Building up and sustaining your inner self
I’ve traditionally had a hard time with boundaries — and if I’m completely honest with myself, I still do. Sometimes it manifests as feeling responsible for managing other people’s emotions. Other times, it means not speaking up when I notice red flags (if I notice them at all!) because of an overwhelming need to show that I ‘know my place.’
The Rule of the Jerusalem Fraternities
Where I live, there is a wonderful religious community called the Jerusalem Fraternities. They are urban monks and nuns whose charism is to provide an oasis of peace in the heart of the city. Several years ago, I was discerning a possible vocation with them and I still have a copy of their Rule. It is divided into chapters that touch on all aspects of the consecrated life. Given the charism of this community, it also highlights their need for a certain personal enclosure and highlights the danger of unlimited hospitality. In other words, it encourages personal boundaries.
These boundaries are essential in part because too much time with people impedes on their monastic vocation for prayer and silence, especially in a busy, noisy urban area:
Hold on at all costs to that most precious afternoon space for lectio divina. It is both vital and essential for you, especially in city life. Receive no visits at that time (§47).
But they are also essential for the same human reasons that anyone needs to enforce boundaries: sense of self, not burning out, priorities.
Conserve your energy, your silence, prayer and time. Know how to cut a conversation short, to put off a visit, to go straight to the point. Thoughtful listening does not mean lengthy conversations (§45).
Cut a conversation short! Go straight to the point! That sounds almost blasphemous! But… “you cannot possibly have an answer to every question nor meet all demands (§45).” Ahh. Who knew the virtue of humility could look so much like enforcing your personal boundaries?
The Rule also emphasizes boundaries because not everyone is suited for the same things. God gives us different gifts for building up His kingdom:
Do not let hospitality become a distraction and, as St Basil advises, do not lose your way in it, but rather let those with the charism of the Word, and who know how to speak and listen with such wisdom as builds up faith, be the ones to receive visitors (§46).
Here they are saying that if talking with strangers is difficult for you or, on the contrary, if you are a very loquacious person, perhaps receiving visitors is not the best job for you. Let others handle it. We can apply this in our own lives by discerning how to direct our energy and our hospitality, and by “be[ing] humbly aware of our limitations (§45).” While it’s true that we can (and should) learn to develop hidden talents, its also true that you don’t have to force yourself out of your comfort zone in every situation. Maybe your discomfort indicates that your energy would be better directed elsewhere.
Without taking shelter behind walls or moralization, you will thus gradually discover the kind of enclosure you and your community need: places and times in and during which nothing and no one may distract, monopolize or disturb you. There you will learn the precious secret of restraining your words, thoughts and heart so as to build up and sustain your inner self (§48).
Your own rule and inner self
What helps or would help you build up and sustain your inner self? Which boundaries would you need to enforce? What would that look like?
For me, part of it is limiting time with toxic family members, and part of it is recognizing when I feel uncomfortable in a situation and then not brushing it off with, “They have the right to do that”, “There’s nothing objectively wrong with that”, “It’s not my place to speak up”, or “Well, what do I know?”. Even if there is nothing objectively wrong with a given situation, you don’t have to go along if doing so violates a personal value. You don’t have to force yourself to be okay in uncomfortable situations.
Your inner self is precious to God. Do what you need to do to build it up and sustain it.