Building resilience: boundaries not barriers

Building resilience: boundaries not barriers

How can we become more resilient? Justine Allain Chapman considers the importance of establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.  


A home is more than a roof over your head and a life is more than survival. I like to think of my life as a house, a house in which I can feel at home in and invite others to. Houses are built to withstand adverse weather over time, to keep out the wind and provide warmth and shelter. Our experiences of adversity reveal to us how well we withstand hardship, how resilient we are. We can build resilience by a restructure and redesign of our lives so that we are better able to cope with the storms of life. Jesus tells us:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. Matthew 7:24-25

As children we drew pictures of houses. They generally had a roof and walls, a path and a fence. We didn’t draw foundations because we couldn’t see them, but it was as children that the foundations of our lives were being built, sometimes firm, sometimes less so. We leave our parents’ house and we make our own homes and lives. Jesus tells his disciples that the foundations of our lives are strengthened when we listen and act on his words.

What words of Jesus will help us to become more resilient, to grow stronger in the face of life’s difficulties?

The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:31

A row of houses has boundaries which are needed for neighbours to live well and get along. We need to develop these boundaries when we think of our lives as a house. The front door of a house is designed to be shut and to give us privacy. We need space where we are not on show, space to shut out the whirlwind of the world and be safe, consider who and how we are. The world beats at our door with its demands and we need physical and personal boundaries that can withstand these knocks, perhaps especially in a digital age where personal and public boundaries can often be blurred.

Many of us find it difficult to say no, not wanting to be thought badly of, or left out. We can find it easier to keep being available to others rather than to deal with our own baggage. So we talk ourselves into believing that shutting the door is putting up a barrier. We need to love ourselves to be able to love others.

It is important to remember that a boundary isn’t a barrier. A boundary is there to mark out space. It sets out expectations for us and others in a way that is obvious and agreed, helping us to respect personal space or social norms. Our personal boundaries may more resemble the garden fence or hedge where neighbours wave, lean over and chat to one another. Knowing which bit of lawn is yours to look after, because of the boundary, gives limits to your responsibilities; in your life setting a boundary prevents endless internal discussion.


For the house of my life to be the home I can return to and be at peace, I know I need a good doormat, one that says ‘Welcome’. Jesus tells his disciples that when people don’t welcome them and reject them they should let their peace return to them and wipe the dust from their feet (Matthew 10:12-14). Being resilient involves letting go or wiping away gently what is not ours to bear.

To be at home within ourselves we need to develop an inner peace and self-acceptance. Dwelling peacefully in the house of your life involves decorating rooms with objects that inspire you and creating spaces to do the things which bring out the best in you. You will need to be a housekeeper and a homemaker in the house of your life, developing routines or disciplines to settle and encourage you. They may be creative like growing flowers or ones to help rest like a bedtime. You may think about the rooms of your life which are as yet unexplored. It is also likely that there is a cupboard bursting out and you will need to attend to it, but as you do, you can take a break in other rooms.

Your memory has pictures of events and people in your life which you can put up to encourage you. Some you look at differently now because your perspective has changed and you have been able to let go, some will need reframing and perhaps you leave them unframed on a work surface until a new place can be found for them.


The home which is your inner life can be built by you, designed and decorated as the place from which you live and go out into the world. It is a place of peace and a place where you can invite others.

Our home does not have to be perfect for us to host others. Whether in a brief encounter or a deep conversation we can share our peace. As we build a resilient life, able to withstand difficulties and redesign our house in the face of them, we are more able to create a healing space for guests. There will be One who will always wait respectfully at the door, knocking and calling, bringing peace:

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20

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