This morning, we’re continuing our message series that will serve as a guide to healthy relationships. A relationship is simply a connection between two people. Just because two people are connected, that doesn’t make it a good connection nor a healthy connection nor a connection that should even be there.
Relationships can be difficult and so God has given us a whole host of tools that we can use to make them function the way that He intended them to. So far, we learned about the love of God and the need for mutual understanding. Last week, we learned about the need for healthy boundaries and how God created them as safeguards for us all throughout His creation.
This week, we continue learning about this tool and in a very practical way how to discern the need for a boundary, how to put it in place, how to communicate it to others, and how to maintain it.
To learn about these things, we go to the word of God in the book of Nehemiah. Now this book is all about a physical boundary that was needed around the border of Jerusalem. However, the same principals apply to the boundaries in our relationships with one another. As the saying goes, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.
When boundaries are missing or misplaced in our lives, our emotions are usually the first to reveal it. God’s people were in great trouble and disgrace and it caused Nehemiah to weep.
Missing or misplaced boundaries in our lives do not just affect us, they affect everyone around us.
If we overspend on entertainment and come up short when it comes time to buy groceries, it affects our whole household. If we always cave in to our over-demanding employer, our spouse and children end up suffering when we have to abandon them to stay and work overtime or weekends.
They affect those around us, but it is usually emotions that are the indicator that boundaries are needed or are needed to be adjusted. For example:
If that buddy comes over and spends the night, you suffer knowing that you’ll spend the next day cleaning up the mess that he created. If we take an extra drive around the block before you enter your workplace or home because you dread the environment that you know you are going to walk into. If they put their hand on your back or shoulder or always need to give you a tight, close hug that makes you cringe.
If you see that person in a store and so you walk to the other side of it or walk out to avoid them asking you a favor or talking to you forever. If a coworker or schoolmate walks toward you and you fake answer your phone and carry on an imaginary conversation to avoid them. If you see a phone number come up, so you ignore it or leave a text message unread just to avoid dealing with someone or a situation.
When these things happen, there are usually emotions involved that alert us that boundaries should have been in place. Trouble, disgrace, weeping, anger, cringing, etc.
Emotions can be a tool that helps us to discern where boundaries need put into place in our lives.
4 For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said:
“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king.
When it comes to putting boundaries in place in our relationships, take it to God first! He is the only one that we are responsible to for our boundaries. He also created the both of you and He knows the both of you fully. He’s aware of what boundaries need to be in place for the two of you to have a healthy connection.
Confess the boundary issue to Him. Take ownership of it. Pray for forgiveness for both yourself and the others affected by it. Seek God’s wisdom in how to respond. Go to God first and then take some time for emotions to cool off and to be able to hear His voice and to contemplate your situation.
11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
Take time to objectively consider the need for a boundary. Not in the heat of the moment while emotions are running high and not yet with the input of others. Take some time, seek God’s wisdom, and consider what the issue really is.
Sometimes, we push people out of our lives because of a weakness in ours. God wants to grow and mature us, but we want to be comfortable. This could be the case if you find yourself dealing with the same issue over and over again.
Changing jobs won’t change us. Changing spouses won’t change us. Changing friends won’t change us.
It might not be a boundary issue in our lives, but a character or maturity issue in our lives that God is trying to deal with. Take time to observe the situation from a more objective and less subjective view after the emotions that revealed the issue are gone.
After you are able to clearly see what’s going on, then it is good to seek the counsel of others.
Proverbs 11:14 (AMP)
Where there is no [wise, intelligent] guidance, the people fall [and go off course like a ship without a helm], But in the abundance of [wise and godly] counselors there is victory.
Don’t seek the counsel of those who will come to your rescue and build up a case and an army against the other person. Seek the counsel of those who care about the both of you and can remain neutral in situations. Seek the counsel of people who have peace and healthy relationships themselves; those who have victory in the area that you are battling. Choose someone who can hold you accountable to develop a game plan and to follow through with it.
It’s OK to vent to them and reveal to them your own raw emotion, too!
