Therapy and Theology

Sometimes the hardest part of setting boundaries is communicating them. What do we do when someone disregards or disrespects our parameters?

In the second episode of our miniseries titled "Boundaries Boot Camp," counselor Jim Cress will help you know how to respond when someone challenges your boundaries.

Related Resources:
  • Download Lysa TerKeurst’s free resource "Is This Normal? 15 Red Flags You May Be Missing In Your Relationships." Stop tiptoeing around dysfunctions that are robbing you of inner peace, and learn the difference between a destructive pattern and a difficult season.
  • Continue your personal journey to setting better boundaries that lead to better relationships with the help of Lysa TerKeurst's book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are. Purchase your copy today!
  • Ready to take the next step in finding your own personal Christian counselor? The American Association of Christian Counselors is a great place to find the right fit for you and your circumstances. Start your journey here.
  • Click here to download a transcript of this episode.
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What is Therapy and Theology?

Have you ever looked at a situation you’re facing in utter disbelief and thought, "How will I ever get over this?" Lysa TerKeurst understands. After years of heartbreak and emotional trauma, she realized it’s not about just getting over hard circumstances but learning how to work through what she has walked through. Now, she wants to help you do the same. That’s why Lysa teamed up with her personal, licensed professional counselor, Jim Cress, alongside the Director of Theological Research at Proverbs 31 Ministries, Dr. Joel Muddamalle, to bring you "Therapy & Theology." While Lysa, Jim and Joel do tackle some really hard topics, you’ll soon find they're just three friends having a great conversation and learning from each other along the way.

Jim Cress:
Hey, it's Jim Crest back with you again, and I'm so looking forward to our time together — as brief as it is — and hopefully something that I say today or share with you will be helpful in a very practical way on this, well, this messy topic of boundaries. Let's spend just a few minutes talking about control, whether that be in relationships or really any situation at all. How do we become OK with letting go? That's tough, because that can scare you. It scares me at times, like what if it's your kids or a spouse or a partner, somebody you're in a relationship with, and then it seems like you're just watching them go in the ditch and spin out of control. But what if that's what's best for us in our own boundaries journey? Let me share something with you that I think is going to be very, very helpful.

This is from Nehemiah — of all places in the Bible — talking about controlling what you can and let the rest alone. And think about the serenity prayer. God, grant me — this is a version of it — grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change. Did you notice that? That's serenity. Grant me the peace to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can change, and the wisdom to know that the only person I can change is me. It's not passive. It's not something you're just kind of giving up; you can though consider that you're turning that person in your mind, your soul and your prayer life over to God and saying, God, have mercy on this person. Please help them. But you realize how little control you have over people. You see, you dare not work harder on another person, no matter how much you love them; you dare not work harder on another person than you're watching them work on themselves.
They have to do their own work. Again, we're back to that buzzword of “codependency.” Sometimes people are trying to blame you for things, and you feel scared or sad about it. Blame is often just an attempt to discharge their own pain. Adam did that in Genesis 3, right? "It's that woman you gave me," and God didn't accept that then. So don't carry and bear the responsibility for someone else's sin or their unhealthy living, much as you'd like to. I told you I'd take you to Nehemiah. Watch this. They've rebuilt the walls, and this whole thing is pretty powerful. Sanballat and Tobiah were two enemies. They tried every way they could to get Nehemiah and all the builders to drop their boundaries, stop rebuilding the wall, stop rebuilding their lives. People will do that.

They're trying to get you this way, and they gaslight you and that way maybe try to make you feel guilty for their own unhealthy living. Finally, Sanballat comes to Nehemiah in a letter and says, "Hey, we couldn't get you any other way. Come out here to the plain of Ono" — that's what it's called — "Come out here to the plain of Ono that we could take counsel together. Let's talk." Maybe someone in your life says, "Let's have a conversation." Nehemiah adds here, "But they intended to do me harm" (Nehemiah 6:2, ESV). There will be conversations that you're going to be drawn into, and maybe someone's going to blame you for their own problems. You have to watch — I even call it seduction — where you're being drawn into a conversation that's really not yours as far as your responsibility to fix or to work on.

How did Nehemiah respond? You talk about boundaries, right out of God's Word, watch this. “But they intended to do me harm,” Nehemiah said, “so I sent a letter back and said this” — this is great; listen to this — “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?" (Nehemiah 6:3, ESV). So Nehemiah said, "Just because you're bidding me or requesting me to come out and have this conversation, because you intended to do me harm, I'm not having this conversation." You don't have to say we're not. I encourage you: Don't say, "We're not having this conversation," even in the most intimate relationships, but say, "I'm not having this conversation." Well, they sent back four more times in the same way.

Watch for people who will do that to you. They're going to come at you four more different ways; in the side door, the window, through the chimney to get at you and say, "No, no, really, we need to talk about this." Or "Don't you think you need to own this?" Trying to blame you for their unhealthy behavior four more ways, and this is what I love about Nehemiah: He had good boundaries right here. He says, "And I answered them in the [exact] same manner" (Nehemiah 6:4, ESV). Don't change your tune. You can say, "Thank you and I'm not having this conversation," or "This doesn't work for me," or "I don't have it to give." Well, the last time, Sanballat says we'll get you this way, and he comes and says, "I know what you're doing. You're trying to build and rebuild your life just for your own selfish reasons."

People will try to gaslight you or just kind of trick you in your mind there. And he went after him and said, "You're trying to set yourself up as a king," and all that, and Nehemiah said this line, "No such thing as you said has happened, for you have invented them out of your own mind" (Nehemiah 6:8). That's the way it's going to be with a lot of people. They're going to invent these stories and narratives and try to blame you. You can stand back without judging them. Stay in your sacred self in saying — go vertical with God — “I know what I'm doing is right.” And don't let their problem particularly become your problem. There's some healthy boundaries.