Friday, December 18, 2009

Interpersonal Boundaries: Practicing Tough Love

Thought:

"As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "'Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth."

Mark 10:17, 21-22

One of my boys has a large school project. He has procrastinated and now has almost no time left to finish the project. I seriously doubt that it will be done well. He is in high school and hopes to be accepted at a highly competitive college. As a result, his grade point average is very important. This project has the potential to hurt him. I want the best for him. I want him to achieve his goals, so my investment is high too. What should I do? Do I leave it be and let his lack of motivation and laziness affect the end result? Or, do I step in and take charge. Maybe even give some practical help, like write part of it?

Fortunately, I made up this scenario, but this situation is familiar to many of us. Someone we love is in a tough situation and isn't making wise decisions. What do we do?

This situation is another interpersonal boundary issue. And, it is a tough one. If we intervene in such predicaments too much than we are invading and overpowering another's personal space, but if we do too little, it might feel like mild emotional abandonment. So, how do we navigate such complicated interpersonal seas?

I find Jesus' reaction to the rich, young man interesting. Jesus came to save the entire world. This rich, young man was one of the individuals he came to save. This young man asked how to inherit eternal life, but didn't like the answer. This must have hurt Jesus deeply. Jesus desperately wanted him to make the right decision. After all, this man was the bride of Christ. Yet, shockingly, Jesus let the man walk away. How did he do that? I would have ran after him, yelling a more agreeable answer to his question. But, Jesus didn't do that.

If we want our life simpler and with less pain, then this is the kind of boundaries we need to maintain. We need to let those we love make bad decisions and then suffer the consequences. We need to stop rescuing them from the outcomes of their choices, even if it hurts us and makes no sense. Believe it or not, this is the most respectful thing you can do. When you do that, you are saying to the other person, "I believe in you," "this is your life," and "I respect you." When we rescue, we are accidently saying, "you can't do it right," "you are weak," and "I don't respect you" by our actions, even though we act out of love. Jesus respects the rich, young man enough to let him make a terrible decision. Can we love those in our lives to the same degree?

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