Healthy Boundaries: Loving People With “No”

31 May

HEALTHY BOUNDARIES- Loving People With %22No%22Recently, I’ve found myself saying “no” more frequently. Admittedly, when we go through difficult seasons, we definitely draw more inward and limit our interactions and involvement. That’s a normal response when we need more mental and emotional energy to process the harder parts of life.

Even so, I’m becoming more comfortable with “no” and finding it to be another way to love people. For one, it’s being honest about ourselves instead of making false promises. Good intentions are a beautiful thing, but when we regularly can’t carry them through, we become people who disappoint.

In child-raising or managing employees, “no” can be a friendly word that clearly delineates where the guardrails and boundaries are before they are accidentally (or intentionally) crossed. Children tend to feel secure when they know expectations; this is also true in the workplace.

So why are relationships so difficult?

Why do we struggle at times to place down a healthy “no” in our closer relationships?

Is it because:

  • We risk rejection?
  • Someone might be hurt?
  • We sound too stern and controlling?
  • We fear being alone if we’re not received?

I imagine we struggle with that word for all those reasons and more.

My “no”s have been all over the map lately.

1. When We Need to Take Care of Ourselves or Others

An obvious “no” was when a phone call came in needing my urgent help while we were burying my father. Um, no. Some situations are too sacred to break away to help someone. We need to take care of our own business at times. I was not going to let anything invade that precious space. It was simply not in my bandwidth during that time.

2. When “No” Takes the Form of Silence

At another time, I believed that God told me to walk into a very toxic situation and shut my mouth (lick a shut-up-sicle). He wanted me (and my children) to only speak His Word, not our own. I am not at all talented in this area of self-control. My mouth longs to express itself creatively and clearly, but this time, I was to be quiet. Through God’s “no” to me, I also was able to calmly exert my own “no” to invasive questions and hurtful comments.

Silence is often a beautiful form of “no,” as long as it isn’t used to hold someone hostage or punish with the silent treatment.

3. When We Need Alone Time With God More Than With Others

On a practical side, I had to say “no” to my usual Monday morning prayer accountability partner. Prayer is definitely a worthy pursuit, but I had returned from a very emotionally wearying trip, and I needed to regroup with God alone.

4. When “No” Keeps Us in a Healthy Space

And “no” can also direct our relationships in a clear way when they teeter on the edge of abuse. We can’t respect ourselves or others if we allow people to cross lines with us that make us anxious, uncomfortable, or unsafe. I have a few relationships right now where I’ve had to essentially say: “If you can’t stop with this particular unhealthy behavior, I am going to need to take space until you can interact with me in healthier ways.”

Those moments are not fun, but they protect us from being dragged down into darker places that distract us from our purposes to love in healthy ways. It’s not up to us how the receiver responds.

Good for you, Bonnie, but did Jesus do this? Is this biblical?

Let’s see where Jesus used His “no!” That is the model I hope to follow in learning where my boundaries should be in any particular situation. It’s also where I find the validity and justification for my “no.”

When He says, “yes,” I want to be ready for that as well.

1. When We Need to Take Care of Ourselves or Others

When the disciples considered the children a bother and wanted to turn them away, Jesus essentially told them, “no!” and welcomed the little children. He knew how much they needed Him.

Matthew 19:13-15, ESV, Matthew the Apostle narrating

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.

When Jesus’s dear friends Mary and Martha sent for him to heal their brother as he lay dying, Jesus said “no” with His actions. He waited two more days before going. Why? He was following His Father’s direction to minister to others first, and raising Lazarus from the dead later became part of the greater purpose behind this moment.

John 11:5-11, ESV, John the Apostle narrating

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”

2. When “No” Takes the Form of Silence

When backed against the wall by the chief priests and council upon His arrest, Jesus did not let them trap Him with their questions. At first, He remained silent, and when He finally answered, He did not answer directly.

Matthew 26:59-64, ESV, Matthew the Apostle narrating

Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'”

And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”

But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

3. When We Need Alone Time With God More Than With Others

Even when the crowds gathered for teaching and healing, Jesus regularly made time with His Father alone a priority. Here’s just one example:

Luke 5:15-16, ESV, Luke the Physician narrating

But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

4. When “No” Keeps Us in a Healthy Space

Jesus offers a formula for when we are received well and when we’re not. This verse can be easily misused or overapplied. It’s all about context. Basically, He suggests we recognize when we are being received and act accordingly. He is referring specifically to the message of Christ being received. I find the part about peace to be such a great guide in general.

Matthew 10:11-14, ESV, Jesus speaking

“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.

As you enter the house, greet it.

And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.

The opposite of these healthy “no”s would be hyper-boundary-drawing from a place of needing to control. I can be this at times, when life knocks me around, but overall, if we stick to the examples of Jesus, we can stay within good guidelines of how appropriately apply and love with our “no”s.


*This blog was first a featured column at Your Tewksbury Today

**It has also been shared at any link highlighted here: Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin Tuesday, Worshipful Wednesdays, Women With Intention WednesdaysGrace & Truth, A Little R & R, RaRa Link-Up, Me, Coffee & Jesus, Dance With Jesus, Blessing Counters, Coffee & Conversation, Saturday Soiree, Tell His Story, Find Stability, So Much at Home, Faith-Filled Fridays, Reflect His Love and Glory Link-Up, Bonbon ‘n Coffee Linkup, and Christian Mommy Blogger.

Anecdotal stories about an everyday relationship with God can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day (includes Book Club Discussion Questions).


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4 responses to “Healthy Boundaries: Loving People With “No”

  1. allycarter1

    June 5, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Boundaries are so important. The book, boundaries was actually required reading when I was at bible college and I can really see why they considered it so important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bonnie Lyn Smith

      June 7, 2016 at 5:21 pm

      Oh, I love that book, Ally! I hope it’s required reading for not only Bible college but also social work and therapy training. Thank you so much for stopping by! Blessings!


  2. Lori Schumaker of Seaching for Moments

    June 6, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Hi Bonnie,
    What a great stop of encouragement this was today! These are all such sound reasons to say “no”! I know from experience that when we do not take care of ourselves and fear saying “no”, it makes us weary and unproductive for the things to which God truly wants us to say “yes”!

    I’d love for you to join me in sharing hope each Monday at #MomentsofHope! My prayer is for God’s hope to be overflowing in that space so that other’s may experience the same hope we know in Him!
    Blessings and smiles,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bonnie Lyn Smith

      June 7, 2016 at 5:25 pm

      Oh, I’d love to join you there, Lori. I’ll try to pop by and sign up for notifications for the future. Thank you so much for coming by! I really appreciate the reflections you offered here. Boundaries are a good thing and are healthy for all parties. So hard to develop them at times. Blessings!



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