There was beauty in the room as women and girls from 12 different states entered a sacred space July 26-27 in Omaha, Nebraska, to explore and claim healthy personal boundaries. I breathed a prayer of thanks that I could attend “Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries,” a collaboration of Mennonite Women USA and Dove’s Nest.
“Knowledge of self is power,” said Jenny Castro, director for Women in Leadership Project of Mennonite Church USA. She invited us to know ourselves, understand our culture and boldly set our boundaries. As women we are enculturated to give, nurture, put our needs behind us. We are socialized to deny our needs. “Without boundaries we ooze out all over the place,” she said. Instead, she called us clearly to name our boundaries with strength and power. The more we know about ourselves, the more we understand how to set our boundaries for healthy lives.
The grim statistic that one in six women experience rape or attempted rape tells us boundaries are often unknown, crossed or violated. Sexualized violence is rooted in white patriarchy and used as a tool to keep everyone in their place and it has caused great harm. I feel grateful for the Circle of Grace curriculum for children and youth, which sets boundaries of safe, healthy living to love and respect ourselves and those we relate to.
Our bodies are an incredible, precious gift from God. The more we learn and celebrate our bodies the easier it is to care for ourselves by setting boundaries. The more we know about self and culture, the more we can powerfully claim our boundaries.
Each person has slightly different boundaries–border of separation or wall that sets a line of what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior depending on the person or situation. Carol Hurst, associate professor and social work program director at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, shared these guidelines for setting boundaries:
- Take care of your own air.
- Tune in to your inner gauge to love neighbor as self.
- Name your limits and respect others’ limits.
- Claim power to set the boundary for protection and fullness of life.
Brenda Yoder, licensed mental health counselor and author, reminded us that God created women as life givers, and establishing boundaries sets the rules of our “yard.” As we come to find a home in our body as a special creation of God, we can find our acceptance of ourselves. Knowing and celebrating self empowers us to set the rules of our “yard.”
Our first day ended with worship. We held close the cedar wood heart given us by Marlene Bogard, outgoing executive director of Mennonite Women USA. Marlene reflected the qualities of cedar: it distracts pests, serves as an antiseptic and can hold up to the outside elements. We breathed in the scent, breathing in the strength of God’s truth that we are all created with beauty, strength and power. Andrea Wall, pastor from Bethesda Mennonite Church, spoke about Luke 9, where Jesus boldly claims his identity. We were invited to welcome Jesus into the center of our lives as we claim our identity in Christ.
Our final hours were spent practicing the Circle of Grace meditation wherein we physically demonstrated the reach of personal boundaries in a circle around us with the tips of our fingers’ reach. It’s our safe circle because God is present with us. With pen in hand and minds full of our teachings and meditations, we spent time writing our own plan for setting and claiming boundaries.
We left richer and wiser, knowing the beauty of safe boundaries so that we can celebrate our preciousness in God’s eyes. It was a sacred space where God was present, guiding us all into celebration of self with clear boundary setting. Thank you, Mennonite Women USA and Dove’s Nest, for being gracious hosts.
Kathy Bilderback is administrative pastor at Evergreen Heights Mennonite Church in Caldwell, Idaho.