Issues for women in leadership III - healthy boundaries
The reason this issue sets off bells ringing is because I experienced severe burnout last year. A caring friendship evolved into something that was so overwhelming and demanding and painful that something in me finally snapped. I've now been left with the effects of post traumatic stress and anxiety. This still feels like something that is foreign to me, as I have a naturally placid temperament. (I was one of those smiling "easy" babies). I had no idea what was happening to me when my first panic attack hit... all I knew was I was shaking all over and couldn't stand up.
This experience made me realise that if burnout can happen to me (naturally laid back soul that I am), it can happen to anyone.
This is a really difficult issue to balance as a Christian. Part of the life of discipleship is caring for others, part of the life of discipleship is going the extra mile, part of the life of discipleship is "laying down your life". Christians speak of the ideal of unconditonal love; of loving others as Christ loved us. What are the boundaries around such a love? Such love took Christ all the way to the cross.
Yet there is a difference to responding to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to lay down our life in service of others, and responding to the needs, wants, demands and even manipulations of other people. Somehow in responding to the invitation of the Spirit we find life, even when this entails sacrifice. But responding to the needs, wants, demands and manipulations of other people can lead us down some dark and dangerous places. Instead of finding life, we can find our life and health being squeezed out of us. We suffer... and then find we have not been bringers of life through our suffering, but creators of unhealthy co-dependency. Only God should "play God" in the life of another.
Discerning what is an invitation of the Holy Spirit, and what is a human response to wants and needs and demands requires wisdom. We need to find a deeper life of contemplation and awareness to keep our paths straight. We may serve others not so much for love of Christ, but to make ourselves feel better, or to relieve our conscience, or because we dare not say no, or we dare not risk rejection from others, or because we expect ourselves to be perfect. There are 101 unhealthy ways to serve... but responding to the invitation of the Spirit is the one healthy and life-giving reason to give our life away.
What is your experience of boundary conflict? How do you keep your life healthy? What are "danger" signs for you that you are giving too much and not enjoying enough sabbath rest and renewal?