Most people hear the word, “boundaries” and automatically bring up the question: “How far can we go physically without crossing a line?” Of course, that’s an important question to consider, but in fact there is far more to it than that. Yes, boundaries can be physical. But they can also be emotional, or even conversational. For me, respecting my own boundaries with other people is essential: it’s one of the primary ways that I learn to respect myself!
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Being told to guard your heart can sometimes feel more like a threat than words of encouragement. But the reason that God calls us to guard our hearts is so that they can be given wholly, freely and selflessly in marriage. Because we live in a culture of instant gratification, our natural reaction is to jump head-first into relationships in an attempt to reap the benefits meant for much further down the line. Instead, enjoy each phase of the journey!
Setting boundaries for yourself doesn’t mean locking your heart up so tightly that you dodge human vulnerability. We’re also called to love people, and love IS vulnerable by nature! However, in order to love purely and selflessly, it’s important to be aware of how you act, what you say, and where you are, and to practice self-discipline in order to protect yourself from heartache and misdirection. Be discerning in your relationships: forming them on mutual trust, and building a strong foundation on which to then open your heart to them if and when the time is right.
As brothers and sisters in Christ we have a responsibility to each other. Sisters, teach your brothers about the dignity and mystery of women. Though it can be tempting to share your heart quickly with someone when you want them to really know you, getting into conversations which are deeper than your current relationship status leaves you open to confusion and desolation. Your heart is valuable. Make sure he can pay the price before you give it away. Demand respect and maturity, and the right person will show you it.
Brothers, be a living contradiction of the world’s message to your sisters that they are worth only what they can offer physically. Pushing physical boundaries—however unintentionally—reinforces the feeling that a woman’s body is more important than her heart or her intellect. It’s natural to want to show your affection physically—through a flirtatious nudge or by trying to sit as close as possible to her—but unless that’s followed up by asking how she is or showing interest in her opinion it can put the focus too much on the physical aspect to your relationship. Absolutely let her know she’s beautiful, but your behaviour should also remind her there is more to her than her body, and reassure her that you see and appreciate that. How do you naturally show your affection?
Boundaries aren’t only important within a relationship. When a potential relationship arises, you both deserve complete security at every stage. That means creating an atmosphere where the other person feels valued, comfortable and confident in your feelings for them. Being aware of your behaviour around other people now (especially with the opposite sex) will make you more able to distinguish it from your behaviour around someone you have feelings for later on. If you feel like you may be called to be someone’s wife or husband someday, then a great way to challenge yourself on your behaviour right now is to ask yourself the question: “If that person were here now, would they want me to be behaving in this way with this other person?”
The most important thing is not to feel like you’re living by a set of rules, but instead to focus on living in a way which pleases God and blesses those you love. A chaste way of life has to come from the heart. Discern your boundaries through prayer, and commit to them. What it ultimately comes down to is respect—for yourself and for others—which enables free, total, fruitful and faithful love to flourish. In that there is freedom, not restriction!
Esther Rich has a bachelor degree in Psychology from Oxford University, UK, and is currently completing the Sion Community Youth Foundation Year, working on their youth ministry team. She loves Theology of the Body, Papa Francesco and a good worship band. She is passionate about empowering women to be who they were created to be, and blogs at “For Such A Time As This.”