I want to tell you something that someone very wise told me this morning.
Even Mother Teresa had boundaries.
The renowned, completely selfless and wise, loving, hardworking, humble, mind-blowing little lady who shook up the world.
Even she built up strong walls against harmful things and people.
Even she armed herself well to defend her mind, heart, and body from what and who were ready and waiting to destroy her.
Even she protected herself from wasting time and wasting energy on the people who would keep her from loving others in the ways she knew best. So did Jesus.
No guilt or shame in that.
Even Mother Teresa had boundaries. Even Jesus had boundaries.
I say this to myself over and over today, on this sunny day that I wish was cloudy to mirror my mood. Sunny days should not be spent feeling sick and mulling over who has control over my emotions. I wish this sunny day held only joyful things, not the slow process of beginning to build my boundaries.
But, even Mother Teresa had them.
I want to shake the world like she did. I must need them too.
I want to believe that Mother Teresa had emotional, restless nights that held hands with long, exhausting mornings. I want to believe she had nights where she stayed up fighting with herself and praying with every fiber of her being for the discernment needed to build up the right boundaries and break down the wrong ones. I like to picture her as a young woman, sitting at a table surrounded by older, wiser people, receiving and soaking up what they all say to her as she fights battles inside herself and with others. Maybe she’s like me during these moments, staring at the ground as she takes in every word of wisdom – wishing they would stop talking because it hurts and at the same time never wanting the wisdom to end because it feels good to hear others say “Hey, me too. I’ve been there, and here’s how I made it through.” Wise words have this tendency to cut and heal at the same time. Like loosening chains after so long. The metal has festered and embedded itself into bloody wrists and ankles. It hurts so much for the chains to kiss skin goodbye – the pain too much to handle – feeling lightheaded. Ouch. No. Stop.
And then all at once, freedom. You’re free.
Just like Mother Teresa probably did, let the wisdom from trustworthy people overtake you, cut your chains, and give you discernment to carry your bricks to the right places and build those boundaries.
And boundaries mean so many things.
Guard your heart against the people who make it ache. And I’m sure you know what I mean by that. If you’re a human being, you know how capable we are of heartache.
Build boundaries against the people who try to break your heart – in the careless kind of way. I’ve said it before: your heart breaking open is not a bad thing always – but letting the wrong people break it apart will always leave you with the “what-just-happened-help-me-I’m-bleeding” feeling.
Don’t give people that power. Guard your heart, build a boundary.
Build your boundaries against time thieves.
I need this reminder today: Facebook will never comfort me. Instagram can never save me. Social media will never fill me up, it will only drain me until there’s nothing left. Reading or creating or discovering or learning or traveling or staring into someone else’s eyes can and should never be replaced by screens and little boxed messages and hopes for a certain amount of “likes.”
Limit the time you spend with these thieves. And also limit the time you spend trying to achieve what you hope will save you. Because it won’t, I promise. Your grades won’t save you. Awards won’t save you. Ribbons won’t save you. Titles won’t save you. Don’t let that steal your life away. Guard yourself.
Build your boundaries especially strong against those who only want you for favors and granting wishes and then secretly naming you their whipping boy. They’ll draw you in with promises of good times, jokes, and laughter and their hook will be caught in your mouth the moment you realize what fun you can have together. But the glamour will fade, the polish will chip, the glitter will fall off, and you’ll be left anxiously filling your hands with pieces and handfuls but not a whole. Glimpses but not the portrait. You’ll be left muttering “sorry” more times than you can count for nothing that you did wrong, and yet you’ll still feel like everything is your fault.
And once this has happened, it will take a painfully long time to trust people again, as dramatic and cliché as it is to admit. I don’t mean for this to sound like you are a victim if you find yourself in a situation like this. It doesn’t mean you have to play victim – please don’t. But if you do find yourself in this role, throw down your script, yell “I quit!” and head out of that little production.
And go build your boundaries high and strong against these people that want to tear you down.
Because if you’re searching for friendship that is all the right kinds of messy, that’s not it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it is, either. Don’t try to reassure yourself or force yourself to believe it. Just go.
And I’m telling you right now, you may feel sixty-seven shades and textures of lonely. I said it before, I’ll say it again: the ache is the worst. And you may cry and scream and yell at the sky, “Hey! You! Are you there? Please change this, it hurts too much and it’s not fair.”
And you’ll have days where sitting in your favorite coffee shop feels like a chore, and doing schoolwork feels like torture, because you can’t stop thinking about the lack of alerts on your phone and the empty weekends in your planner, the days that used to be full of color with all the reminders of parties and get-togethers. No longer.
And that’s okay. Or it will be someday. Because eventually your heart will agree with the rest of you that being lonely is better than being chained to someone who kills your spirit, weakens you, pulls you down, empties you of everything you have to give — whether they’re aware they do this to you or not. And eventually you will find people to fill the holes better than any friends have in the past – you’ll find the people who build you up, give you trust and loyalty, make you feel fully loved and needed, remind you of the truth, give you grace.
Let me tell you what I don’t think boundaries are. They’re not sticking a mask onto your face. Don’t stuff your emotions under a cover and call it good. Because like an untreated wound, it will spread and show through sooner or later. And then what? How do you deal with it then?
And boundaries don’t mean color coding and labeling people in your head — ‘the blue ones I love, the red ones I hate.’ Don’t let boundaries equate to creating enemies. It doesn’t have to be that way.
And boundaries don’t mean running away. Don’t run if that’s not what you’re meant to do. Stand your ground; stand firm in who you are and what you know to be true. Boundaries are not an excuse to run in fear.
Boundaries confidently declare, “I love my God enough to show you grace and kindness like He has shown me, but I also love myself enough to know that this is unhealthy for me. For my own sanity, distance is necessary.”
Boundaries shout, “”I love myself enough to know that I’m worth more than these current circumstances, but I love my God enough to choose to love his people instead of deciding to hate them for the rest of my life.”
Boundaries state, “I’ve forgiven you. And it’s time for me to be on my way.”
And if you’re called self-righteous for saying these things, that’s okay.
If you’re called a bad friend, that’s okay.
If you cause pain in the midst of this process, that’s okay.
If you get sad, that’s okay.
If you grow lonely, that’s okay.
If your heart aches from all the lost possibilities and unchecked boxes on lists, that’s okay.
Forgiveness. Distance. They can be true and right at the exact same time.
If you’ve built strong, healthy boundaries that allow you to love yourself, love others, and love God, then you’ve done well.
Because even Mother Teresa had boundaries.