Healthy Boundaries, Healthy Soul
[Editor’s Note: This is a guest story by Jehn Kubiak. Healthy boundaries are so important in this rushed world we live in. P.S. Happy Independence Day to US readers! Take some time off and relax!]
I became a walking skeleton after stress literally ate me alive last year as a Biola University student. My already-thin body dropped about 35 pounds within nine months and went from three meals a day to one––a cup of soup and a banana or a protein bar and a smoothie. Doctors constantly became amazed at the fact that I wasn’t hospitalized, and I only have God to thank for that.
After three therapists, four doctors, and a long recovery process, I finally became physically healthy again. However, I still struggle with Panic Disorder at times and feel like I constantly lose control over even the most minute things. My family and friends constantly repeated one word that remains forever imprinted on my mind: boundaries. However, it took me a while to truly listen to their advice.
On my 21st birthday, my parents sat down and told me I needed to set boundaries for my last undergraduate semester. During the previous year, I took on way too many responsibilities: three jobs, an unpaid internship, wind ensemble, and freelance writing. They asked me to prune certain things from my life, such as work hours, and I did reluctantly at first.
This past December, my dad recommended Soul Keeping by Jon Ortberg, who explained how an overly busy life can severely damage one’s soul. Plus, I took a Spiritual Formation class at Talbot, where I learned how Christians often believe that they must do everything with excellence in order to please God. However, that class helped me understand that, while God wants us to do our best, he also doesn’t want us to become perfectionists. Otherwise, we idolize results instead of truly serving God, and then we push our limits.
I found this was very true of myself because I always thought I was not glorifying God with the gifts he gave me if I didn’t do everything with 100 percent effort. Therefore, I often worked until my body literally felt stretched to the limits, as if someone stretched it out with a taffy puller.
Now that I’m a graduate student at the Talbot School of Theology, I finally learned the importance of setting boundaries: I’ve decreased work hours, set apart time for rest, spend more time with people, and don’t obsess over my coursework. If I feel like napping one day, I lay down instead of powering through yet another assignment. If I need a mental health day, I take one instead of letting my Panic Disorder get out of hand. I no longer need an A plus in every class––an A minus is good enough.
I shared the story of my sickness during a cohort retreat for Talbot, and my group members told me something I will never forget––”God says you’re not done resting yet.” As a result of the material I learned in my Spiritual Formation class, God revealed something very astounding––my physical illness was a manifestation of a spiritual sickness. My soul was sick, so my entire being became sick.
Now that it’s the end of the semester, I can see how setting boundaries ultimately helped my soul. I used to always feel nervous and couldn’t look anyone in the eye because I feared people would see through my tough facade. However, now I have days where I feel at peace––I’m not quite at the point where I feel consistent peace, but I no longer feel like I’m consistently falling into a sinkhole I can’t climb out of.
Perhaps this is why, in Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus cautions his listeners against overvaluing earthly treasures––even “good” material things, such as productivity, never fulfill the soul because they’re temporary. I once treasured work above my well-being, and that nearly cost me my life; I hardly ate due to my busy schedule, so I dwindled down to 92 pounds and was almost hospitalized.
After enduring these health struggles, I finally understood why Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the Bible. Most people hate it because Solomon’s words seem so ambiguous, but upon a close read, one can uncover a valuable message. Solomon reminds his listeners that work done to the point of vanity only results in misery. He says,
“What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:3-4).
Work is not bad, but an obsession with work is.
Boundaries and balance are crucial. God values hard work, but he doesn’t want us to work so hard that responsibilities consume our souls, making us burn out and unable to function. As the adage goes, “Work hard, play hard.” Down-time is just as crucial as productivity. Those of us who are overachievers must learn to say “no” to unnecessary things and find moments of rest throughout the day. Work does not define worth in God’s eyes.
Jehn Kubiak is a Biola University journalism graduate and current pastoral care and counseling major at the Talbot School of Theology. She is a San Diego native who enjoys distance swimming, coffee, dogs, and painting. She loves researching and writing about people, sports, activities, and more.