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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Best of 2023: Setting Boundaries in Your Most Difficult Relationships (Part 2 of 2)

Best of 2023: Setting Boundaries in Your Most Difficult Relationships (Part 2 of 2)

In this best of 2023 broadcast, Lysa TerKeurst reflects on the death of her marriage and how she had to place boundaries in her life to protect her own mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. She offers insight, biblical wisdom, and encouragement to those needing to establish boundaries with others. (Part 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: November 9, 2022

Lysa TerKeurst: You know, people said, “Well, Jesus said, ‘Lay down your life for your friends,’” you know, and Jesus modeled that. He laid down his life for his friends, and that’s absolutely correct. Jesus laid down his life for a high and holy purpose, but not to enable bad behavior to continue.

Jim: Huh.

Lysa: So we must not confuse the good command to love with the unhelpful and often harmful behavior of enabling.

John Fuller: That’s Lysa TerKeurst talking about boundaries in our lives on this Best of 2023 episode of Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and, uh, before we get into the heart of the program, let me just say that we sat down with Lysa in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for this conversation and I know you’re gonna really appreciate her wisdom and her thoughtful insights. Let’s pick it up now as Jim got it started.

Jim Daly: John, I, I’m excited to have Lysa back. Uh, you know, there are a handful of people that do such a wonderful job communicating their message and Lysa’s one of those handful of people that do it so well with great wisdom. She really is tapping into the hearts of all of us and the topic we talked about last time were those boundaries in our life, why we should have some, A, and if we don’t, why there will be chaos in our lives-

John: Mm.

Jim: … and that gap. And I thought it was an excellent, uh, discussion and if people missed it, I hope you’ll go to the website, get it on your smartphone through the Focus app, however you can hear it. I would listen to part one as you listen to part two as well.

John: Yeah, it’s a good backdrop. We covered a lot of, uh, really interesting and, uh, relevant content regarding relationships and what to do when things go south. Um, Lysa is passionate about helping women. She, uh, is head of Proverbs 31 Ministries. They reach out and, um, touch millions of women every year. Uh, Lysa is a very popular author and she has written a terrific book called Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, and we have copies of that here at the ministry. Call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY to learn more.

Jim: Lysa, welcome back.

Lysa: Thank you.

Jim: It’s so good to have you. Listen, uh, you know, one, the, the mark of a really good writer I think is w- how you can use humor in very h- heavy situations-

Lysa: (laughs)

Jim: … and your book certainly has very humorous stories in there. The one I connected with was how your floodlights, I think, are connected to some other area (laughs) of the house.

John: (laughs)

Lysa: Yes. Yes.

Jim: Tell me about that one ’cause I am so mechanically uninclined.

Lysa: I am, too.

Jim: (laughs) It’s-

Lysa: You know, I grew up in a good, long stretch of my childhood where, um, we didn’t really have the money to call the professionals in, so-

Jim: (laughs) This is bad news.

Lysa: … my mindset was always like, “Just work around it,” you know?

Jim: (laughs)

Lysa: Like, “Fix it as good enough.” So, (laughs) m- m- that mindset’s important for, to be the undertone of the story I’m about to share, okay?

Jim: Yes.

Lysa: So, w- we did a renovation project and somehow the back floodlights of my house were connected to the hot water heater.

Jim: (laughs)

Lysa: And I know if you are a plumber or an electrician, you probably are not going to believe me-

Jim: (laughs)

Lysa: … but I am telling the honest truth. If we turned off the back floodlights, the hot water went out. And so (laughs) one time my sister came to visit and she went upstairs to take a shower and all of the sudden she yelled downstairs, “Lysa, something just happened to the hot water.” To which I replied, “Sorry, I’ll go turn the back floodlights back on.”

Jim: (laughs)

John: (laughs)

Lysa: And so (laughs) she got out of the shower and she came down and she looked at me. She said, “Repeat to me exactly what you said.”

Jim: (laughs) Ri- I didn’t hear that right.

