Boundaries.

I had a hard time learning the concept of boundaries in my life. I wasn’t really a “yes man,” but I had a hard time learning how to set a boundary with someone when they had certain things they’d come to expect of me. I would usually just makes excuses of why I couldn’t say yes rather than just saying no. I always felt like I had to have a reason to say no, or at least find one. 

No one holds your time or energy hostage. 

You do not have to say yes simply because someone asks you. And you don’t have to say, “I really wish I could but…” You can just say “No. That’s not right for me.” Or, “No. I can’t help with that because I have other priorities right now.” Or, “I love you, but no, I can’t spend time with you right now because you have cancelled on me too many times and my time is valuable.” I know this sounds harsh and the hardest part about setting boundaries is letting everyone around you learn to take no for an answer. Some will get very upset. They are used to getting whatever they ask for and this is natural. Some people may feel that you are acting less loving towards them or that you are upset with them in some way. This will pass. People will learn to appreciate your boundaries because they will know that when you say yes, you really mean it and you will not resent them for it later. 

The Message Bible has a passage they title “Empty Promises”

Matthew 5:33-37 “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

Setting boundaries and being straightforward is not just good for you, but it is good period. Jesus even told us to do it! I have had so many friends over the years who have cancelled plans. It has gotten to a point where there are many people that I will invite to a big party or see if they happen to be somewhere, but I will not make direct plans with them because they have wasted so much of my time by canceling. I even had a friend, when I asked if she was coming to my wedding, say “I really want to but I don’t know yet if I can make it. Can you just save me a seat?” I happened to have some extra space at that point, so I just said fine but I knew she wasn’t coming. People who know how to set boundaries and organize their priorities will love you harder and be honest with you always. It may hurt hearing no.. but you will appreciate it in the end. 

There will be people who will not appreciate your nos. These are people you need to seriously consider your relationship with. These people feel they are in control of your time and energy and will not ever accept your autonomy. This is a big sign of a toxic relationship with a controlling person. Sadly, this person may be a family member who you can’t avoid or even a spouse. If this is the case, I recommend family counseling immediately and I recommend even more strongly that you continue to set these boundaries. Maybe this will help your family member realize their own controlling behavior, but even if not they will eventually get used to your limits and many will move on to find someone else that is easier to control. 

Set yourself free. This does not mean being selfish. This does not mean being rude or condescending to others, but it means that you will be able to give 100% in everything you do which is all anyone can really ask and what everyone really wants. 

Foundational Character

Character. 

First, let’s start with the definition. Character is what you do when no one is watching. If this is the case, what does that even mean anymore? We post everything we do on social media. We post what we eat, what we wear, what we’re listening to. The only things it seems we don’t post are things we are ashamed of, which honestly, if you spend too many hours on YouTube you’ll realize is not much. 

As a high school teacher, I can tell you that positive reinforcement is drilled into teachers in almost every training we go to. Studies show that positive reinforcement tends to work even when the reinforcer leaves the equation, so we started using it in education all over the place. Teacher buy loads of candy, do treasure chests, have games with prizes, all so that students can feel an immediate positivity about reaching some kind of goal or exhibiting some type of desired behavior. This, of course, is a push back against old school academics with paddles and other punishments or negative reinforcement (when you withhold a reward) for example no recess. 

It sounds simple enough, and works a lot of the time. Students will respond quicker if they know they can get something out of it. So, great! That’s the answer then! …Right? 

Let’s take a minute before jumping on board here. What are we teaching children when we reward them every time they exhibit the behaviors that we prefer? Are we teaching them to value hard work? Are we teaching them to enjoy doing the right thing? No.. we are just teaching them to keep their eye on the prize. At best that leads to self-indulgence, cowardice, or short-sightedness. At worst, moral bankruptcy. 

See, we’ve stopped teaching children about integrity and character. Not all parents of course, but this, sadly, is the trend. We have learned that everything we choose has a consequence. We make our choices based on those immediate consequences and that’s that. What we are missing is who we are becoming in the process. Life is not about what you can accomplish, what grade you end up with, how much money you make, or anything else. Your job, your family, your schooling, your children, everything in your life is only the means to an end. That end is not any of those things in and of themselves but rather who you spend your life becoming. When we are hard pressed, that’s when we show our true character. What happens when cheating gives you more of a benefit than studying hard and ending up with a lower grade? What happens when having an affair gives more of a short term benefit than being loyal to your spouse who is struggling at the moment? What happens when you adopt a child who is exceptionally difficult and it would be easier to just give them back? Who will you be when the going gets tough and the positive reward doesn’t always come along with the morally correct choice? 

