Boundaries and Freedom: Embracing What You Can and Can’t Do

You are not God. You are not all-powerful. Sometimes that’s a revelation; you are not the center of the universe. At the same time, you are not powerless. You have agency. Your choices and actions make an impact on your life and on the world around you. When we get those backwards things don’t go well. Let’s talk about boundaries and freedom, and embracing what you can and can’t do.

Not understanding agency caused me a lot of distress in my younger years. I put a lot of energy into relationships or activities that didn’t change anything. And I wasn’t putting any effort into the places where my choices and actions could truly make a difference. I’ve discovered that life goes so much better when you have the wisdom to know the difference.

You may be well acquainted with the Serenity Prayer. The short version goes something like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Mental health experts also tell us that those who focus their mind on things they can do something about have much less psychological distress than those who don’t. And when it comes to faith, those who see themselves as cooperating with God in dealing with their problems do better than those who either try to do it all themselves, or who sit back and wait for God to do something for them.

So what’s beyond your control? Where do you have influence? What is it you can and can’t do?

Outside Your Control

It’s time to take your grubby hands off what is outside of your control. And that’s most of the world.

Consider what you spend most of your time ruminating about. Are you focusing on regrets from the past? You certainly can’t change that. Are you worrying about the future? As Corrie ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” The only time you have is today.

Here are several more things outside of your control:

  • What other people think of you
  • What other people do or say (this includes your spouse!)
  • Your genetics
  • Your human limitations
  • The economy
  • The political environment in which you live
  • The negative or divisive news on TV or social media

Dr. Kelly Kapic writes that refusing to embrace our limits is actually sinning, because it means we’re trying to play God. Wow. And we’re not God!

Take a moment to consider how much of your mental energy is wasted on things over which you have no control. Open your hands and let that go. Pray for serenity to accept what is outside your ability to do something about.

Within Your Ability to Influence

When you embrace your agency in deciding and acting in the areas you can influence, many good things happen. God created you and me to have “dominion” in important areas. (See Genesis 1:26-28). That’s one aspect of how we are created in His image.

There’s a difference between influence and control. Some things you can influence, but have absolutely no ability to control. That doesn’t mean your influence doesn’t matter! It means your choices and actions make a difference, but that you do not control the outcome. A few places where you have influence include:

  • The emotional temperature in your home
  • The political environment (through voting, advocacy, etc.)
  • Your personal economy (through working, managing your finances, etc.)
  • The quality of your marriage or other personal relationships
  • The natural world (through stewarding your use of the environment)
  • What God does

You are responsible for your own choices and actions in these important areas. But it’s just as important to remember that you still do not control the outcome. Understanding the difference between influence and control will help a lot. For example, the way you bring yourself to your marriage will impact your relationship, but your spouse is still 100% responsible for their behavior.

Notice the “What God does” point. Your prayers do not control God; He’s too big for that!! Scripture promises that He hears us, but He’s above our control. It’s worth the journey to learn what trusting Him looks like.

And you also influence your own transformation process. You may have thought this would be under the category of what you can control. But remember what Jeremiah said? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23). More on this in a moment; keep reading.

Within Your Control

So what’s left? What is truly within your control? Only your personal choices and actions. And of course, even those are influenced by where you came from and where you are now.

But consider the things that are primarily within your control:

And we could go on. Can you see a theme here? What you have control over is your own self.

Let’s get back to your own transformation process. Some get frustrated and depressed when your own choices and actions seem so ineffective at creating the kind of inner change you need and want – right now. When it comes to maturity and wholeness, it’s almost always a much longer process than any of us would like.

So what do you truly have control over? You can choose to keep showing up. And keep saying Yes. You keep showing up in God’s presence, putting yourself where He can do His work in you. And then when He says something, you just say Yes. And if you do that, He makes Himself responsible for changing you from the inside out.

That’s the wisdom to know the difference.

Keep Showing Up. Keep Saying Yes.

Your Turn: How much of your stress has been worrying about things you can’t do anything about? What would it look like to focus on directing your own choices and actions in places where you do have influence or control?  Leave a comment below.

Want more? The podcast episode this week is my conversation with Dr. Kelly Kapic, about You’re Only Human. But that’s good news! Listen or watch here.

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