By Ann Boyd

Keeping Boundaries

Our 1925 bungalow kitchen opens onto what was once a small porch and is now a small, poorly-insulated mudroom — a “three-season room.” In the summer, we can tolerate the heat waves that emanate from that space, but in the winter we hang a cloth curtain between kitchen and mudroom. We were surprised to learn, during one terribly cold winter, that the kitchen stayed delightfully toasty if we hung merely a thin bedsheet over the passageway that separates our frigid mudroom from our living quarters. Since then, we’ve installed a cheerful ribbon curtain to keep the cold out during the chillier months.

Losing that room for the winter feels bittersweet. In the summer, we throw its windows open wide and use the space as an extra office/playroom/reading nook. In the winter, it stays quite dormant, inviting only piles of winter boots, boxes of Christmas cookies, and the occasional cat. (In the coldest months, I even use it as a very large walk-in refrigerator.) But as much as I miss sitting in that room in the wintertime, I am grateful for the barrier that keeps the rest of our home cozy and warm.

I’ve been meditating lately on Psalm 16, particularly verse 6: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places....” There are so many ways I tend to fight against the boundary lines in my life — boundaries of time, space, obligations, due dates, and my own bodily needs for healthy food and adequate sleep. But the psalmist inspires me in the gratitude and contentedness with which he views his portion and his cup, even while he prays for protection amidst an antagonistic culture.

The coming of winter underlines for me this pattern of embracing the boundaries of my life with the grateful acknowledgement that God’s plans for me are good and thoughtful. This doesn’t mean that we do not encounter suffering — in the same way that we need to protect ourselves against frostbite in the winter, we must guard against the anxiety and depletion that can come with a life filled with too many deadlines and a limited number of hours in a day. But in the face of difficult circumstances, we cultivate patterns that help us thrive in difficult circumstances — from down coats to time management techniques. This, to me, is one of the joys of being human: using our creativity and the gifts of our communities to overcome struggle and develop a culture of flourishing within the boundaries given in our lives.

The physical and spiritual elements of honoring boundaries seem to be intimately connected. As the exuberance of summer gives way to the quietness of winter’s chill, I find myself longing for time to get my own internal affairs in order, nurturing the pleasant places within the boundaries of my life. Some of that urge focuses on ordering my environment, for it is true in my life that when my space is orderly, my emotions tend to be also. Believing this about myself means that taking twenty minutes to clear off my desk is actually an investment in the future rather than a waste of precious time. Other parts of my soul wish to slow my pace, taking on the challenge of doing only one thing at a time (as insanely inefficient as that feels). I’ve been inspired recently about an article that mentioned Karen Swallow Prior’s use of the Pomodoro Technique. What happens when I take twenty-five minutes to work solely on one task? How does that change my writing, my project management, my study, and even my cooking? And still other parts of me wish to develop regular habits that will pave the way for me and my loved ones to flourish — habits that allow for enough sleep, regular work time, nourishing food, opportunities for prayer, and some healthy physical movement.

Let me invite you to take a minute to consider your own life. What boundaries might God be inviting you to embrace this autumn? What practices or habits could help you to thrive? Taking time to step back and evaluate your life and observe what is working and what needs help might result in a surprisingly disparate list of changes needed —a new rhythm for exercise, a carved out hour in the evening to re-organize study notes, an extra light fixture in the study space. Some of us may need to schedule time to cook simple meals, to relax with close friends, to visit a Bible study group, to buy toothpaste. Body and soul, we are integrated beings. The Lord is ready to help us grow within our boundaries in both the spiritual and the mundane.

About the Author

Ann is the Women Scholars and Professionals Podcast host and the interim editor for The Well. She has worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1997, exploring her interests in community, spiritual formation, and writing. Ann has a BM in Music Education from Northwestern University and lives in Chicago, Illinois with one husband, two spunky teenage daughters, and three snuggly cats. You’ll often find Ann baking sweet treats in the kitchen while listening to a podcast or audiobook.

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