Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.
–Proverbs 22:24

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
–Matthew 5:37

When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them. If you have been enabling them to be irresponsible, your limit setting may nudge them toward responsibility.
–Henry Cloud

You best teach others about healthy boundaries by enforcing yours.
–Bryant H. McGill

Dear Munchkins,

You’re going to need to have healthy boundaries as you go through life, and please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s a lot of pop psychology and new age nonsense out there about how real love for others means having no boundaries. Let me use a PG term to describe that: horse pucky. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “Love your neighbor; yet don’t pull down your hedge.”

As you go through life, you are going to need to have your physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries in place and do whatever you can to not let people violate them. A phrase Pop heard growing up, attributed to poet Robert Frost, was, “Good fences make for good neighbors,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. Fences, not walls, between us and others help us to know where we begin and end and where our neighbor begins and ends.

Pop and Nonnie have been blessed over the years to have good neighbors, and I hope they felt we were good neighbors in return. But, let’s say along the way that one time we had bad neighbors. Let me tell you what that would look like.

Bad neighbors would walk into your garage anytime they wanted to and borrow your lawnmower and yard tools without asking. Bad neighbors would drop in uninvited and talk your ears off for hours and hours about all their personal problems. Bad neighbors would yell at your children when they felt your kids were misbehaving. Bad neighbors would tell you that you can’t plant certain trees in your yard because they don’t like the sight of them. Bad neighbors would park their cars in your driveway (without asking) because they want to leave room in their driveway for family and friends to use. Bad neighbors would come over to borrow a cup of this and a gallon of that and never think of returning the favor or ask what they might offer you. I could go on.

The point I want you to hear in all this is that you can’t afford to go through life without proper boundaries given that we are all imperfect human beings and will unknowingly or even purposely violate other people’s boundaries along the way. Fences, not walls, make for good neighbors, and you’d better make sure you have them with others (and allow others to have them with you) if you want to get along properly with your neighbor.

I keep saying “fences, not walls” because sometimes our boundaries with others are too rigid and impenetrable. Going back to my earlier description of horrible neighbors, what if Pop was the kind of neighbor who would never let someone borrow his lawnmower, never let people drop in to talk about their problems, never let others bring his children’s misbehavior to his attention, planted hundred-foot-tall sequoia trees in his yard that caused the grass in his neighbor’s yard to die, never made his driveway available to a neighbor when they needed it, or always expected something in return when loaning a neighbor a cup of this or a gallon of that?

Sometimes, in an effort to have good boundaries, we actually erect a brick wall between us and others, a wall that gets in the way of the relationship being loving and supportive. Sometimes, our boundaries are so rigid and unyielding that we fail to fulfill the second greatest commandment ever given to personkind, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

Proper boundaries are a hard thing to figure out at times. It’s difficult to know when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” But I want you to work on this along the way because you’re sure going to need them as you move from childhood to adulthood. Pop has made numerous mistakes along these lines, sometimes saying “Yes” when it was time to say “No,” and sometimes saying “No” when it was time to say “Yes.” I regret that and wish I could go back in time and have a do-over. But we don’t get do-overs in life and just need to learn from our mistakes.

Munchkins, good fences make for good neighbors. Even if your neighbor doesn’t understand or feels hurt by your “Yes” and your “No,” try to say these words anyway when it’s the right time. If your neighbor comes over and wants to borrow your car for the next five years and expects you to pay for their gas, say “No” whether they like it or not. But, if your neighbor comes over uninvited because they are going through a personal trauma or tragedy, say “Yes” to listening to them pour out their heart and then do what you can to help get them into the proper person’s office who can take it from there.

Real estate folks say “Location, location, location.” As you go through life dealing with relational real estate, I want you to say “Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.” Don’t let anyone violate your physical, emotional, or spiritual boundaries, but always be ready to healthily meet these three kinds of needs so you can be a great neighbor.

Love,
Pop