Entries with tag boundaries .

Two Reminders about Youth Safety Training

If you’ve ever been a camp counselor, you know the pains of some of the youth ministry training process. Of course, I don’t mean the time you took classes on learning icebreakers or how to be a good listener or how to best speak about our faith. I mean the online training, learning all of the things you shouldn’t do and having to learn the ins and outs of the Youth Protection Manual.

 

(By the way, the Archdiocese is preparing new Policies for the Safety of Youth and Children.  So these basic youth safety principles will soon apply to all youth work.  Stay tuned!)

 

Now, I’m sure you know that all of this is important. But when you’re an experienced counselor, it’s easy for this to feel like just another task you have to check off your to-do list. It’s easy to lose sight of what it’s all really about.

 

Those in youth ministry have an incredibly important role in the spiritual lives of the youth with whom they work. Though you may only be with these young people for a retreat or for a week-long camp session, your impression matters, and the parents trust that their children are in safe hands with you.

 

So what are two things that everyone can keep in mind, as a background for all of the rules and regulations? What I’ve found helpful is to remember that boundaries matter, and that we as leaders in the Church serve as icons of God.

 

1. Boundaries matter

 

Boundaries are at the core of many youth safety regulations. We talk so much about how far apart to be from the youth, about how much physical contact is culturally appropriate, about contact online and on the phone. But common to all of these rules is the concept that our boundaries and the boundaries of our youth truly matter.

 

One common mistake that youth workers can make is to not properly set up boundaries for themselves. They want to be open and helpful, they want to be always available to lend a helpful hand or a listening ear. Youth workers want to be there for their youth, but sometimes that Johnny-on-the-spot availability can be at the detriment of their own physical and spiritual health. We can’t give what we don’t have.

 

While our boundaries matter, so too do the boundaries of our youth. There is the obvious need for physical boundaries to be respected. But there’s also the need to have clear emotional boundaries with those we serve. I remember early on in my youth work a time when I found myself getting too emotionally worked up about a young person’s struggles. I wanted to be able to help him, to make sure he was alright. But I had to see that I was trying to fix him instead of letting God do the work. I had to stop seeing him as a problem to be solved, and instead as a person to be loved and prayed for. I needed to commit him to God, and to trust that Christ could work in his life.

 

2. Religious leaders are icons of God

 

Whether we like it or not, we who work in ministry are – in a very real and particular way – icons of God for those we serve. How we act and live our lives reflects Christ whose ministry we share. How we speak to young people guides and molds how they perceive and understand God.

 

This may be a rather heavy realization to have, but it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Though we know that we are imperfect people ourselves – and perhaps because of an awareness of our imperfections we are personally aware of the power and grace of God – we must remember that our youth do not expect us to be quite so imperfect. How we show love, how we demonstrate the grace of God by how we show grace to young people we serve, all impacts how they are able to relate to and encounter the Holy Trinity.

 

Another temptation, intertwined with the importance of boundaries, is sharing too much of our own story too soon and in the wrong context. We may want to show that we can truly empathize with the challenges our youth face – because, let’s be honest, we have oftentimes been in the same boat they’re in now. But we have to remember that we represent the straight and narrow path; we represent Christ. When we share with teens, for example, that we faced a challenge they are now facing, we need to favor being vague over specific. Because not only could a discussion of specifics end up crossing a boundary, it can also send the wrong message and lead to temptation rather than a helpful lesson. How specific we become, and the examples we share, can only be properly discerned over a period of time as we build as relationship with the person before us. And when it comes to youth, we need to be extra careful in what we say.

 

We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to work not to scandalize those in our care (1 Corinthians 8:13).

 

Icons made of wood or plaster bring us to an encounter with the one depicted. Through created matter, we come to know Jesus Christ, His mother, and the other saints. And in us – those who work with youth – others come to see living icons of our Lord. Imperfect though we may be, young people encounter Jesus Christ in and through us.

 

*****

 

When Youth Safety is seen as a task to accomplish, or as a set of rules to follow, we forget that we are preparing to serve the Body of Christ. Youth ministry is Christ’s ministry and we are His hands and His feet serving His people. But we need to rediscover the importance of keeping proper boundaries, both for our sake and for the sake of the youth. And we should keep in mind that ultimately we represent our Lord to those we serve.

 

How have you struggled with boundaries in youth ministry? Have you ever encountered a time when you felt a young person placed you on too high of a pedestal?

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Boundaries: Healthy Limits or Barriers to Relationships?

This past Sunday, we heard the Gospel passage from Matthew 25 about the Last Judgement. In this reading, Jesus says that the righteous are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, and clothed the naked. This reminds us that philanthropy and almsgiving are an important component of the Christian life, and are something to practice during Great Lent.

Some of us may have walked away from this reading feeling apprehensive and uncomfortable, instead of motivated and inspired. Many of us have wondered where to draw the line, whether this command will result in us giving all of our money and resources away, leaving nothing behind for us and our families: “I can’t just give money to every person on the street!”

We want to show our love to others, but we aren’t sure where to draw the line in giving money or in giving of ourselves emotionally.  That’s because we struggle with setting healthy boundaries. We might not see the difference between the good limits we use to protect ourselves and our families, and the walls we build up around ourselves to justify our selfishness.

