A Review of the Book “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

“Can you help this weekend with the youth ministry?”  “Would you mind bringing the main dish for the potluck tomorrow?” “We really need assistance with this business proposal and you seem like just the guy that could help!” “Would you be able to loan me a couple bucks for my lunch, just this one last time…put it on my tab”  Week in and week out, we are bombarded with needs and requests that feel less like a question and more like an obligation.  Quickly, we can feel less like volunteers and more like “volun-told” victims as we begrudgingly say “yes” for the “umpteenth” time.  Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend co-authored, “Boundaries: When to say Yes How to say No to Take Control of Your Life” to address this exhausting path of boundary busting.

In a culture of multi-tasking and bountiful balancing acts, it is hard to know when to draw the line.  Often saying, “no” creates anxiety because much is risked. What if it hurts someone’s feelings?  What if they get angry? What if I miss out on the promotion?  What if my boss thinks I’m not a team player?  What if I scare my kids, disappoint my mom, cause the ministry to fail, miss the sale, lose a friendship… etc.  The “What-if’s” haunt us causing us to allow our fences to breakdown into open gates where people and organizations trample us to the ground.   The book Boundaries addresses many of these areas by first identifying the definition and need for boundaries, and then systematically going through boundary-keeping in specific relationships (i.e. family, spouse, children, God, work, and even social media). 

From the Garden of Eden we can see that God is the author of healthy boundaries.  These health boundaries provide security protection, and ultimately freedom so that we can live the life God has called us to live.  “Boundaries define us.  They define what is me and what is not me.  A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.  Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.” (page 31, Boundaries).   When we conform to fear, guilt, unhealthy obligations, people pleasing, or addictions, we abdicate the right to govern our lives within the freedom and safety of God’s will for us.  The book Boundaries reminds us that it is ok to say, “no” and even necessary at times.  This right has been given to us by God especially if the motives behind our “yes” and breaking of our boundaries is harmful to our minds, bodies, and soul.  Destructive thinking and harmful habits can ruin our bodies, weakening our defenses against Satan and heartache.  The book Boundaries sorts through the damaging patterns and empowers the reader to exercise autonomy, limits, and forgiveness.

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend walk us through how appropriate boundaries are established and nurtured in childhood.  Many times, though, people suffer trauma and tragedy during childhood that impedes normal development, often causing a breakdown in healthy boundaries later on in life.  The counselors walk us through many true-life scenarios with practical tips on how to recover from these wounds so that future havoc is prevented.  The main take-away from this book is that you are in charge of you and others are in charge of themselves.  Only you can control your emotions, your response, your feelings, and reaction.  You cannot control another’s actions.  If you set up a boundary that another family, friend, coworker…etc. does not like, they may feel angry or hurt.  They may try to take their frustration out on you, but as a beloved child of God, you have permission to remove yourself from carrying their outbursts and seek shelter within your God-given boundaries.

The book offers much insight into identifying areas of broken boundaries so that the reader can identify and prayerfully confront their internal struggles.  Filled with logical steps in how to establish, develop, strengthen, and mature self-boundaries, the authors remind us that, “Life without boundaries is no life at all…Part of this process of healing is regaining our boundaries.  As we become like [God], he is redeeming our boundaries and our limits” (page 269 & 270, Boundaries)

If you long to have more control over your life and emotions, this book will illuminate truths of God to bring the freedom God intends.  It sheds light on the difference between “turning the other cheek” and being a “slave to Christ, not man.”  As the ever growing “to-do” list lengthens and life feels more out of your hands, permit yourself some time to read Boundaries so that you can find new freedom in Christ and more victory in your life. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Cor 3:17

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