I've always had a struggle with boundaries, whether they be physical, relational, sexual, familial, or professional. For as long as I can remember, I've had difficulties in seeing and defining where I ended and someone else began. Part of this comes from being raised in a household in which there was no clear delineation between my mother and me, where she stopped and I started.
Being in seminary, but especially serving a church, I've had a challenge in defining who my professional self is, partially because I am the first in my branch of the family to seek out more than just a job, choosing instead to have a career, a vocation. Unfortunately, this means that I've had very little in the way of modeling in my life when it comes to developing and maintaining healthy professional boundaries.
In my past, my lack of boundaries in the professional setting cost me dearly, leading to my dismissal from a graduate program in social work due to a severe lapse in judgment on my part with a client. Though I was not cognizant of it at the time, I had power that I had failed to acknowledge, and I caused harm. Even if unintentional, I made a mistake and have had to live with those consequences. My hope now is that I will not make such a grievous mistake again, especially not in a ministry setting.
All of this is surfacing because, for my last 3 months of field placement, my supervising pastor and I will be focusing on and reading through a book entitled Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. My supervisor, having asked advice of my field education director, decided that this would be a good way to finish out my time with the church. For this, I am thankful. Granted, my typical depression-induced paranoia kicked in when she told me that we would be doing this, leading me to inquire if this was because of any particular mistakes I had made. Thankfully, it was not (whew). Yet it does make me aware of how I am potentially perceived by those whom I serve.
There are days when I feel as if I have strong walls built up... impenetrable, invulnerable. Nothing can come in, and nothing can go out. I think this is something many of us struggle with, even if we don't always admit it. Other days, I feel like I have some semblance of a fence up, with a gate, which allows for deliberate flow of emotion, thought, action, and dialogue in and out of myself. Most of the time, though, I feel as if my boundaries are merely made up of a dense fog, incapable of discerning the dividing line between myself and others. I long for connection, intimacy, and relationship, and so, in the process, I end up losing myself in them, sometimes far too deeply. This is my problem, and I realize that, given my past and family history, it will take hard work to undo.
And so I ask for prayer, support, and accountability. If and when you sense my tendency to merge myself with you, please call me out on it, in love. Likewise, if you observe me locating to the other side of the pendulum, tell me then as well. Remind me that I can be me and you can be you, and that there can be connection and intimacy without either of us losing ourselves in the other. Help me be responsible for my thoughts, words, actions, behaviors, choices, etc. We're all made in the image of the Creator. Help me to not lose sight of the distinct Imago Dei that is me, just as I will seek to help you see the image of God that is you. Keep me responsible for handling my own load while sharing my burdens insofar as you feel comfortable doing. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ, is it not?!