Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Lysa TerKeurst
Do you struggle with saying 'no'? You're not alone. Join Bestselling Author Lysa TerKeurst in a compelling conversation about setting healthy boundaries in relationships. True identity, biblical wisdom to navigate chaos and insights on self-care. If you're seeking to enhance relationships and emotional well-being, this episode is a must-listen.
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Struggle with saying ‘no’? Join Lysa TerKeurst’s conversation on setting boundaries, self-care, identity, and biblical wisdom for better relationships and well-being.
Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Lysa TerKeurst
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Lysa: I was walking around acting as if I had unlimited capacity; unlimited physical capacity, unlimited emotional, mental, spiritual capacity. I was just acting like, “I’m unlimited.” When we do that, we’re trying to put ourselves in a position to be the ultimate provider for other people, and that should only be God’s job.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We’re talking boundaries today.
Ann: Are you good at boundaries?
Dave: Well, you’re married to me 43 years. I don’t know. Am I?
Ann: Yes, I think you’re way better than I am.
Ann: Because I want to please people, so I say, “Yes,” and I do things that I probably regret later; but I feel like you’re good at boundaries.
Dave: Well, that wasn’t where I was going. I was thinking one of the first times I had to set a boundary was the first year I became a follower of Christ in college. I was on the football team, and I’d hang out with my football buddies. I was trying to stop some vices that were part of my pre-Christian life, including drinking.
I’d hang out with my football buddies, and I told them, “I’m done drinking.” And then being around them, I’d think, “These are great guys. I love them, but when I hang out with them, I do things I don’t want to do.” For me to become the man that God wanted me to become, I had to set a boundary. It’s one of my first experiences with it.
Ann: Why are we talking about this today?
Dave: Because we have Lysa TerKeurst with us. She has written a book called Good Boundaries and Goodbyes. Lysa, welcome back to FamilyLife.
Lysa: Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be with you.
Ann: I love the subtitle of your book, too, because it says, Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are. That’s the tricky part. I’m excited about where we’re going with this today.
Lysa: Me, too. It was important for that to be the subtitle, because the best motivation for boundaries is from a position of love. Sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is establish a healthy boundary.
Dave: Walk us through that. Why even write about Good Boundaries and Goodbyes?
Lysa: Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is, after I was no longer married—I spent years and years working harder on someone else than they were willing to work on themselves—it was crushing, and it was devastating; but then, after the divorce, I needed to work on myself. I remember one time my counselor—he’s a brilliant man; loves the Lord. He has a degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but then he’s also very well-respected in the counseling and therapeutic world.
Dave: He writes in your book.
Lysa: He does.
Ann: We love that you have sections from him.
Dave: Great stuff.
Lysa: Yes, yes. We actually do a podcast together. It’s so fun.
Ann: What’s the podcast called?
Lysa: It’s called Therapy and Theology. But I remember clearly, Jim telling me that if I wanted to attract healthy relationships—and at that point I wasn’t willing to date or anything, so it wasn’t even in a dating scenario, but—I needed to work on my health, because healthy attracts healthy. I said, “Okay. Well, what do I need to work on?” I very quickly discerned that I was a really good enabler, just really good.
I very much desire peace in my relationships, and because peace is such a high motivation for me, I didn’t know what I didn’t know; so, I didn’t realize that what I was doing was enabling. I thought I was helping, so it took me a really long time to understand that there are certain dynamics where you cross the line from having compassion to enabling that behavior to continue.
Ann: And that became your norm.
Lysa: Yes. With my house, I had done a big renovation, and my sister came to visit. She went upstairs after a long drive to take a shower. A few minutes into her shower, she yells down, “Lysa, there’s no hot water,” to which I replied back to her, “Oh, give me a minute. That just means I need to turn the back floodlights back on.” [Laughter]
When she got out of the shower, she came down, and she said, “Repeat to me what you said about why the hot water went out.” I said, “I know. It’s just so crazy. If the back floodlights are off, then the hot water goes out. So, all you need to do is just turn the back floodlights on and the hot water comes back.” She said, “You do realize that needs to be fixed, right?”
