There’s an apple tree around the corner from my house that grows the sweetest, juiciest, crunchiest apples you ever did taste. Sadly, the apple tree belongs to someone else and stands in a garden surrounded by a ten foot high wall.
On the plus side, some of the apples grow on this side of the wall. Each season, there are dozens of delicious apples up for grabs for anyone who can reach. From small children, to cheeky teenagers to respectable grown-ups, everyone has full permission to take an apple that is freely available on this side of the wall. It’s not stealing. It’s not frowned upon. It’s simply available to those who want it and every year a stream of hopefuls come with baskets, carrier bags, stepladders, friends to stand on the shoulders of, and stones to throw up into the tree.
However, if someone should climb over that wall, should enter the garden and take from the same tree but on the other side of the wall- then it would instantly be a different matter- that’s trespassing, that’s stealing.
The ten foot wall is a boundary between public and private. It’s a boundary between right and wrong. It protects the tree, defines territory, ownership and responsibility. The wall creates order and announces who has access to the resources.
In the same way, our personal boundaries are much like that wall around the apple tree near my house. Boundaries provide protection, define and tell us what belongs to us. Boundaries separate the public and the private and create order. Your personal boundaries announce who has access to the resources within that boundary- your time, your love, your body, your devotion, your choice.
Proverbs 25:28 tells us that:
‘She who has no rule over her own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.’
I know many people whose lives are suffering because of a lack of boundaries. They are running themselves ragged trying to feed everyone who passes their life by and failing to keep some apples behind the wall. They have no rule over their own resources and so they are bled dry by the demand of the crowd. And without a boundary in place, it’s not stealing.
The fact is, we each have a responsibility to build our boundaries. Without them we have no right to complain about our exhaustion, our disordered lives, the way people take us for granted, or the lack of time we have for ourselves. In the same way that the owners of the tree would have no right to complain if all their apples got eaten without a wall in place. It might be their tree but they failed to protect it and communicate clearly that the apples were off limits, or which apples were available and which were not.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should
We all have ‘fruit’ to give away from the tree of our life, like time, prayers, finances, love, kindness, devotion and wisdom, to name but a few. And we all have a responsibility to actively decide what to do with the resources we’ve been entrusted with.
Sadly, the demand and need we are faced with on a daily basis will always far outweigh our ability to meet it. It’s why Jesus, when He walked this earth, only did what He saw the Father do. (John 5:19)) In other words, all Jesus’ resources were spent under the authority of and in obedience to the Father.
Jesus invested much of His time and resources into the twelve disciples and into His personal devotional time with the Father. He invested some into a wider circle that included Lazarus, Mary and Martha and much less into ‘the crowd’. In fact, there’s an example in Luke 5:1-3 where Jesus climbs into a boat and teaches the crowd from there, creating a natural boundary between Him and what could have become an overwhelming demand.
There were those on the public side of His wall and those on the private side. He had boundaries. He allowed people to walk away from Him with unmet needs (see the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22) and didn’t see it as a bad reflection on Himself – He carried no sense of false responsibility.
It’s understanding this power and responsibility of boundaries that has in fact enabled me to grow more fruit in my life, rather than be left with less. I’ve learnt the power of prioritising tasks and time according to God’s word to me, not according to the needs I see. I’ve learnt the power of a positive ‘no’ to certain demands and to certain people (which is more difficult!). I’ve grown in my sense of self-worth to the point where I deliberately plan and take time out for myself to do things I enjoy- not just fill my days with must, should, could, ought to, activities.
I’ve built a wall high enough to make it clear that much of my fruit is already set aside for those who are on the inside of my wall- my loved ones, my friends, my team, those God has sent me to minister to. The rest is up for grabs and I will gladly give away the extra…
For more information on boundaries- why we struggle to put them in place, what to do when others don’t respect our boundaries etc -everyone should read ‘Boundaries’ by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, available on Amazon or Eden.com.
Arianna Walker is a speaker, an author and the
Executive Director of Mercy Ministries UK- a Christian
charity that works in partnership with churches
across the UK to provide residential care for young
women who are dealing with life controlling issues.
For more info: www.mercyministries.co.uk
Twitter/Instagram: @AriannaWalker @MercyMinUK