Forgiveness & Boundaries

This week has been very busy. I have taught school during the mornings, as always. Monday and Tuesday afternoons, when my work was finished, I’ve studied Hebrew for two hours with my friend. Monday we studied hard. Tuesday we studied a little and then we talked about serious things, and laughed about funny things. Video-chatting is such a cool thing. We can see each other and it’s almost as if we are talking in person, even though we live hundreds of miles apart.

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day, with warm temperatures (72 degrees), blue skies, and sun making the trees blaze with color. I took my laptop on the front porch and studied with my friend there. Today was another very beautiful day.

I have been working on a letter to my Mom. I wrote three drafts, trying to say what I wanted to say, with the tone that I wanted to say it in. It’s not easy. I want to set the boundaries without sounding as if I was holding on to wrongs because I truly have forgiven my Mom…

I thought today I would try to explain the difference between forgiveness and boundaries. It’s very difficult to explain, and I have never been able to explain it very well, but I thought I’d try again because it’s very important to understand. It is something I struggled to understand or many years.

I have found that most of the time that a person says that she wants to set boundaries, people immediately think that she is saying that she wants to make a list of demands that must be fulfilled before she will forgive. It is true that it is important to forgive others, and it’s truth that a lot of people refuse to forgive others, so actually that is a legitimate concern. However, setting healthy boundaries in a relationships is not the same as unforgiveness. Boundaries are essential for healthy relationships, and it’s especially important when dealing with manipulative people.

I don’t have any expert evidence to back this up with, but it seems to me that forgiveness has to do with the past–when an offense that has occurred. Offenses can be intentional or unintentional, and they can be real or imagined. A real offense is one in which an actual wrong has been done. A “perceived” offense is one in which a person thought the other person wronged him, but a wrong wasn’t actually done. For example, if I expected you to visit me and got upset with you when you didn’t, but you had not said you would visit–that is a perceived wrong. You didn’t do anything wrong, but I felt that you had.

I think boundaries have to do with how a person expects to be treated in the present or future. Healthy relationships cannot survive without boundaries in place. They can’t survive if there are lies or disrespect or unforgiveness.

Suppose a family member said the following about you, even though it wasn’t true:

  • “You are the worse daughter a mother could have. You are a daughter from Hell.”
  • You are the “boldiest, brassiest bride I have ever seen–so determined that THIS was YOUR day and YOU would enjoy it”
  • “You didn’t deserve to wear white on your wedding day.”
  • “Your efforts to reconcile are a mere drop in a teacup.”
  • “No matter what you do, I will never, ever forgive you.”
What if someone got mad at you and refused to forgive you because of things like:
  • They didn’t like where you put your TV.
  • You were in the apartment basement doing laundry and didn’t hear them come to the door.
  • You mailed them a birthday card from your workplace instead of the local post office.
  • They didn’t like your house.
  • They didn’t like your husband (and they were rude and insulting to him).
  • They thought you had too many pets.
  • They didn’t like that you homeschooled.
  • They thought you shouldn’t take a vacation because “Life isn’t all about fun and games.”
What if they ruined your reputation through lies? What if they drove a wedge between you and other in the family?
Would you forgive? What offense would be too great for you to refuse to forgive? Would it be because the person said something nasty or untrue? Or because they did nasty things?
My Mom said or did most of these things to me, or she said them to others, or she said them about others to me. But God helped me forgive because I realized that everyone–including me–has sins, dysfunctions, weaknesses, and failures and we ALL need of forgiveness. We ALL say or do things that need to be forgiven. If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.
HOWEVER, what if you forgave, and the other person refused to forgive you and continued blaming you for things they felt were wrong, but wasn’t really wrong. What would you sacrifice in order to keep the relationship?
  • Would you divorce your husband because she didn’t like him and wouldn’t accept him?
  • Would you allow her to treat your husband with contempt, disrespect, rudeness, and insults?
  • Would you buy a different house because she didn’t like the house you bought?
  • Would you let her decorate your house because she didn’t like how you did it?
  • Would you stop homeschooling your child?
  • Would you get rid of your pets?
  • Would you not go on vacations because she didn’t approve?
  • Would you let her lie about you and ruin your reputation and relationships?
If you were willing to sacrifice these things, at what point would you stop sacrificing? And what if someone else didn’t like the way your house was decorated? Would you keep changing your house, or clothes, or life to please whoever didn’t it?

A healthy person can forgive, can compromise, but will also set healthy boundaries. These boundaries include insisting on truth/honesty, on respect, on mutual repentance/forgiveness, and on being given the freedom to make her own choices. Without these things from both parties, relationships fall apart.

So forgiveness is about forgiving offenses that have been committed. Boundaries are about defining acceptable and unacceptable treatment in a relationship.
I want to tell my Mom that I love her and forgive her, but I also want to set some boundaries that I believe are necessary if we are going to have a relationship.
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