Sneak peek: Lysa TerKeurst's new book on boundaries

We can’t set good boundaries without love

The following is an excerpt from Lysa TerKeurst’s brand new book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are. Lysa is president of Proverbs 31 Ministries and the author of more than 25 books, including It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way and Forgiving What You Can’t Forget.

We Can’t Set Good Boundaries Without Love

Well, hello. There’s so much I want to write in these first words to provide the right environment for this book. I wish I could hand you your favourite coffee, toss you a blanket, set a box of tissues on the table in front of us, put on just the right soundtrack, and catch up on where we both are in life.

I would so much rather talk all of this through face-to-face. Or at least write this to you in a letter in my own handwriting. There’s a deeply human element that I don’t want to get lost in these black-and-white pages and words typed with a computer font. We’re both picking up this book in the middle of real life where we’re navigating what works and what doesn’t in the relationships we treasure.

And because relationships are so very organic, they move like breath in and out of our lungs, expanding with deep connection one minute and in the next atrophying into complete misunderstanding. Relationships are wonderful and full of love and frustration and wrought with angst and all the things we bring into every attempted embrace with another person. When those we love draw close to us, they draw close to our issues. And we come face-to-face with their issues as well.

And as we open up to each other, the deeper we connect, the more vulnerable we become. The more vulnerable we become, the more exposed the tender places inside of us become. This exposure is risky. When we dare to be so very known, we risk being so very hurt. When we dare to be so very hopeful, we risk being so very disappointed. When we dare to be so very giving, we risk being so very taken advantage of. And when we dare to unnaturally change into what someone else needs, we risk losing ourselves in the process.

To love and be loved is to be enveloped in the safest feeling I’ve ever known.

To cause hurt and be hurt is to be crushed with the scariest feeling I’ve ever known.

You and I both know this. In different ways with different people and to varying degrees, we know the multifaceted complications of love and heartbreak.

We dream of the best, we dread the worst, and we keep trying to figure out how to do relationships right. We build our lives around those we love. And those we love build their lives around us.

We laugh and connect and disconnect and fight and make up and coast and drift and come back and think about how lucky we are to be with someone until we send our counsellor the broken heart emoji with the text, “Need help now . . . this isn’t going well.” Or maybe we use other words and emojis we can’t really put right here in this little book.

It’s just not all magical like the plots of the Hallmark Christmas movies.

People in these movies seem to live with the blessing of predictability and things always epically working out. There’s never a need for ongoing boundaries because there are no ongoing hardships. Once the story turns for good, it stays good until the credits roll. Last week I sent a text to my friends after watching too many of these movies. It was my attempt at correcting these unrealistic plots.

And it went like this:

OPENING SCENE: Snow falling gently on townspeople smiling, laughing, ice skating. Girl is serving customers in the midst of everyone else’s fun. She has an unreasonable, mean boss. She looks out of sorts, like she’s searching for something, something that’s just beyond her grasp. Suddenly a man with a guitar, smug attitude, and unusual fame appears. And he’s a secret prince from a far-off land. She spills water on him. He writes her a song. They fall in love.

CLOSING SCENE: She becomes a princess.

But unfortunately, we all know that’s unrealistic. Life doesn’t tie up in a neat, nice bow. So, really the script should go like this:

OPENING SCENE: Same beginning scenario, but … she spills water on the guy, he freaks out, doesn’t leave a tip, tries to get her fired, and she goes home mumbling about what a jerk he was. Also, his castle is in foreclosure and soon he’s working as a busboy at the same restaurant. She’s eventually promoted to manager, becomes independently successful, and she sets boundaries with him because he’s being irresponsible in the way he closes out the registers each night. Then she makes some discoveries that cause her to fire him because he’s stealing from the cash drawer.

CLOSING SCENE: She buys the castle and invites her friends over to process what went wrong with him and how in the world he could steal from her! But then, after the closing scene, she questions herself over and over and still wishes things could have been different.

Obviously, Hallmark isn’t clamouring for me to write for them anytime soon.

But I am eager to process what I believe has been the missing piece in the storyline of my relationships for far too long: good boundaries.

Now, this is where I want to look straight into your eyes and say something really important. This isn’t a book about leaving people. It’s a book about loving people in right and healthy ways. And it’s about communicating appropriate boundaries and parameters so that love can stay safe and sustainable. Boundaries aren’t meant to shove love away. Quite the opposite. We set boundaries so we know what to do when we very much want to love those around us really well without losing ourselves in the process. Good boundaries help us preserve the love within us even when some relationships become unsustainable and we must accept the reality of a goodbye.

Throughout these pages we’ll seek to honestly examine what is and is not healthy in our hearts but also in the relationships where we invest our hearts. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s healthy and what’s not, so it’s important to seek godly counsel and, in more complex situations like addictions and abuse, someone specifically trained on the issues at hand.

After all, God’s ultimate assignment is for us to love Him and love others. And this is exactly what Jesus taught and modeled. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

But we can’t enable bad behaviour in ourselves and others and call it love. We can’t tolerate destructive patterns and call it love. And we can’t pride ourselves on being loyal and long-suffering in our relationships when it’s really perpetuating violations of what God says love is. Please hear me clearly say, the purpose of this book isn’t to quickly call out issues in others without looking honestly at ourselves as well. We need to examine our motivations and our mindsets.

And this isn’t a message that is encouraging people to divorce quickly, thoughtlessly, or unadvisedly. Proverbs 15:22 reminds us that there is wisdom in a multitude of counsellors. This also isn’t a message about encouraging people to abandon others just because things get difficult or the other person is walking through a hard season.

But we also don’t need to swing the pendulum to the extreme where we stay in a destructive, toxic, or abusive relationship no matter what. Boundaries should help us avoid extremes and live closer to the kind of love God intended for relationships.

Love must be honest. Love must be safe. Love must seek each person’s highest good.

And love must honour God to experience the fullness and the freedom of the sweetest connection between two humans.

Taken from Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lysa TerKeurst. Copyright © 2022 by Lysa TerKeurst. Used by permission of Nelson Books.

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Good Boundaries and Goodbyes

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