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Boundaries for Women in the Church:

Helping Friends in Need


    How many times have you tried to assist a friend who desperately needs help, only to find yourself becoming overwhelmed by her problems?

    As my friend Ann explained about her friend, “I know Claire is crying out for someone to listen to her. She needs help with her children and with problems concerning her husband. However, I always end up feeling exhausted at the end of our time together.  When she calls I spend hours on the phone with her.  How do I help her without depleting my time and energy?”

    It’s a valid yet delicate question.  How do we, as Christian women, reach out to others, desiring to show them God’s love in a way that respects their needs, our lives, and God’s will without becoming overwhelmed and burned out?  As nurturers we want to take hurting women under our wing and make everything better for them.  However, we soon find that we are inundated with their time-consuming problems.  Like Ann’s friend Claire, their problems are complex and ongoing.  Many women not only experience problems with children or spouses (or ex-husbands), but may also be dealing with depression, anxiety, or a chronic physical illness.  Their lives are full of turmoil and confusion and it can overwhelm them, as well as us.

    Most women I know truly want to share their time, resources, and support with other women who need these things.  Women understand others because so many of us have been there:  times we wouldn’t have survived except for the presence of a friend in our life to support us and comfort us emotionally, spiritually, or physically. 

    Ultimately, we must find a way to integrate our Christian beliefs and desires with the reality of the situationIt’s crucial to grasp the concept that we – as much as we may want to – cannot save anyone from herself or the reality of her situation.  That responsibility lies with God and our friend.

    We can assist but our friendship or investment of time requires a blend of compassion and boundaries.  We are taught to give of our time and talents.  This can lead to confusion as we become involved in someone’s life and their  needs require more and more time.  As Ann found, the more support she gave to Claire, the more support Claire seemed to need. 

    In Ann’s case, she spent so much time with Claire that her (Ann's) husband began to complain because she kept leaving during dinner or jumping up to get the phone (which she would then be on for at least an hour).  Her children were constantly getting to bed later than their usual time because she wasn’t available to help her husband finish the kids’ homework and baths.

   When our helping others begins to affect our spouse, children and ourselves, it then becomes time to take a close, hard look at how we are managing the relationship.  Do your friend’s needs take priority over your family's needs?  Do you jump to the rescue every time she calls?  Do you feel compelled to solve every problem for her?  Are you consistently neglecting your responsibilities at home?  If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions you may need to reassess your involvement in the situation.

   It’s very important that your friend take responsibility for herself and her life.  Are you putting more effort into helping her than she is in helping herself?  Does she consider your life, the efforts you are making on her behalf, and asking if there is any way she can help you?  The point isn’t that she must give back to you.  The point is that she respects you and your boundaries.  If that is not present you may need to ask yourself some questions such as, “Why is she not as committed to solving her problem as I am?  Why am I putting more effort into this than she is?”  Ann thought Claire was “the problem.”  Actually, it was Ann’s problem for not establishing clear boundaries with Claire.

   It’s important for all of us to take responsibility for our lives and our issues.  We don’t need to stay “stuck.”  We can make the decision to make the necessary changes.  We may need to ask for help or assistance but ultimately it is up to us.  This is what was going on with Ann and Claire:  Claire would call with the latest crisis and Ann would jump to respond, not taking into account how it all affected her and her family. 

   Ann decided to use boundaries in her life to get it back under control.  She decided to screen her calls and call Claire back when it was convenient for her.  Ann also established time limits on the calls by telling Claire that she could only talk for 10 minutes because she had to help her husband get the kids ready for bed (which she did).

   After re-evaluating the pattern of frantic phone calls and continuous emergencies Ann came to the conclusion that Claire probably needed more support than she could give her.  She suggested to Claire that she call her pastor for some counseling.  Claire did so and eventually went to a support group that was equipped to give ongoing support.  Ann still remained a friend and they still spoke on the phone but the burden no longer was on Ann for Claire’s healing.

    This is why we need boundaries in our lives:  to understand just what our responsibility is - and what it is not.  The previous illustration has just shown what the consequences could be if we overstep our boundaries.  Not only do we not end up helping - as we truly desired to - but we may prevent someone from growing in the ways that they need to.

    Trying to be responsible for my part in the process,