John: (laughs)

Lysa: And I said, “Oh, sorry. If we turn the back floodlights off, the hot water goes out.” And she leaned in closer and she said, “You know you need to get that fixed, right?”

Jim: (laughs)

Lysa: And I was like, “I know. I’ve been meaning to put a little sign, maybe even laminate it, by the back floodlights light switch and tell people, ‘Don’t turn this light switch off or else we won’t have hot water.’”

Jim: (laughs) Right.

Lysa: And she leaned in. She said, “That’s not normal, you know that?”

Jim: (laughs) That’s not fixing it.

John: (laughs)

Lysa: Right, exactly. And you know, as I’ve thought about that story, it’s such an example of how we get used to our own dysfunction.

John: Mm-hmm.

Lysa: It didn’t even occur to me to call someone and have that fixed. It occurred to me to put a sign up and just say, “Don’t turn the back floodlights off,” right? Which you’ll be happy to know I eventually, after my sister’s prodding, did get the issue fixed.

Jim: (laughs)

Lysa: But I think it’s a good example of how, over time, if we continue to live in dysfunctional dances, that’s what I call it, a dysfunctional dance sometimes in some of our most important relationships, over time that dysfunction starts to feel normal-

Jim: Mm.

Lysa: … and we normalize things that we shouldn’t normalize and we get used to our own dysfunction.

Jim: Wow, that, that, that’s a right between the eyes kind of statement really, for all of us to assess that. You, you also mentioned the damage done when we invest too much, um, attention into how people see us.

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: I, I don’t mean to twist that, but, you know, people’s opinions and how that influences our own opinion of us.

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: I think some of that is hard to avoid. I mean i- i- if somebody says, you know, “Jim, e- you’re, you’re eating a little too much.” (laughs)

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: You know, whatever that might be, um, there is a certain objectivity to that that somebody should listen to that’s healthy and then there’s unhealthy. Help us divide those.

Lysa: Yeah, well, I think e- you can always look at the intention of the statement. Was this meant to harm me or help me? And take a step back from that statement and just think, like, there’s a reason this statement was made. Either it’s an indication that they have some issue going on and they’re trying to harm me, or it’s an indication of their great love for me and they’re trying to help me. And discerning those two are really important and not personalizing it so much where we automatically get defensive because, you know, that’s one of the real killers of a conversation is for one person to get incredibly defensive. But as it relates to boundaries, you know, I think we have to have a realistic understanding that communication is so vitally important and there are healthy ways and unhealthy ways to have conversations. And so boundaries really provide a structure for us to be able to communicate where the freedom is in the relationship. And like I said yesterday, what is acceptable and what’s not acceptable and we have the opportunity to state what we do have to give and what we don’t have to give. The real struggle sometimes in relationships is where we feel like we cannot say what we know needs to be said either because we’re afraid of the change that, that might happen in that relationship, we’re afraid that that person might reject us, abandon us or, you know, ghost us. And here’s what I say. If we’re that afraid that this person would reject us, then you’re really in a relationship where that person is probably gonna reject you eventually anyways.

Jim: Mm.

Lysa: And so I think boundaries give us an opportunity to have those healthy conversations that need to be had.

Jim: Yeah. You, you share a story about a friend of yours whose mother found a baby picture.

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Describe the impact of that and how does that apply to what you’re saying?

Lysa: Well, it was this beautiful moment. It’s a gal that works for me, her name is Amanda, and her mom gave her a picture of her when she was a baby. And Amanda pulled out that picture one day and looked at it and she said, “Look at me before life wrote all over me.”

John: Mm.

Jim: Wow. Yeah.

Lysa: And she could just see so much life and the light in that baby’s eyes, and she’s like, “That baby is me. But so much of life has been written all over me,” that, you know, it’s, she sort of changed the view of her potential based on the things that happened to her. And if we wanna have healthy relationships then we have to pursue health within ourself because health bonds with health. Unhealth bonds with unhealth. So if we want healthy relationships, we would do well to tend to our health. Heal some of those things from the past, work on some of those things and, um, and really determine to bring the very best of who we are front and center.

