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Recently I noticed a construction truck pull up to the house across the street. Workers began unloading poles, chain-link fencing, cement bags and equipment. A group of neighborhood kids watched with interest as a fence began to take shape. They're getting a new dog!! I thought to myself. Sure enough, a few days later a cute miniature collie appeared in their yard. My neighbors went to considerable effort and expense to welcome that energetic new member of their household, but it took the dog some time to get used to his safe, spacious surroundings.

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The psalmist sang, "The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage" (Ps 16:5-6). As he reviewed the events and circumstances of his life, David expressed a sense of security, contentment and even delight. He also recognized that it was the Lord, not some sort of fate, who lovingly laid out the parameters of his life.


The word, contentment, comes from two Latin words: con, meaning "together" and tenere, "to hold," and it is defined as "happy enough with what one has or is; not desiring something more or different; satisfied."1 If contentment derives from containment, it wasn't evident by the behavior of my neighbor's dog that first week.


People have trouble being content with their boundaries, too. It goes against the grain of everything we see and hear, especially in the media. Most of us would rather sing that old Cole Porter song, "Don't Fence Me In!!"2


If we desire to live peaceful, organized lives, however, we need to revisit the concepts of contentment and boundaries. Being able to communicate about these may help us care for and counsel our patients and their families. We may even be able to encourage nurse retention among our colleagues. Here are a few types of boundaries we experience.


Physical, mental, emotional

God has endowed each of us with talents and a certain degree of physical strength, intellectual capacity and emotional stamina. But he hasn't gifted us all alike. We practice good mental health when we accurately assess our abilities and limitations. Valuing what is true about ourselves keeps us from envying Sarah Hughes, Olympic gold medallist, for how well she can perform on ice. It also helps us appreciate the unique variety of things we do well. We can exercise to increase strength and study to gain knowledge, but it was the Creator who bestowed our physical, intellectual and emotional features.


Mortal, temporal

One thing we do have in common with everyone else is that we are all bound by time and space. We've all been granted the same number of hours in a day, and the laws of physics say we can only be in one place at a time. Recognizing we are not superhuman, but mortals with temporal limitations, gives us the freedom to call it a day when we're tired. It also allows us to say no when we're in danger of over-commitment and guards us from feeling indispensable. While time and space are boundaries, they are also gifts.


Circumstantial, environmental

Another set of boundaries involves circumstances-where we were born, where we live, our ethnicity, financial resources, social sphere and marital status. People often attach stereotypes to regions of the country, which we must overcome. I love living in Kansas, but, no, I've never been to Oz. Many joke about the confines of marriage, but it was designed to provide loving security for a husband and wife and their family-not a prison, but a secret garden.


Professional, nursing

Our place of employment, educational level, years of nursing experience, and clinical specialty are professional boundaries we might do something about. We can go back to school, receive cross training or change jobs. Other boundaries that impact our work are not easily changed-staffing patterns, agency policies, insurance restrictions and management styles.


Family, generational, relational

The family constellation into which we were born, the way we were parented, how our parents related to each other, whether their marriage stayed intact and how multiple generations interacted are important parameters in our lives. Generational boundaries foster healthy families. In dysfunctional families, generational boundaries are often blurred and confused. Abuse and neglect occur when children, who should be nurtured and protected, are expected to provide adults with advice, supervision, income or even sexual fulfillment.3


Generational lines can be violated in the other direction, too. A young, inexperienced middle school teacher tried to win her students' acceptance by getting down on their level. Confusing the adult-child boundary resulted in classroom chaos. The students had difficulty recognizing her as an authority figure. Genograms can help us visualize family structure, relational patterns and crises points. They can be used for personal assessment or in counseling individuals and families.4 (See side bar on page 25.)


Societal, ethical

Every civilized society places limitations and boundaries upon its citizens. Stop signs facilitate traffic safety. Laws regulate commerce, mediate relationships, bind contracts and arbitrate disputes. Even in societies where individual freedom is valued, no one may do exactly as he or she pleases. Amoral standard, higher than that of any government or culture, is found in God's Word. The boundaries we find in it warn and protect us from the harmful effects of sin. The more time we spend studying Scripture, the more we discover that its boundaries "fall in pleasant places."



Finally, spiritual boundaries protect and preserve us. They define who we are in relationship to God. Many newer nursing therapies aim to heal and comfort patients by manipulating universal spiritual energy forces. Christian nurses sometimes assume that utilizing this spiritual energy is the same as tapping into God's power on our patients' behalf. However, Christians understand God as the triune Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. He creates and sustains everything by his word alone. God is personal and enters into human history. He requires our obedience and faithfulness and cannot be manipulated or controlled.5 As his creatures, and not the Creator, we may rest secure in our spiritual parameters.


The apostle Paul wrote, "I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:12-13). The secret of being content is to rely on Christ who gives us strength.


Use the following questions to consider what the Lord has assigned you and where your boundary lines have fallen. May you discover your delightful inheritance!!


1. What are my boundaries? What holds me in?


2. Where did my boundaries come from? Who or what defined them? (Parents, employer, myself, the Lord?)


3. How do I respond to the boundaries around me? Which of them make my lot secure? Which should be changed?




1 Victoria Neufeldt, ed., Webster's New World Dictionary (New York: Warner Books, 1990). [Context Link]


2 [Context Link]


3 Verna Brenner Carson and Elizabeth Nolan Arnold, "Family Therapy" in Mental Health Nursing: The Nurse-Patient Journey (Philadelphia: Saunders, 1996) pp. 466-486. [Context Link]


4 Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson, Genograms in Family Assessment (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985). [Context Link]


5 Judith Allen Shelly, et. al., A Response to Energy-Based Theories and Therapies (Madison, Wis.: Nurses Christian Fellowship, 1996) p. 3. [Context Link]