Boundaries and Expectations of the Self

I had an interesting experience yesterday afternoon, and it ruffled my feathers pretty badly.

A man came to my door and asked me for money for food. I’ve had any number of pathetic sales attempts, I get evangelized with great frequency and my block gets a lot of foot traffic of the more questionable kind (I live on a cross street between two bus lines), but this is the first time anyone has knocked on my door for money. The gentleman who asked for money didn’t hit any of my danger signals… he wasn’t dressed like a gangbanger, he was older, heavy, no tattoos… he even carried a tattered Bible. His body language was very non-threatening.*

Except. A stranger knocked on my door for my money.

Why did it bother me? Strangers accost me for money all the time in parking lots and there I’ve not the luxury of a security door and a dog. But I don’t get rattled, just simultaneously sad and annoyed**. So why did it bother me so much at my door?

Because he stepped past the social norms – even the social norms of beggars – and entered my private space. He sent his gaze into my home. My expectations of being home do not include being the target of panhandling. Even polite panhandling. In my home, I take off my armor. My walls, my door – they are my armor. Emotionally, crossing the property line is an intrusion – you enter my space.

How does this relate to being real? I was raised with the idea that I should be open to help all those around me, the story of the Good Samaritan. Stories of 1930s era housewives known for kindness to the poor… that sort of thing, that’s the person I want to be. Helping is important to me.

But you have to set boundaries. I don’t like pushing people away, especially people in need. I don’t like putting up walls. I like my pleasant version of reality where everyone knows where the lines are, so you don’t need walls. I can’t expect myself to be constantly available – it’s not possible. I have to prioritize, I have to be able to say no. My “yes” is meaningless unless my “no” is meaningful.

It doesn’t feel “Christian”, it doesn’t feel right. My emotions want me to give to all who ask of me, to not turn anyone away. It hurts me when I have to give in to good sense and turn away in the parking lot. Should I have to wall my emotions away in my own home?

I could write a theological argument on both sides of this experience. But I’m listening to the lesson of this season of life – priorities. Boundaries. Changing what I expect of myself – because I can’t expect myself to be the “perfect Christian” – I have to be real in the negative as well as in the positive.

I’ve learned a lot – and not just adding another set of husbandly instructions to my “what to do if” file.

*I gave him a paper bag with cheese, apples, and oddments. My husband was vexed with me, and has told me to make such sit on the sidewalk, should that happen again. I hope it doesn’t!

5 thoughts on “Boundaries and Expectations of the Self

  1. Sis

    I think you’re awesome, I hope you know that. It’s good to have husbands who will protect us from ourselves.

    1. hearthie Post author

      Thanks Sis! I just wish he’d been home when that man knocked on the door!!! My goal is to be as squishy as all get out and let him be the strong support – but that’s not a luxury I can have every minute of every day, not unless I’m planning to build literal walls. /sigh.

  2. Jess @ MakingHome

    I absolutely am with you, and have hit up against some of these things in my own life, where giving to (and beyond) the point of real sacrifice has been taken advantage of. Christ’s giving was underappreciated and unappreciated too, so I can identify with Him in that, and be thankful for the things He’s doing in my heart & life by having me give, and in the lives of those who receive the gift. That said, I am then responsible for when I keep on giving to people. Only one of the ten came back to thank Him. He wanted to identify the one who took from Him without asking. He took time away to pray and recharge. Even Jesus had human limitations and could not give, give, give, give without any boundaries or wisdom in where and how He was spending His time.

    I want to be like Him and give til it hurts, and give KNOWING it will hurt.
    I want to be like Him and rest and recharge so I can give more.
    I want to be like Him and be discerning when I give.

    Boundaries and giving are not incompatible. And being a Christian doesn’t mean never saying “no” or pulling away.

    1. hearthie Post author

      Thanks Jess. That means a lot. You know how it is, I expect. Feeling unchristian not giving, and feeling like an idiot for giving, simultaneously. -sigh-


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