Jim: Uh, y- you know, in that description, a person like Amanda, you can feel the tread marks all over you-

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … that life has dealt you-

John: Mm.

Jim: … a bad hand and you could get resentful and that’s what you’re describing. How do you climb out of that hole? I mean even listening t- to this today, I mean, how does a person say, “Okay, I’m not gonna let people run all over me. I’m gonna create a boundary”? Is that the right motivation that you feel, you know, that people have mistreated you, therefore I’m gonna set these boundaries? Is that right or wrong, or?

Lysa: Well, we have to be careful not to let the bitterness that happens around us or the bitterness that comes at us get inside of us because that, the Bible is so clear. In, in Ephesians, you know, we’re told to get rid of all bitterness, because there’s never just a little bit of bitterness. Bitterness leaks out, not just onto the person that we feel bitter against, but it leaks out onto all of our relationships. So, you know, I can speak to this really personally. At some point, I had to decide if the unwanted and heartbreaking divorce that I went through, if that was gonna be the epic defining moment of my life, and would I always carry that banner of being a victim? Or was I, at some point gonna rise up, accept reality, ’cause mental health is a commitment to realty at all costs. Was I gonna rise up, accept reality? I can still wish that that would not be part of my story. But by God, if it is gonna be part of my story, I’m gonna rise up, I’m gonna hold up the banner of victory and I’m gonna kick the devil in the teeth and make him regret he ever messed with a woman like me.

Jim: Wow. (laughs) That’s a statement.

John: Mm.

Lysa: (laughs) It’s a statement but it’s also a life-saving perspective to have.

Jim: Yeah.

Lysa: You know, we all have parts of our story that either we didn’t see coming or we didn’t want or, you know, that just ripped the rug out from underneath us. And, you know, I think it’s good to think about, “Am I gonna hold up the banner of victim or victory?” Because we can’t hold up both at the same time.

John: Mm. Our guest today on Focus on the Family is Lysa TerKeurst and we’re talking about relationships. She’s captured so much wisdom and insight in her book Good Boundaries and Goodbyes. And we’ll encourage you to get a copy from us here at Focus on the Family. Uh, our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Lysa, fear, uh, can prevent us from creating healthy boundaries. The fear of what a person might think if we s- do this, uh, you know, whatever it might be, but we draw, we pull in from doing the healthy thing that we could do. I, I, I see that a bit in my own boys, you know, th- confrontation is not a comfortable thing for them. How do we, either in our, uh, marital relationship or in our parenting journey, how do we help our spouse, help ourselves, help our kids, not have that fear of engaging people like this with real, firm boundaries?

Lysa: Well, I think sometimes when we think about communicating a boundary, it feels like we’re, we’re having to operate in the extremes and extremes feel so comfortable. Like, you know, “We can never have this happen again,” or, you know, “You always do this.” And so I always encourage people avoid the extremes and recognize that the boundary conversations don’t have to be awful. I mean, if somebody makes a request of you that would extend you past the capacity that you have, then we can have a gentle conversation and say, “My heart says, yes, yes, yes, but the reality of my time says no.” And here’s the deal. We’re already doing this really well. So, I’m gonna prove to you, Jim, you’re already doing this really well. Are you ready?

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Lysa: Do you have a bank account?

Jim: Yes.

Lysa: Um, do you have a passcode on your bank account?

Jim: I believe I do. (laughs)

Lysa: Okay. Even if you can’t remember it right now, you have some sort of security so that-

Jim: Correct.

Lysa: … not everyone can get your bank account?

Jim: Yes.

Lysa: Um, would you feel comfortable right now just sharing your bank account information and your passcode and everything just to give all of us free access to your bank account?

Jim: Absolutely not.

