Love and Boundaries
Love. Caring about a person’s well-being irrespective of what they can give back to you and regardless of what they may do to you. When practiced, love is powerful. But it is not practical unless it is guided by boundaries. Love and boundaries need to be independently alive and healthy. Love without boundaries leads to relationships of abuse. Boundaries without love leads to relationships of restrictions and rules.
Establish Boundaries with Confidence
Many draw on the life and teachings of Jesus to learn love. Whether you believe that He is a teacher, a prophet, or God, His teachings are well regarded to be drenched in love. Forgiveness, grace, mercy, and humility all marked His life. His strength was grounded in love. Some, however, confuse love with being weak, a pushover. In any relationship, whether in leadership, a family relationship, or a friendship, love does not mean that we allow another person to consistently cross certain boundaries.
What are those boundaries? It is entirely up to you to define them. Create your own boundaries. Go ahead, don’t be afraid. Then confidently enforce them. Gently, at first. Then, directly when needed. These are your boundaries, so be confident to defend them forcefully and aggressively if they are being crossed.
Let’s go back to Jesus. We recently started talking about becoming a Second Mile Organization at our clinic. Going the second mile is a teaching of Jesus. He says if someone forces you to go one mile, go with them a second. That’s a principle steeped in love. It is a principle of forgiveness and mercy. I love going the second mile for my patients. I love going the second mile for my staff. However, it would be completely wrong for me to equate going the second mile for my patients and employees to becoming oppressed or abused by them.
I have on several occasions asked patients to leave my clinic if they cross certain boundaries of decency with me or my staff. I have fired employees for similar reasons. Enforcing those boundaries does not take away from my love for them. But as a leader, there are boundaries that I must defend. Otherwise, my love cannot be practically practiced.
Jesus always stood up for Himself and had clear boundaries, though you rarely hear about this when his life is spoken of. He put the Pharisees in their place, all the time. He did not take abuse from them. He stood up to His own disciples when He needed to. He told Peter once, “Get away from me Satan.” And yes, He even became physically violent when merchants were using the temple for profit.
This is the same Jesus Who washed the feet of His disciples. It is the same Jesus Who loved the unlovable, the lepers, and the outcasts of His day. It is the same Jesus Who died willingly to save the world.
Enforce Boundaries with Love
Loving people does not mean that you lay prostrate and let them trample all over you. You are not a doormat. Neither does maintaining boundaries mean you become a dictator without grace, patience, or forgiveness. You are not a tyrant.
First, you must be clear as to what your boundaries are. When people cross them, do not ungracefully become loud and pushy. Be very kind. And in the right time communicate to that person in private that a boundary was crossed. Thoughtfully choose the right words and the right tone. If they cross them again, you must keep pushing back as gently as possible, but with increasing directness depending on the situation.
May God give you and me the wisdom to be paragons of love, mercy, patience, and forgiveness. And may He give us the wisdom and courage to stand up for ourselves when someone is being irreverent or abusive.
You cannot lead people if you do not love them. You cannot lead people if you are scared to love them and allow them to push you around. Love and boundaries. We must practice both with patience and grace, but also with expectancy and strength. It takes a lifetime to learn how to balance them seamlessly.
If you feel you may be lacking in either, don’t feel bad. Just start reflecting on it, and learning how you can move forward in this most important area of leadership.
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