protect that.
Taking Care of Your Emotions
The other way you steward your yard is taking responsibility for your own feelings. You may feel mad, sad, or frustrated, but you have to realize that those emotions are in your yard. No one else is powerful enough to make you feel a certain way. Pull it back, keep it in your yard, and work through it. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling frustrated? Why am I feeling angry? Why am I feeling like I want to give up?” Figure it out. Sometimes it’s just a one day thing that you’ll feel better about tomorrow. Other times it might be an unmet need that you have to take care of. Part of stewarding your yard is figuring out how to express your wants and needs and get them met in a healthy way.
If your kids are under eighteen and aren’t adults, they are supposed to be in your yard. They’re your responsibility to take care of until they grow up and get to have their own yard. The moment you take ownership of the fact that you’re a parent is the moment you get the power to do what you’re called to do. When I thank God for giving me four healthy boys, He comes in to help me parent them well. In the moment you take ownership, you receive the grace to raise your children and take care of what’s in your yard.
We set boundaries in our relationships to protect what God’s given us to steward. Taking responsibility for other people’s emotions is exhausting. If you feel overwhelmed, you may have some people things in your yard that don’t belong there. Loving yourself well is making sure you do what you need to keep yourself healthy and whole. You may get a little resistance from people at first, but in the end you will be able to give your best to people in the times they do have access to you because you valued yourself enough to make sure you’re healthy, rested, and whole.