Lysa: Why? Is it because you’re unchristian? Is it because you’re selfish? Why, why wo- why won’t you just share it?

Jim: Because it’s none of your business. (laughs)

John: (laughs)

Lysa: Exactly, right? And I would suspect because you don’t know if we’re all gonna be responsible with the limited resources that you have in your account and you know that you have responsibilities that your limited resources need to handle, right? And it’s not because you’re unkind or unchristian, it’s because you have limit… You have a limited capacity and it’s because you’re human. Only God has a limitless supply.

Jim: Mm.

Lysa: And so of course we wouldn’t give free access to everyone because we don’t know if they will be responsible with that access. We know this with our finances but we forget it with all other areas of capacity in our life. And so I think it’s a really healthy exercise, even before we attempt the hard conversations, to have a logical sit-down with yourself and define what is my capacity in this area, in this area, in this area, so that when requests are made that hyper extend us past our reasonable capacity, of course always allowing the Lord to grow us and develop us, but we can simply have a logical conversation. It doesn’t have to be so emotional. I would love to do that. My heart says yes, yes, yes, but the reality of my time makes this a no. Now, I can’t give that, but here’s what I can give.

Jim: Yeah. Y- you know, I’m thinking of that marital conflict though where, you know, the frustrated wife, I’ll just use that as the example. Obviously you can put the shoe on the other foot, whatever. But you know, that, that wife that’s been nagging her husband. I mean it can be something silly like putting the dirty clothes in the right spot and he just has some incredible inability to put it in the hamper. I mean it goes on the floor, it goes on the bed, it goes everywhere else but in the hamper. And I’m being ridiculous here but that could become a real sore point of frustration. “Can’t you just put your dirty socks in the hamper?” And, you know, it starts to chip away at the relationship.

Lysa: It really does.

Jim: Now we could put more serious things in there and you can keep inching up the game with the seriousness. But where does the acceptance of somebody’s inability, for whatever reason, did God create their brain so they can’t put their dirty socks in the stinking hamper?

Lysa: Mm.

Jim: But, uh, h- how do you evaluate that? How do you know when, “Okay, this husband of mine just does not have the capacity to do this,” and I back down on the expectation.

John: Mm.

Jim: Or I keep pressing even to the breaking point where this really puts a dent in our relationship. How do you kn- how do you know that balance?

Lysa: Well-

John: Mm.

Lysa: … okay. Let’s use the example of one spouse always running late and the other spouse always wanting to be on time, okay? So are you typically, Jim, the run late person or the on-time person?

Jim: On-time person.

Lysa: Okay, so-

Jim: And it’s interesting you should say that ’cause Jean is the running late person. (laughs)

John: (laughs)

Lysa: Okay, okay. So let’s say you and Jean-

Jim: Sorry, Jean.

Lysa: … are having a conversation, and Jean we love you. There’s, there’s many, many, many of us that also run late.

Jim: (laughs)

Lysa: Um, but let’s say you and Jean have this different definition of being on time. Let’s just phrase it that way, right? So you like to get there 20 minutes early, Jean feels like as long as she skirts in at the last second, then she’s on time. I mean, we’re just using Jean as an example.

Jim: Yeah, pretty much. And she does a lot better job now than she used to.

Lysa: Okay, perfect.

Jim: (laughs)

Lysa: But you could have a conversation. You could say, “Jean, I absolutely love going places with you. I love going to church with you.” Let’s just use that as an example.

Jim: Okay.

Lysa: “I love going to church with you. Um, and Jean, I have an issue.” So, you’re taking ownership of your own thing. “I have a different definition of being on time than you. I can’t feel comfortable in church and receive everything that I’m supposed to receive if I don’t get there 20 minutes early. So here’s my proposal. If we can go 20 minutes early, that’s great. If we can’t, though, I’m giving you freedom to take all the time you need and we will still sit together in church but maybe we need to ride in separate cars. But here’s the great bonus. I will arrive at church, I will save you a seat, I will make sure you have notes, I, I will set it all up so that we’re both successful, and it doesn’t diminish our love if we ride in separate cars. It just simply means we go to church, we just don’t ride in the same car.”

