How to start setting healthy boundaries.
I love fairytales – don’t judge me, please. I realize that I am no longer in the appropriate age group to indulge in fairy tales, but I seem to remember an inordinate amount of fairy tales. I also seem to be very fond of those compiled by the Brother’s Grimm. They are the ones to whom we should be grateful for gems such as Rumpelstiltskin, the Princess and the Frog, Red Riding Hood and the boy with the golden goose, which is the subject of this article. I promise we will get to setting healthy boundaries in a minute but bear with me.
The Golden Goose Fairytale paints a picture of life without boundaries
Are you familiar with the boy with a golden goose? Here is a brief summary, as per Wikipedia: The Golden Goose
The hero is the youngest of three brothers, given the nickname Simpleton as he is not handsome or strong like his brothers. His eldest brother is sent into the forest to chop wood, fortified with a rich cake and a bottle of wine. He meets a little gray man who begs a morsel to eat and a swallow of wine but is rebuffed. The eldest brother later injures his arm falling into a tree and is taken home. The second brother meets a similar fate when he injures his foot. Simpleton, sent out with a burned biscuit cooked in the ashes of the hearth and soured beer, is generous with the little old man, who turns the biscuit and beer into a proper cake and fine wine. For his act of generosity, Simpleton is rewarded with a golden goose he discovers within the roots of a tree he cut down chosen by the little gray man.
Simpleton takes The Golden Goose to market. With the goose under his arm, he heads for an inn where as soon as his back is turned, the innkeeper’s daughter attempts to pluck just one of the feathers of pure gold and is stuck fast. Her sister comes to help her and is stuck fast too. The youngest daughter is determined not to be left out of the riches, grabs the sisters aprons and she ends up stuck to the second. Simpleton makes his way to the castle and each person who attempts to interfere is joined to the unwilling parade ranging from the innkeeper, parson, his sexton, two laborers, some village children, village girls, etc.
In the castle lives the King with the Princess who has never smiled or laughed. The king offers the hand of the princess to anyone who succeeds in making her laugh. The despondent Princess, sitting by the window and glimpsing the parade staggering after Simpleton and his golden goose, bursts out laughing. Some versions include an additional three trials: finding someone who can eat a mountain of bread; find someone who can drink all the wine in the kingdom; and find a ship that can sail on both land and sea. Simpleton succeeds in all with the help of his little old friend and finally wins the princess’s hand in marriage.
Why do we need boundaries?
Why am I writing to you about a golden goose when I promised to talk about healthy boundaries?
Because sometimes I feel like I carry a burden goose. I seem to take on the problems and worries of everyone around me, and I allow these burdens to stick to me like all the villagers who got stuck to the feathers of the golden goose. I also seem to say “yes” to any service that is asked of me when I know that my plate is overflowing with responsibilities and I am having difficulty staying afloat.
Why do I allow this to happen? Because I never mastered the art of setting boundaries. Master? Who am I kidding? I would fail Boundaries 101 if such a course existed! I kind of wish it did.
First steps to setting boundaries
As Christians, we need to differentiate between Holy guilt and manipulative guilt. I am preaching to myself before anyone else. A wise mentor once taught me that service should NOT replace prayer. Praying, reading the Bible, and spending time with the Lord should come first. Service enhances these priorities but should not replace them. In other words, if I teach Sunday School, help out in the Church kitchen, clean the bathrooms, and weed the church garden but do not pray or read my Bible, then I am missing the point.
So now the question becomes how do we set healthy, Christian boundaries so we are not overwhelmed and exhausted and justify our lack of prayer/Bible reading by our never-ending to-do list? Here are 4 suggestions to start building Christian boundaries that do not contradict the loving message of the Bible ( we are encouraged to follow the example of the good Samaritan, after all):
Prayer: Let us start with prayer: asking our Lord to guide us as we embark on this new journey.
Service Requests: Every time we are faced with a service request at Church, let us stop and ask ourselves why we are accepting to fulfil this service. Is it out of a misguided sense of guilt? Are we scared the person will stop “liking” us? Is the service a chance to shine and serve our ego instead of serving God? If we answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then our response should be: “No”.
Relationships: Are there toxic friendships that we have allowed to continue over the years? Time to pray and ask our father of confession how to extricate ourselves. Maybe that person becomes an acquaintance, someone we still pray for and with whom we maintain a cordial relationship, but we allow ourselves the grace to decline invitations and negative conversations.
Virtual Reality: Have social media comparisons and online debates robbed us of our peace? Maybe it is time to set boundaries on how much time we spend on social media platforms and the kind of content we absorb and with which we interact. Steer away from “repeat offenders,” those who type in CAPS LOCK as if they are yelling through the screen and who are only willing to listen to their own opinions and worldviews. Step away from the screen, make yourself a cup of tea, and pray for them. Do not engage!
I pray that we can all shed our burden goose because we might then be able to experience the true joy that comes from living in peace with ourselves and with others.
Other articles you might enjoy: Why do we feel guilty when we take a break?
Additional Coptic resources on this topic: Setting Boundaries in Relationships- SUS Copts
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