Luckily, Christian spoke about this on The Trench in “Understanding Boundaries” – Episode 8. As he discussed, our struggle with boundaries is a struggle to balance individuality and togetherness.

After you watch the video, let’s look at some ways that we might struggle with boundaries, and discover how we can establish proper boundaries in our relationships.

1. Healthy boundaries

We all need healthy boundaries. They give order to our lives. Seeing the difference between you and me helps me to know myself. 

In nearly every aspect of our lives, we maintain certain boundaries that are good and helpful. The boundary between parents and children allows the parents to lead and to guide, while also giving a sense of security and stability to the children. The boundary between romance and friendship sets clear expectations and a safe place for appropriate intimacy. The same is true for work versus personal life. In most situations, there are certain things that you just don’t share at work. It helps keep work professional, and the home private.

Healthy boundaries allow relationships to develop, and situations to remain healthy.

Yet we don’t always do a great job maintaining these healthy boundaries.

2. Unhealthy boundaries

Nearly everyone struggles in some way with setting proper boundaries. Some try to ignore boundaries altogether, while others set up unnatural ones between people. Sometimes, we do a mix of both. Personality type tests like the Briggs Myers Test can help us identify how we develop unhealthy boundaries so we can try to develop healthy ones.

Some common weaknesses establish distance between people. If we struggle with empathy, we also may tend to isolate ourselves from others. In this way, we build walls between us and others that keep us from proper relationships. Then there’s the struggle with judging others, which emotionally separates us from those around us. This is what happens when we want to help someone in need, and instead of acting on the good thought we set up a boundary between us.

When we struggle with judging someone or getting irritated with someone, we can reach out to them through prayer. Instead of closing ourselves off (in our room, house, or behind our cell phones) we can practice being present with our family and friends.  

On the other hand, some people don’t know how to maintain any boundaries at all. The problem here is generally being too invested in another person’s choices and decisions. Parents, mentors, counselors, and those in ministry are all vulnerable to this problem. In a desire to care for a person, the caregiver might try to solve the other’s problems for them.  Instead of being supportive and present, the person ignores proper boundaries and keeps the other from an opportunity to grow. Or we might get overly invested and our empathy turns into making the others’ problems our own.

If we don’t respect boundaries, it’s because we are taking on more than we can bear and are not accepting our limitations.

3. Accepting our limitations

Accepting our limitations helps to create healthy boundaries.

The mom that tries to solve all of her children’s problems fails to see that she isn’t super woman. The counselor who stays in the office regularly after hours forgets that he can’t save everyone. The person who gives his things away to those in need every day will eventually run out. Even Saint John of Kronstadt had to limit his charity when his wife worried because he kept coming home without money or shoes (remember the concentric circles in the Trench episode I linked above).

We are all limited, imperfect people. We are not all-powerful, all-knowing, and with limitless resources. We are not God. We have only 24 hours in a day, and only so much mental and emotional energy. At some point, saying “yes” to new responsibilities results in us saying “no” to our existing responsibilities as we over-extend ourselves.

Yet, if we accept our limitations of time and energy, we will be able to say “no” without feeling guilty. If we didn’t get done today what needed to be done, it can wait until tomorrow. If we have too much to do today, then we need to cut back and be realistic about what can be accomplished in any one day. We have limits, and we have to respect those limits by taking proper care of ourselves.

4. Self-care

When we accept our limitations, we will be willing to take care of our needs too.

The mother who never treats herself, the priest who never takes a vacation, the friend who is always trying to fix everyone’s problems…they will all burn out eventually. We all need to have our batteries refilled, our minds cleared of the clutter, and our peace restored. When we accept our limitations, we can take the necessary time to be present for those we want to be there for. This is going to look different for each person, but self-care is a necessary component to keeping healthy boundaries.

*****

Boundaries are a natural part of life. They help us be better friends, family members, and coworkers. They help us be the best possible version of ourselves, true to the specific duties and responsibilities that God has placed on our shoulders. And, boundaries keep us from feeling guilty when we realize that we can’t help everyone, and that’s okay.

How do you struggle with boundaries in your life? How do you set up healthy limits in your life?

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit:

Creating Healthy Boundaries 

Brick Wall 

Clocks 

Taking a Break 

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The Trench- Understanding Boundaries

What are boundaries?

We often think of boundaries as being a simple “when to say no,” and while that is certainly an important factor in boundaries, to limit them to that alone would be to underestimate the rich role that they play in relationships.

Boundaries are necessary to determine where “I” end and where “you” begin. They help us to maintain the important balance between our tendency towards individuality and our tendency towards togetherness. When that balance is thrown off, we are either left with no boundaries at all, blurring the line between “I” and “you,” or with walls, cutting off our relationships entirely. 

When we look to Christ as our model, we can see in the Gospel accounts that He himself maintained well-defined boundaries in His interactions with others.

But what are good boundaries, and what benefits do they provide? Join Y2AM’s Christian Gonzalez as he explores these questions in his latest episode of The Trench, “Understanding Boundaries.

 

 

- Anthony

 

Anthony Ladas is a student at Fordham University and currently an intern for Y2AM.

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