1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
Now comes the really hard part for most of us. It’s time to communicate with the other person and reveal to them that something isn’t right in your relationship. Not to blame them or accuse them or to put anything at all on them. It’s time to communicate about us.
Who we are and who we are not. What we are comfortable with and what makes us uncomfortable. When something is acceptable and when it is not. Things that you appreciate and things that you don’t want in your life.
6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
7 I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. 9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters.
Be clear and concise, but detailed. Clearly communicate your own need for the boundary and what it is going to take to put it in place. Be flexible and communicate that you would like to try a boundary and see how it works. Explain if it is temporary or circumstantial.
Life changes. Sometimes that makes something that was once no problem at all now a significant issue. Perhaps it is permanent like getting married or having children for the first time. Or perhaps it is temporary like a new sports schedule that your child started or studying for finals or just needing to get a project done around the house.
Be clear and concise. For example:
Let’s wait an hour after I get home from work before discussing problems at home.
I appreciate you reaching out to me, but I will not respond to calls or texts after 10 PM any more.
I’m sorry that you cannot afford groceries, but I will not lend you any more money.
I am married now, so you cannot send me messages like that anymore or I will have to block you.
I cannot work any Saturdays until after October to attend my child’s games.
I would like to just shake hands to greet you from now on.
It’s been great catching up, but I have to get back to work now.
Clear and concise communicated boundaries that leave no room for argument or discussion.
17 I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
Communicate as much detail as you can so that you have a mutual understanding. Try as much as you can to keep the boundary issue objective and not to make it personal. Communicate the boundary issue as something that you can work on together and not make it a me versus you battle that needs won.
Even if you do all of this as well as you possibly can, there will often be times when people just don’t understand. They don’t get it or they disagree with you. Instead of respecting your boundaries and honoring you, they become hostile about it. Not everyone in your life will have your good at heart.
10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”
1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?”
3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building – even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”
4 Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”
14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.
Boundaries take work. You will be ridiculed and made fun of and challenged and opposed and made to feel like the enemy and the cause of relationship issues. Stand firm. Don’t be afraid. Your fight is not just for yourself.
You are fighting for your families, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. Good, healthy relationships are worth the effort to build and the peace that eventually results from having them. While you are developing them yourself, you are also setting an example for your families of how to do so as well.
When those who oppose can’t get you to budge on your boundary themselves, they’ll likely spread the word about how “bad” you are and try to rally others as well.
17 Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. 18 For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shekaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. 19 Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.
Nothing is new under the sun. Nehemiah was dealing with this around 400 BC, but those letters were just like the text messages and DMS that you get today from friends of friends and in-laws and cousins who agree with those who oppose your boundaries…
This opposition might come from the least likely and expect of people as well! They come like wolves in sheep clothing claiming to have your own best interest in mind and make very convincing claims for you to take those boundaries back down. Take this as an example as Nehemiah was visiting a shut-in:
10 One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you – by night they are coming to kill you.”
11 But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” 12 I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.
People will challenge and oppose the boundaries that you are lead to put in place. They will do all that they can to stop you from doing so. They will try to discredit you and make you look like the bad person, but just keep your focus on the Lord and do what He is calling and directing you to do. It will pay off in due time.
Eventually, Nehemiah completed the rebuilding of the boundary wall around Jerusalem. They all came together to hear the reading of God’s law given to Moses.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
As a result of completing the building of the boundaries around the city, Jerusalem became a safe place where God’s people could return to with joy! The season of hard labor and opposition to create the boundary came to an end. They could now enjoy and share choice food and sweet drinks.
Life was good all because they worked hard to create and enforce a boundary wall. That wall provided them safety and peace to be able to enjoy their lives together with one another.
Discern the need for a boundary by being aware of emotional triggers.
Take time to objectively observe the issue.
Seek the Lord’s direction and wisdom.
Communicate your own need for a boundary to others.
Do the hard work to build the boundary regardless of the opposition to it.
Maintain that boundary and adjust it as life changes.
Strong, healthy boundaries create strong and healthy relationships!