Jim: Right.

Lysa: And so of course that’s a simple example, and I know many relationships have complicated nuances to it. But isn’t it better to come up with a solution like that than to always sit in church with your spouse feeling annoyed and frustrated and let those simmering resentments grow to the point of a real serious issue in the marriage?

Jim: Absolutely, and those little things can do that. They can get, they could be blown up into big things and it’s, it’s unhealthy. You had to make a, a heart-wrenching decision, and again, we talked about it at the beginning of the program last time, uh, to say goodbye to your marriage.

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And I can’t imagine all of the angst and the writhing of going through that. And you’re very respectful to your ex-husband, Art. But you, you say that goodbyes can be healthy. Now people are gonna jump at that and say, “Well, h- how can that be ’cause God hates divorce?” And that’s one specific area, but h- how can goodbyes be healthy?

Lysa: Well, and it’s interesting you brought up the verse from Malachi, “God hates divorce,” because in the original language, that interpretation didn’t come about until the King James version.

Jim: Ah.

Lysa: In the original language it actually says, “When a man hates and divorces his wife, he does violence against the very one he should protect.”

Jim: Mm.

Lysa: And so when I did research on that and I started to understand that, you know, of course God would hate what divorce does to people, right? But God doesn’t hate divorced people.

Jim: Correct.

Lysa: And so, you know, it, it was, it was gut-wrenching. I did not want a divorce. I fought really, really hard. Um, we were married 30 years. And the last eight of those years, um, they were the hardest years of my life and he would probably say they were the hardest years of his life as well.

Jim: Yeah.

Lysa: But there were some things that shifted our marriage from a difficult marriage to a destructive marriage. And when I realized that there were choices being made that were not keeping in line with a biblical marriage, at some point, you know, it was not about me walking away, it was about me accepting reality. And here’s the thing that I had to choose, though. This was a very heartbreaking goodbye, but it was also, at times, a really messy goodbye. Heart-wrenching, actually. But I read that the original phraseology of goodbye, it actually comes from God be with ye, and then it was shortened to God be W-Y, and then it wa- it became goodbye.

Jim: Huh.

Lysa: And so, as I thought about that, I thought, “I want a little more of God be with ye in my goodbyes.” And so I had a marked moment where I took all the heartbreak and all the devastation and I acknowledged it, it’s real, I will not deny it. But I started to pray, “God be with ye,” and it became a better goodbye.

Jim: Hm. Uh, that’s powerful, and a- again, people are dealing with all kinds of different things, right? And they don’t understand the full, um, situation that you went through and you’re very discreet about how you share about that, but you did fight. And, uh, there was, you know, biblical reasons for you to terminate the marriage.

Lysa: Yes.

Jim: And, yeah.

Lysa: And I think that’s why it was important in this conversation of good boundaries to also include the goodbyes, because in all of my years of attending church and studying the Bible, I had never really learned how do you say a biblical goodbye? Is God even okay with goodbyes? And there were so many examples-

Jim: Huh.

Lysa: … that I found in scripture. I mean, we look at Paul and Barnabas, they had a sharp disagreement. And it wasn’t because either of them were terrible people, it’s that they had a different vision of the next missionary journey and who should go with them. But even though they separated and they, they went their separate ways and there’s no indication that they ever really came back together and did ministry together, there was a softening on both of their hearts where they walked away but they didn’t bash the other person. They, they didn’t discredit their ministry, right?

Jim: Right. Mm-hmm, right.

Lysa: And, and the Bible says it actually even served to further the gospel even more. So some goodbyes are just hard and horrific, the end. Some goodbyes, it’s not because either of the people are terrible people. It’s because they had a division, a di-vision. One had a vision to go this way, one had a vision to go this way, but they kept their hearts soft in the process.

