Recently, I published a book, The First Lady: African American Pastors’ Wives in Their Own Voices, and I was having a conversation with a colleague about my own experiences as a pastor’s wife. The colleague said, “It must be really hard to be in that role.” I responded as I always do, which is, “not really.” The role has never been a burden to me because, though I have evolved in the role, I was able to define what it would mean to me from the beginning. I can’t say I have always been successful about that in other areas of my life. However, I have learned establishing boundaries is a form of self-care. Yet, many of us—especially women—can feel guilty about doing so. Here are three things to keep in mind to help us establish healthy boundaries for our lives.
Know Your Assignment
When you are clear on your assignment, it is easy to set your priorities in order. This has helped me navigate both in the role of pastor’s wife and professionally in academia. As a pastor’s wife for nearly 20 years, I’ve been asked to do many things: be in charge of the first aide ministry (yeah, that was my reaction, too), sing in the choir, be in charge of the missionaries, wear white on Sunday, serve communion with the Deaconess, not dance with the dance ministry just to name a few. I am clear my first priority is to be a wife to my husband, a mother to my children and then an active lay person operating in my area of spiritual giftedness. With that clarity it is easy to say “no,” to those cultural expectations, which usually are not biblical, or expectations others think I should do.
Likewise, I am a professor. I love teaching. I also have the spiritual gift of administration. As with all spiritual gifts, they should be evident not just to you, but to others. Consequently, throughout my career, I have been asked to perform multiple administrative roles outside of the classroom. Because I am clear that this season in my life, motherhood takes priority, administrative jobs are not a part of my assignment. Thus, it has made it easy to decline each.
Being clear on your assignment means knowing what you have been called to do, what you are able to do, and what you can grow to learn to do. It also means knowing all assignments are not permanent.
Boundaries Are Fluid
Some boundaries are fluid. Just because I have declined administrative roles so far, doesn’t mean that will always be the case. In this season of my life my priority is my family. Soon, my daughters will be gone, and I will consider other options. Just because you said, “Yes” or “No” last month, last quarter, last year, or a long time ago, that same “yes” or “no” might or not be applicable today. There are some things that require a firm line in the sand, and then there are other times when the line can be moved.
Self Care is not Synonymous with Selfish
There is a thin line between self-care and being selfish. As women and Christians some of us feel guilty when establishing boundaries and saying, “no.” We are all called to serve others whether it is our family, a friend in need or even people in our community whose names we will never know. We cannot serve others if there is nothing left of ourselves to give. Recently, a friend of mine was in desperate need for someone to pick up her daughter from day care and hold on to her for a couple of hours. Though it was not convenient for me, I didn’t mind doing it. More importantly, on that particular day, I had enough organization and order in my own life that I was available for my friend. We don’t establish boundaries because we don’t feel like doing something or it is grossly inconvenient to us. We establish boundaries to help preserve our sanity. We establish boundaries to have order in our own lives. We establish boundaries so that we can have time to fill our own cup and be restored. Only then can we give to others who need us.
Boundaries are a form of self-care. They help us order and have order in our lives. They prevent us from living in a continual state of chaos. We all must be clear on our lifetime and seasonal assignments. That clarity will help us to know if and when to be flexible. And, more importantly when our lives have order, we can be available to others.