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  • Writer's pictureRusty McKie

Boundaries' Close Cousin

Families will gather from near and far this week for Christmas. Along with meal preparation comes lots of questions and talk about healthy boundaries.

Understanding boundaries is necessary, but we might create more conflict than Christmas cheer if we neglect to invite boundaries' closest cousin to the family table.

Boundaries and Bearing with One Another

St. Paul puts it straight:

"Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another..." - Colossians 3:12-13

Robert Mulholland Jr. writes a thought-provoking definition of bearing with others:

"Perhaps the best understanding of forbearing is letting others be who they are." (Source)

Set healthy boundaries this Christmas — like fences that keep others from trampling the garden of your soul. However, let's not allow our relational borders to escalate into fortress-building and self-kingdom expansion.

An Age-old Problem

In the beginning, God created man in His image, and ever since Genesis 3, we've been attempting the same.

We assume our way of being and relating in the world is best, and if everyone would march to our little drummer boy's beat, then peaceful tidings of joy would parade themselves out for all to enjoy.

We all do this because we're comfortable with our relational way.

Peaceful Pam, who gives up her seat (insisting she loves sitting on the floor), burns passive-aggressive fumes as she judges Uncle Charles, who gladly takes his place at the table. Why can't people be more courteous!?

Brash Barry fails again to poke a reaction out of Aunt Susie over politics and scoffs at her polite dodging. Why can't people be real? Wouldn't the world be better?

Boundaries clarify what I think, feel, want, can, or can't do. They define us as individuals and in relationships. They help us not be distant or cold while not becoming enmeshed or codependent.

Yet, our judgmental agendas mutate boundaries into ultimatums to enforce our change project on others. Relate my way, or else!

This Christmas, let's wholeheartedly support healthy relational boundaries without becoming emotional terrorists. This begins by owning where we twist boundaries into a tool to recreate others in our image.

A better way

God became small to show us how to become great (Luke 2:16; Philippians 2:1-11).

Jesus was the king of boundaries. He sometimes rejected people's requests and agendas (Luke 12:13-15; John 6:15), yet he always modeled forbearance.

The Christmas miracle is on display in a manger: God clothed himself with human flesh to clothe us with divine attributes (Colossians 3:12-14).

And yet, Jesus never forced anyone to become like him. Instead, he lived a holy life and bore patiently with others. Jesus didn't demand others change. He inspires and invites us to change.

In this way, boundaries plus forbearance equals a life that compels others to want to change.

Around the Table

This year — as the festive fowl, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy draws your family together — don't gravitate toward changing Uncle Bobby's incessant self-referencing, Grandma's political rants, or your sibling's snide and guilting comments.

Instead, focus on you.

With God's help, strive to be the type of person you want to be. The kind of person Jesus calls you to be.

"Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another..." - Colossians 3:12-13

Invite forbearance to the table. You might find yourself enjoying your family with all their idiosyncrasies.

From my quirky family to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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