Climbing fences: Setting and keeping boundaries

by | May 22, 2022

An invisible fence is a popular way to keep pets at home without constructing a physical fence. The concept is simple. A wire is buried that carries an electrical charge when turned on. The pet, usually a dog, wears a collar with two electrodes aimed at the neck, which provides a shock or vibrates whenever the pet gets near the buried wire.

While this idea may sound inhumane, makers of invisible fences remind potential customers that a pet running loose is less humane. Pets involuntarily traded in their knowledge of surviving on their own in exchange for daily pampering. Most dogs learn quickly to stay within the invisible boundaries that may be marked with visible flags during training.

However, we no longer have a working invisible fence to keep our dog, Duke, from visiting neighbors. Although Duke seems to understand the idea of boundaries, he also notices when he is not being watched. Fortunately, he’s been able to find a dog-friendly person to call the number on his collar to get a ride home.

Boundaries help keep Duke safe. And similarly, boundaries help keep you and me safe. But, like an invisible fence, the boundaries that keep us safe aren’t seen, requiring communication. And must be turned on to work. And we turn on our boundaries when we intentionally set and hold limits.

One way to talk about boundaries is to consider our everyday individual roles.

As a pastor, I have a role in the life of Asbury Church. However, different persons have differing ideas about how I spend my time. Therefore, it’s essential that I communicate and stick to what I’m capable of doing and can do. By saying no to a request outside the boundaries I set, I’m better able to be effective in my role as pastor.

It’s important to set boundaries that protect us from harm, including trying to do too much.

The same is true for my role as a parent, husband, sibling, friend, and managing our nonprofit. We all have various roles that create expectations on our time and availability to live up to the expectations of the people around us.

And it’s difficult for most of us to say no to a reasonable request, Particularly if the demand falls within the things we ordinarily do. And it’s even more complicated if we’re asked to do something we enjoy doing. And no’s are more complex whenever we feel threatened.

According to Dr. Stephen Porges, we determine safety through a subconscious process called neuroception. Our brains rely on past memories to assess danger and whether we encountered either positive or negative effects from similar situations. This means that if setting and holding boundaries in the past resulted in negative consequences, saying no replays negative feelings.

This is why it is so important that we can engage the thinking part of our brain as we consider a request that violates our boundaries. According to Daniel Siegel, our prefrontal cortex secretes a substance that calms the fear center in our brains, known as the amygdala. The result is not unlike the way a mother consoles her frightened child.

Aundi Kolber adds that “the embodied knowledge that we are beloved no matter what” makes setting and holding boundaries possible for all of us to do. This process, she writes, is another way that science confirms that God created us with both the desire and capability to discover the inner peace promised by Jesus.

So, let’s call reasonable expectations that we agree to meet our “load.” Each of us has a load to carry based on our daily life roles. In Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he writes that “each of you has to carry your own load” (Galatians 6:5). Yet a load may feel like something we don’t want to carry.

Each of you have to carry your own load.
Galatians 6:5

Sarah Geringer writes that “a load can be a great blessing” in an article on her website. And as a mother of three children, Sarah lives out her role in the tasks that she takes on as a result of carrying the load that comes with motherhood. And she concludes that “My role as a mother has been the most satisfying job of my entire life.”

Sarah’s conclusion is consistent with mothers the world over. But parenting in general, and mothering in specific, comes with challenges, disappointments, and heartache. Nevertheless, those of us called to motherhood gladly carry the load that comes with the role.

And the same can be said for every role of every person. When we carry the load God chooses for us to carry, we find satisfaction and joy. But we experience the opposite when we try to carry another person’s load.

Aundi Kolber writes that “Jesus was ultimately a suffering servant, but He lived out this truth from a place of choice.” Jesus knew that His joy came from living out His role as the Messiah. And He carried His own load rather than ask others to carry it for Him. But Jesus was also clear regarding boundaries.

We set boundaries when we refuse to carry another person’s load. Does it surprise you that Jesus tells us to carry our own loads and refuse to carry the load of our neighbor? Let’s break this down before jumping to any conclusions.

First, in Paul’s letter, he also writes that we should “Help carry one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). The distinction between a load and a burden is critical to understanding boundaries. Burdens are intended to be shared because no one of us can carry burdens on our own and find satisfaction. The differences are often subtle but critical to healthy relationships.

A burden may come out of extenuating circumstances, such as illness or injury, preventing a person from carrying their own load. Burdens also come out of community activities that require cooperation and working together to accomplish. Therefore, God expects us to share burdens in addition to carrying our own load.

Boundaries help us to communicate where the differences lie. Unfortunately, while this sounds simple enough, we humans are messy and complex. And sometimes we lack the motivation to carry anything, including our own loads.

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Pastor Tommy

Content for this series is based in part on:

Aundi Kolber. Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode–and into a Life of Connection and Joy. Carol Street, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2020.

Sarah Geringer. “The Difference Between a Load and a Burden.” ©, February 5, 2020. Retrieved from: link.

Dr. Menije. “I Have a Hard Time Setting Boundaries; Where Do I Begin?.” © /, June 23, 2021. Retrieved from: link

A Community in Love with God, Each Other, and our Neighbors.