Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” –Genesis 31:51-53
Whether we recognize it or not, we are all surrounded by boundaries every day. The fence around your yard, the front door to your home, the lines that mark the parking spaces in the parking lot at work, the “authorized personnel only” signs on certain doors at the mall…all of these things serve as boundaries in the sense that they clearly distinguish between one space and another space. In the same way, it is incredibly important that we define boundaries between ourselves and others. The passage above illustrates this well. While you could also look at it as a covenant, promise or a vow, Laban is clearly drawing a line between he and Jacob, and the two of them agree not to cross that line to harm each other. They are agreeing to respect that boundary.
Many people talk about having emotional “walls”. Because of past hurts or offenses, they feel they have built up walls around themselves that cause them to keep others at a distance, as a way of avoiding being hurt again. They can sometimes come across as very guarded or closed off, even unfriendly. Let’s consider this one extreme. The other extreme occurs when people have no “walls” or distance between themselves and others. These are the “TMI” people (Too Much Information) you meet in the check-out at the grocery store that assume just because you see them buying hemorrhoid cream, you want to know all the details of their hemorrhoid problem. Living at either extreme is unhealthy and typically leads to some kind of negative outcome. Healthy boundaries really are walls with holes. There is still a line there between you and me that clearly indicates who you are and who I am, but that line is not so rigid that I can’t let some of you in and some of me out. Healthy boundaries allow me to be influenced by those around me but not lose my own separate identity. They also allow me to share myself with others in appropriate and safe ways so that I can develop an inner circle of people who know me intimately. While our inner circle typically should be fairly small, it should not be non-existent.
It’s important that we work to define what our boundaries are, and learn to be assertive enough to let others know what those boundaries are without being rigid (i.e. sometimes we need to be flexible and compromise). Though we are one body in God’s kingdom, each of us is created to be a very distinct, unique part of that body. We need to be able to recognize and uphold those things that distinguish us from others. At the same time we need to be able to respect what distinguishes others from us and acknowledge their boundaries as well. Developing and maintaining appropriate boundaries is a crucial component to our healthy relationships and our own individual well-being.