I said, “I know. I’ve been meaning to laminate a little sign and put it by the light switch for the back floodlight—"
Dave: [Laughter] That’s your fix!
Lysa: —“and tell people, ‘Don’t turn these off if you want hot water’.’” She leaned in and said, “You do realize that’s not normal, right?”
The point of that story is, we get used to our own dysfunction to the point where then it feels very normal, and we don’t even realize that we’re in this dysfunctional dance. That’s definitely what I struggled with, and a big part of learning is to have healthier skills rather than enabling or being codependent.
I remember when my counselor said, “Let’s talk a little bit about co-dependency.” I said, “Oh, I’m not co-dependent. I’m a very independent woman.” He said, “Okay, let me give you the definition of co-dependency. Do you ever find yourself saying, ‘I need this other person to be okay so I can be okay? So, are they okay? Because if they’re not okay, I’m not okay, okay? So, I really need them to be okay’.”
I said, “Oh, yes. I absolutely relate to that.” Being a recovering co-dependent and enabler, plus a classic people-pleaser, because sometimes when your high motivation is peace, it can feel like it’s easier to just go along with the demands of everyone to prevent any kind of conflict than it is to take the risk of the peace being disrupted. I had a lot to work on.
For years, I said, “Oh, yes, I’m a people-pleaser,” but I spent some time with the Lord as I was researching, asking the question, “Is God okay with boundaries? Where do we find biblical examples of this?” Because I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to draw healthy boundaries, nor did I have the spiritual confidence. So, I worked on the spiritual confidence first.
I remember the Lord really addressing some things with my heart and asking me when I was doing a quiet time—I just felt this question bubbling up: “Lysa, do you think that you’re pleasing people so that you can make them happy, or are you pleasing them and trying to keep them happy so they won’t take from you what they give you, and you fear you will not be okay if they took it away?”
I very quickly learned that was the real source of my people pleasing. We will always desperately want from other people what we fear God will not provide for us.
Ann: Give some examples of that.
Lysa: Well, if we’re in a relationship, and we fear that that person may be disappointed in us, that they may take their acceptance away, that’s a tough one. But chances are, if you’re worried about that person being so disappointed in you and not accepting you because you draw healthy boundaries, chances are that’s the kind of person who’s going to reject you eventually anyway, whether or not you draw healthy boundaries.
Ann: Yes, that’s good.
Dave: So, how did you start that journey in your marriage, because you’re seeing that in your marriage, and you’re tolerating it for what—decades?
Lysa: Yes, decades.
Ann: Which, I’m going to add, too, Dave—it feels as a Christian woman, walking with Jesus, it feels like that’s what we’re supposed to do. Aren’t we supposed to love them unconditionally? That’s a fine line.
Lysa: Yes. What I didn’t realize is that we can love unconditionally, but access that we grant people needs to be very dependent on whether or not they are being responsible with that access. Jesus did absolutely lay down His life, and He modeled for us to lay down our life. But Jesus laid down His life for a high and holy purpose. He did not lay down His life to enable bad behavior to continue.
Dave: You got to a point where you realized you were doing that?
Lysa: Yes, and I think it wasn’t just with my previous marriage. It was in a lot of relationships, because I just wanted to try to keep the peace. But what I realized is that, in doing so, I was losing the best of who I was.
Ann: I had heard you share previous times that you were a room mom. And a teacher, after your child was out of her class, asked you to come back and do a party.
Lysa: Yes, and help with the party for the grade that my kids were no longer in. [Laughter] See, this is where my tendency is. A request is made, and suddenly, I feel like it’s my obligation.
Lysa: In years past, in many relationships, I would think every request is now my responsibility. I realized one day, “No. It’s not my responsibility, because we have limited capacity.” I was walking around acting as if I had unlimited capacity; unlimited physical capacity, unlimited emotional, mental, spiritual capacity. I was just acting like, “I’m unlimited.”
When we do that, we’re trying to put ourselves in the position to be the ultimate provider for other people, and that should only be God’s job. Honestly, I was flattered that she wanted me to do the party, but I had to ask myself, “Do I really have the white space?” Because what will happen is, I’ll sign up for it now, and then as it gets closer and closer and closer I will be so stressed out, my family gets the worst of who I am.
