by Bethany Weaver
He looked old, tired and broken as he sat across the table from me.
I felt much the same way. Though my body had not seen the years his had, my spirit was weary to the bone—of him.
This was neither the time nor the place for this conversation, here in this diner with strangers only an arm’s length away. Yet I was not surprised. After years of similar moments, my expectations of consideration, manners or politeness had almost completely fled.
True to fashion, he had done what he always did: Thrown a grenade into a regular exchange. I could never decide if he did it on purpose or if it burst out of him nearly involuntarily. Either way, my war-weary spirit had sensed what was to come in the silence, which is why I had worked so hard to fill the empty space. “Perhaps,” my mind deceptively whispered, “the lack of silence will keep him in check.”
For it seemed I could never wholly relinquish hope that he would change. No matter how many times he disappointed me, made me uncomfortable or acted selfishly, some thread of me deep inside still believed he would one day stop doing so. If he understood how his actions hurt me, then surely he would stop. Right?
In the diner that Sunday morning over a nondescript breakfast, that deep-inside thread broke.
It was not so much a snap as it was a gentle breaking—the way a thread falls apart when it has grown thin from wear.
I looked across the table at my father. And in that one breath of a moment, the transformation my boundaries afforded me came into sharp focus.
It was finished.
I flashed back to nearly a decade ago when a counselor had first pushed me to create boundaries with my father. I was at 16 when I first began to draw those boundary lines. I did so slowly and steadily in order to protect myself from the very man who was supposed to be protecting me.
Once, I had been his little girl. Once, I could trust him. But I had begun to realize that time had passed. Whatever good memories I had of my father, I could no longer cling to them. I had to live in the present and prepare for the future, one where my best interests would never be his first priority.
Without boundaries, I knew I would never recover. With each inevitable disappointment, I would shatter into a million pieces. So I drew my lines in the sand. It took 12 years of hard work, tears, fights, resignation, silence and talks. But at last, it was finished.
In a diner on the side of a busy street in the midst of strangers, I found my freedom as devaluing words spilled from the man whose opinion of me had formed the foundation of my self-worth.
I had heard it all before. In fact, I had been hearing it for years as he pushed back on every single boundary I created. Nothing had changed. Nothing ever changed with him.
But my boundaries had changed me—saved me, even.
For though hurtful words poured forth, peace reigned in my heart.
My boundaries had created peace in the space that allowed me to feel, think and live outside of his opinion. My boundaries had allowed me to disarm his influence so that his words and actions could no longer destroy me.
My boundaries had set me free.
So this time, I did not shrink from the conflict. I did not fumble with my words. I was not overcome with emotion. Instead, I spoke with authority and certainty. He could no longer shake me. He didn’t have the power to do so.
And then as my words slowed and I looked across the table at this tired, broken man, I saw one more thing my boundaries had done. For all at once, the depth of his brokenness was revealed to me in a way it had never been before.
Though he remained absolutely responsible for his actions, I could see he would never be able to grasp the consequences of them. He was like a child who could not understand. No explanation and no amount of time would remedy that.
His brokenness had broken me. But through the grace of God and the wisdom of boundaries, my wounds had healed. He was still a slave.
As I walked to my car that Sunday, I put to rest the man my father should have been. I released all hopes and expectations of protection and sacrificial love from him. I did so without bitterness, though not without sorrow.
I’m not naïve. I know the grief will likely never leave. I will feel it each Father’s Day, sense it on my wedding day and ache when I see good fathers with their children. Though boundaries have set me free, they don’t erase the loss. They only keep that loss from occurring over and over again.
Once upon a time 12 years ago, it was impossible to believe in boundaries and in freedom. The pain and hurt seemed crushing and overwhelming. Looking back, I see there was always hope then, just as there is always hope now. For any situation can be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. And anyone can be set free.
Bethany Weaver is a copy editor, blogger and all-around lover of words based in Lancaster, Pa. For more serious and non-serious works by her, go to http://bjweaver.wordpress.com.