Jim: Yeah, and th- that’s such a good (laughs) thing to remember in the circumstance you’re in. And again, Lysa, right at the end here, uh, uh, y- you know, it may not be a act of infidelity or addiction or the things that occurred in your situation, but the woman that’s just frustrated, she feels like, “Is this it?” Maybe the man that’s in that spot, “Is this it? Is this all it can be?” It’s just arguments and just, uh, you know, chaos.

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Why isn’t it more than this? I thought that day we got married it would be something different-

Lysa: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … and it’s not and it’s gotten worse. What word of encouragement do you have for them to say, “It doesn’t have to be that way”?

Lysa: Mm-hmm. Well, I would say sometimes you have to call a timeout and call in a professional. And if there’s one thing that I would really encourage them to do is get out of the swirl of the own, their own echo chamber of w- what they’ve been fighting about because sometimes you can get in such a dysfunctional dance that it really does require outside people to speak-

Jim: Yeah.

Lysa: … into the marriage. And so I would say do everything you can to fight for that relationship-

Jim: Yeah.

Lysa: … and have o- outside people that are good, wise, trained people-

Jim: Yeah.

Lysa: … to speak into your relationship, because I would give anything, absolutely anything, to have not walked through a divorce. And so do everything that you possibly can to not just save that relationship-

Jim: Mm.

Lysa: … but treasure it.

John: Mm.

Lysa: And at the same time, recognize if it’s shifted from difficult to destructive, a separation may be necessary. Jesus called us to forgive 70 times 7, but he did not call us to stay in a situation where someone’s abusing us and hurting us and to stay close in that forgiveness. You can create some distance and enough distance to where you can forgive that person if they never change, 70 times 7, without getting destroyed in the process.

John: Well, that concludes our conversation with Lysa TerKeurst on this Best of 2023 episode of Focus on the Family.

Jim: I really appreciate Lysa’s raw, real stories as well as the encouragement in her message. We have hope in Christ no matter what our situation is and to you, our listener, maybe your story sounds a lot like Lysa’s, or you have a friend who has experienced something similar. Either way, here at Focus on the Family we are here to help you navigate those difficult relationships. A solid place to start is Lysa’s terrific book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are.

John: And, Jim, as we reflect back, uh, what a crazy year it’s been with so much, uh, chaos, such financial strain for so many people. Uh, families under, uh, great stress. We’ve had upheaval in the culture and society and so many different mounting pressures at home and across the globe. You know, we hear from thousands of people each and every day who need answers, uh, couples heading for divorce, parents who are dealing with stressful situations, and so many more, and these are hurting people who could really use some encouragement in the coming year.

Jim: Yeah, and right now the Christmas season is the perfect time to share the hope we just mentioned, the hope Jesus Christ came to give us all. And I want to invite you to join us in this ministry, to come alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing difficulties and challenges. You can give families hope through your support of Focus on the Family. We ran some numbers this year and discovered that less than 1% of the listeners are actually contributing to the work being done here at Focus. Uh, less than 1%. That really surprised me. If we could just double that or even quadruple it, just think of the things God could do with that. Uh, let’s hit the ground running in 2024. Be a part of the kingdom work being done here to help families thrive in Christ and know you’ve been a faithful part of what God is doing. And we’ll make it super easy for you. Uh, donate today a gift of any amount and we’ll send you a copy of Lysa’s book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, as our way of saying thank you for standing in the gap for so many families.

John: And through a special year in matching opportunity we’ll be able to reach twice as many families, uh, because Friends of Focus have committed to doubling your gift today dollar for dollar. Uh, donate and get your copy of the book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, when you call 800-232-6459. That’s 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or visit focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Well, join us again tomorrow for another Best of 2023 episode of Focus on the Family as we learn how to better care for the older generation.


Bill Goodrich: We have seen, based on the principles that we teach for nursing home ministry, we have seen about 85% of the residents take Jesus’s hand for salvation and for strength to get them through their days.

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