Ann: I would say to myself, “Why did I ever say ‘yes’ to this?”
Ann: And yes, your family pays for it.
Lysa: That’s right. I now ask myself to be honest about reality. Mental health is a commitment to reality at all costs, so if we are committed to reality, then we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to be self-aware enough to know what our limitations are. It’s not because we’re selfish. Now, certainly, if our motivation is a selfish motivation, we need to check our heart. But most of the time our motivation, or at least mine, was, “I just want peace.”
I would rather pay the price than disrupt the peace. But you can only pay the price so long before you can become bankrupt. Just like we have limited funds in our bank account, and everybody’s pretty good about drawing boundaries around their bank account. Most of us have a passcode. I’m not saying you remember the passcode, [Laughter] but I’m saying most of us have a passcode.
Lysa: We’re not going to, on the air today, suddenly give all people all access to our limited funds. We know not to do that, and it’s responsible. It’s not mean or unchristian to limit people’s access to our bank account. We know it with that area of our life, but sometimes we miss it with so many other areas of limited capacity.
Ann: I thought the way that you responded to her and said, “No,” was genius. I’ve even already used it with someone.
Ann: No. I used it with one of our sons; this is how you could do it.
Lysa: Yes. My response was, “While my heart says, ‘Yes, yes, yes’ the reality of my time makes this a ‘No.’ Thank you for understanding.” My big question when I started this whole process [was]: “Is God okay with boundaries?”
Dave: Right, right.
Lysa: So, I sat down with my theologian-in-residence, Joel Muddamalle. He’s amazing. He’s actually Dr. Joel now. He has since gotten his Doctorate. We sat down, and we started in Genesis, and right from the very beginning, when God is establishing the foundation of the world, He has boundaries. He separates light from darkness. They work together to form a 24-hour period, but there is a separation where one stops and another begins. That’s called a boundary.
He told the water, “You can come this far, but no further.” That’s a boundary, right? Then I got over to Genesis 2, and I was even more astounded. The very first recorded conversation between God and man—think of all the topics God could have chosen for this first recorded conversation—God chooses the topic of a boundary.
The way God establishes the boundary with Adam is very interesting. He says, “You are free.” So, He establishes the boundary lines so that we know where real freedom exists. He said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” So, plenty of provision inside the boundary. It’s not like He’s being overly restrictive, and it’s for the sake of freedom. And then He says, “But you must not eat from this one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
And then there’s a consequence; because my counselor, Jim Cress, also taught me a boundary without a consequence is nothing but a mere suggestion. So, we see right from the first recorded conversation between God and man that there was a boundary established. In Genesis 2, there is one rule. Then, of course, Genesis 3 happens; sin enters in. What does sin bring? Chaos; and where there’s chaos, there’s a need for more boundaries.
As sin increased, chaos increased, and by the time we get in the Bible to the Law and the Prophets, there are over 600 boundaries. Why? Do you want to know where boundaries are needed in your life? Look for the chaos. Where there’s sin, there’s chaos, and where there’s chaos, there’s a need for boundaries.
Dave: Someone’s listening thinking, “The chaos in my life is my husband,” or “my wife.” I know there’s someone thinking, “Well, are you saying that I should eliminate them?”
Lysa: Well, here’s a really important lesson: I was studying how God formed the Tabernacle. When God formed the Tabernacle, which eventually became the Temple, He allowed certain people certain access, but not all people all access. And the closer access you were granted to the Holy of Holies, the more responsibility you had to demonstrate, all the way to the High Priest.
When the High Priest would go into the Holy of Holies once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people, that high level of access required high-level responsibility. He had to be absolutely purified and cleansed; and if he wasn’t keeping up that high level of responsibility, he would suffer the greatest consequence, and he would lose his life.
So, this gave me this little clue: to the level that I give someone access in my life is to the same level I need to require that they bring that level of responsibility. If I’m granting someone “level ten” access, and they’re only bringing in on a consistent basis about a “level three” responsibility, the distance between those, “level three” and “level ten,” is where the chaos will be found. It’s where the dysfunction will be found, and it’s where a boundary is needed.
