In my twenties I carried not only my own scars, but those of others.
I had a crash-course in unhealthy relationships and the painful consequences of not yet establishing personal boundaries.
I have been married twice. Yes, I did just admit to that!
Since today I am in a healthy, loving and supportive marriage, you wouldn’t guess it if you didn’t know. Generally, I forget myself!
The first marriage was a disaster on numerous fronts. The second (and lifelong), is a beautiful journey of ongoing love, mutual respect and growth.
In my early twenties, I was fairly immature emotionally as well as insecure. I married someone equally immature and insecure. Since we were both stubborn, headstrong and sharped tongued, even our honeymoon was difficult and lead to hurt on both sides. I own my part in this.
This hurt and individual brokenness manifested in destructive behaviour towards each other. My tongue became razor sharp, and so did his.
But for him, it also lead to sexual conquests outside our marriage with men (this is the most gracious way I can describe it).
From three months into our marriage, I faced regular infidelity and the rejection, betrayal and all the confusion that goes with it. My trust and our marriage covenant had been broken.
Nevertheless, I desperately clung to my marriage vows. I wanted the opportunity to build a strong and healthy marriage recognizing that I had a lot of growing up to do myself.
With the foundation of our love eroded so early on, I was never able to establish a foot-hold nor a safe place for my heart with this person.
I came out of this relationship not knowing what a healthy relationship looked like.
The pro-longed trauma and deep emotional wounds lead to many distorted beliefs about myself, and many unwise decisions followed.
Living with no boundaries
As a young Christian woman I was determined, even in the eye of deep verbal and emotional abuse, to make the marriage work. As a result, all of my boundaries came tumbling down, along with my self-worth. I retreated inward into depression and anxiety.
Things that I never dreamed I would do or say, I found myself doing to appease my husband and win his favour.
(Note: As I write this, I find myself wanting to shake sense into my younger self. ‘Run, my dear one, run. You have such a great future ahead. Run. You are worth so much more than this!’)
I am forever thankful that I had friends and family praying for me during this season. I believe their prayers protected me and provided a spiritual cover.
I am grateful that I never went to a place I could not turn back from. However, my boundaries had been shattered and I walked around with a raw and exposed heart.
Drama followed me. I even think I became addicted to it. There was always something tragic going on in my life…and I got used to it.
With no boundaries, I carried not only my own heavy baggage, but I took on all my ex-husband’s problems as if they where my own.
I falsely thought protecting him at my own expense and even safety was the right thing to do. His words cut deep and my heart bore the wounds.
I cried ALL THE TIME. I can’t emphasise this enough!
I lived with severe anxiety which negatively impacted my performance at work and I almost lost my job. I became extremely self-focused and very hard to be friends with.
Frankly, this season was ugly.
It took many years to recover, but that is a story for another day – and another blog post. 🙂
Why have I shared this tale?
I’ve shared this slice of my story to encourage you that boundaries can be re-established, no matter how hopeless things appear.
I’ve certainly earned my stripes when it comes to living without them and then having to rebuild. It is possible.
The first step for me was handing my ‘tongue’ over to God and allowing Him to become my defender.
In this traumatic season of my life, God showed my this verse from Psalms 119:14 where David writes,’You are my defender and protector; I put my hope in your promise.’
I took God at His word and believed this as His promise to me.
This was the beginning of my healing and, along with this change in my heart, came the foundation upon which new boundaries could be built.
The life changing lesson
Apart from learning to trust God as my protector and guarding my words, learning to have healthy boundaries has been a major lesson in my life.
I have learned to only carry in my heart what is mine, and when in conflict I allow God to be my defender. This continues to help protect my own emotional health and wellbeing throughout the challenges of life.
Through my life experience, I have learned to release people. This has freed me of carrying more than I need to, and as such, I walk light.
Of course, I’ll love people and I’ll listen and care for them, but mostly their stuff is not mine to carry.
When I have been with a friend who is dealing with difficult or oppressive issues, I will literally imagine myself being washed clean after meeting with them. I’ll ask God to release me from carrying their burden and ask Him how to pray effectively into their situation.
This is so much more empowering than taking it on and has brought with it so much freedom.
Even through my family’s grief for my father, I’ve carried my own grief. I’ve cared for and supported my family, but I haven’t allowed their grief to wash over me as well. I’ve released them. Frankly, I have more than enough grief myself.
And when people behave poorly, I’ve learned to release them and allow God to defend and protect me rather than pursuing justice for myself.
This principle alone would have saved me from ongoing heartache way back when. Hindsight is a wonderful thing – and so is the wisdom that comes with age and experience.
I now can bless my ex-husband, release him, and genuinely hope that he is now whole and healthy in mind, body and spirit.
Not matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can become better at discerning what is ours to carry and what we need to release.
We can certainly trust God to be our protector and defender, and remain true to our personal boundaries.
For those of you who believe in God, I encourage you ask the Holy Spirit if there is anything you need to release and let go.
What are you carrying that is not yours?
And are there areas in your life where you need to step back and allow God to be your defender?
These are big questions to consider, but guarding our hearts is worth the time. Believe me.