I will tell you that the end, and all the means to that end, will leave you with one thing: on your death bed, will you be proud of the life you lived? Will you know that you made a difference while you were here? Will you be confident that when you enter heaven, God says “well done my good and faithful servant”? 

Next time you are faced with a decision ask yourself: Which choice will make me more of the person I hope to become? Make that choice, not because of what reward you will receive or punishment you will avoid if you do… but simply because it’s the right thing to do. Character and integrity, they are the only things no one can take away from you. Protect them with your life because when character is lost, everything is lost. 

I Remember This Part

imageOver the past 6 months, I have been practicing what it feels like to be alone with myself. Not just alone, but really spending time with myself. I realized that I’d never in my life done that. Yes, I’m an introvert and love spending time in the quiet with my cat, with Netflix, with a glass of wine, but always WITH something.

I was going through something really rough and trying to make some big life decisions so I decided to rid my life of distractions for a month. No Netflix, no alcohol, no going out with friends, no Facebook, nothing. The only things I allowed myself to do other than work was school, reading, and exercising. Let me tell you, it was painful. Listening to the thoughts that go through my head and letting myself stop and feel the grief. It’s not fun. It’s not fun to let the tears fall and not allow yourself to call someone to hold you through it. But it’s real.

It’s the realest way to live. It’s authenticity, and it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful to know yourself and to start feeling beautiful in your own skin. To hear your own thoughts louder than the world’s opinions. To know what hurts  you and what boundaries to set in the future. The low times are painful. But once you’ve gone through it, the release is worth it in every way.

Avoiding all the distractions was a strange thing. Of course I realized how much time I waste on things like Facebook. But I also realized how much time I spend running. Many times the things I do as a distraction, I don’t even really enjoy. I’m simply doing it as a cheap distraction, when I could just face it and then start being productive again. The other thing that was most surprising was finding even more distractions. I realized the people I choose to spend time with when I am down, I realized the little things like cleaning and eating and music even. I wasn’t even enjoying the things that I would usually enjoy because I was simply using them to avoid myself.

I encourage you to start spending time with yourself and journaling, keeping records of your thought process and emotional status. There are so many things that you don’t even realize you’re letting yourself think, or things that seem logical when you’re upset that you can look at the next day and realize are completely irrational. But, mostly importantly you will notice cycles.

Life is made up of cycles. Almost everything in life repeats. You may not notice it because you’re stronger the second time around and it feels different, or it’s in a different context, or enough time has lapsed that you’re unaware. But everything in life comes in cycles. You will not always be at the highest point, but you will also not always be at the lowest point. Nothing lasts forever, not even pain. You are not a slave to your circumstances, but also nothing in this life owes you eternity.

This may be a  hard truth, but for me it has been liberating. I’m going to be honest and tell you these past few weeks have been wrought with heartache. I’ve been feeling myself grasp for the distractions and I’ve been hearing the lies going through my head. “You’re not good enough.” “You’re cursed. You’re a fool for believing it would be different this time.” “You made the wrong choices.” “You trust too much.” and on and on and on. But what’s surprising is that these thoughts don’t have the power over me that they used to.

I just finished reading Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. The book is about cultivating your creativity, but it is so much more than that. One of the things that spoke to me most was the discussion of the tortured artist. She talks about taking stock of your emotional state during the creative process. And the sentence I underlined and promptly taped to my mirror was, “I remember this part.”

I’ve been telling myself this. When I hear the thoughts that are oh so familiar and I feel the cycle starting to repeat, I just tell myself, “I remember this part.” I remember that I’ve been here before and it doesn’t last forever. I remember this part of the process. Maybe I’ll write a good song from it and then it will hurt less and less each day until I can eventually laugh about it or remember it with a smile. When you’re in the throes of the emotional pit, it is so hard to imagine things getting better, but when you can remember back to the last time you felt this way, oh how freeing that is!

Life is truly a series of cycles. When you’re feeling the joy, let yourself remember the last time you felt that same joy and that it didn’t last forever. Experience every bit of it and don’t take it for granted. And when you feel the pain, let yourself remember that too. You are stronger than you think. Don’t let your mind take over,  don’t romanticize your past. Take stock of the moments that make up your life to help yourself see more clearly. Remember this part, and keep an account of that as well so that next time you can even remember yourself remembering.

Keep your head up,

Joy