The mistake I used to make is, “Great! Then I need to put a boundary on this other person.” You can have a conversation with another person and ask them to be more responsible with the access that you’ve granted them, but if they’re unwilling or incapable of anything above a “level three” responsibility, then putting a boundary on them using external pressure is never going to work.
If you were having a cardiac event today, I would rush to you, and other people who knew CPR would rush to you, and we would, using external pressure, do chest compressions, and we could sustain your life for a little while. But at some point, if your heart doesn’t beat on its own, external pressure will not sustain your life long-term.
Never have you seen two friends walking around a mall, one doing chest compressions on the other and thought, “Wow, that’s a sustainable relationship,” right? So, when we try to put external pressure of a boundary on someone who is unwilling or incapable of change, then it’s going to cause nothing, but increase the frustration and the simmering resentments in that relationship.
So, the wrong tactic is try to put a boundary on them to control them or manipulate them into doing what you want, and that is to change; to be more responsible. The right tactic is to put the boundary on myself, and if they’re unwilling or incapable of anything more than a “level three” responsibility, then the responsible thing for me to do is to diminish the access from “level ten” down to “level three” so equilibrium can be reached.
Ann: That’s tricky. You’ve done this too, Lysa, where you have all these young women, and they’re in a Bible study, and some women are just so frustrated in their young marriages. Dave and I were. We almost divorced at year ten. So, does she start pulling back her heart? When you say, “responsible” for her, what do you mean by that?
Lysa: Let’s take a scenario that may be kind of common in relationships that you have two people. Granted, any time you put two sinners together and say, “Hey, do life. Manage finances. Raise kids,” there’s going to be dysfunction. Even the most biblical families in the Bible—I used to think, to be a biblical family, there had to be no dysfunction. Yet, I’m so grateful that the humanity wasn’t stripped from the divinity of God’s Word, because we see many biblical families had dysfunction. Of course, they did, because you’re throwing sinners together to do life together, right?
So, instead of picking the hardest issue in the relationship, why don’t we pick one that can cause serious simmering resentments? We know simmering resentments can lead to major, major dysfunction in a relationship. It’s very common for us to attract opposites, and so, let’s say you have a dynamic where the wife loves to be on time and the husband has a different definition of being on time.
Dave: So, are husbands always really slow getting out of the house?
Ann: Yes. Yes.
Dave: It’s just one of our things.
Lysa: He loves to be more creative with his time, right? [Laughter} But what can happen is, to have a conversation where the wife says, “Hey, I want to let you know that it is really important to me when we go to a conference—when we go to church on Sunday morning, whatever, it’s really important to me—to be there 20 minutes early.”
“That’s my issue, and I’m not going to try to control you and what time you arrive, but I’m saying, to better manage my issues, I am going to pull out of the driveway at 8:00 a.m., and if we’re both in the car, fantastic. We can ride together. If we’re not both in the car, no big deal. We’ll drive separately. I’ll get there; I’ll save you a seat; I’ll get you some water, and we will sit there, and we will do the event together.”
“But it just means because we have different definitions of being on time doesn’t make you wrong and me right or me wrong and you right. It just means we’re different, and that’s okay.” That’s how that can go, and boundary conversations don’t have to be this big, dramatic, awful thing, like, “Do I want to stay married or not stay married?”
Oftentimes, it’s these undercurrent issues that really do so much wear and tear that, when the bigger issues come up, everything feels big. I’m convinced more relationships die not because we try to have boundary conversations and they don’t go well, but because there are conversations that desperately needed to be had that are never had.
Shelby: That’s so well put, and I really need to process how, personally, I’ve failed to have some of those healthy conversations, own that, and then purposely pursue those kinds of conversations in the future. I am deeply moved to do so. So, so good.
I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Lysa TerKeurst on FamilyLife Today. Lysa has written a book called Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com, or give us a call at 800-358-6329.
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Ann: Think about some of the topics we’ve hit: deconstruction.
Dave: Our kids walking away from our faith.
Dave: Porn, addictions.
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Many of us need to explore the biblical foundation of healthy boundaries in our relationships. Well, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are back again with Lysa TerKeurst to talk about just that. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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