Boundaries: Choosing the Next Right Yes (Compassionate Boundaries Part 3)

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    Nancy Virden (c)2013

873Mike wants to help. He genuinely cares that his co-worker Michelle is stressed-out with a dinner party, busy with sick children, has to run her mother to the airport, and will be late to this week’s meeting. She asked him if he would start the meeting for her, which involves more than just being in attendance.

If he says yes to Michelle, Mike will be gathering notebooks and pens, a laptop and projector, making the coffee, and greeting 20 people. It will be his job to help everyone feel comfortable.

Normally, Mike is shy. He is quite good at shaking the hand of a customer, easily discussing business, weather, and sports scores. It’s a different challenge altogether to make small talk with people he barely knows. While Michelle is fun on every occasion, he is more reserved. 

Already he is apprehensive and the meeting is two days away! I should say yes, he thinks. Besides, she has no one else to ask.

Michelle thanks him profusely. Mike feels pleased. I’m doing the right thing, he reassured himself. 

He calls his wife, Gloria. The phone rings for some time. She’s slowing down, he thinks, as he pictures her easing her body out of bed and across the room.

“Hello?” She sounds weak.

“Hi Honey!” Mike figures he’d better sound as positive as possible. “I will be unable to go to the doctor with you Thursday. Don’t worry, I’m sure Margie can give you a ride.”

Silence lingers for half a minute. “Mike, you said you would go.”

“I know, but Michelle needs me to start the meeting and I couldn’t let her down. You understand.”

“I need you too.”

“Honey, call Margie and she’ll take you. She enjoys helping out.” Mike feels angry that his wife did not simply let him off the hook. Following more silence, he hears a short sigh.


Two days of busyness and worry finally land Mike in the meeting room.  He’d spent the past evening going over the list in his head of attendees, and imagining what he could say to each.  Sure, he’d told his son to wait when he said he had something important to talk about. Matt can hold off.  It can’t be that urgent, he whispers to his conflicted heart. 

Everyone is seated. Mike is ready with his opening statements when his cellphone goes off. He sees it is Matt calling. Turning the phone off with a stab of guilt, he apologizes for the interruption and continues.

That evening at home, he notices his son is later than usual. “What is Matt up to?” he asks Gloria.

“He’s taking the entrance exam.”

Mike is confused. “Entrance to what?”

“Matt decided to attend Cambridge University.”

“Cambridge! But that’s all the way over in England! What makes him think he can get into that prestigious school?”

“Mike, he has top honors in mathematics.”

“I know that.”

“In the state.” Gloria watches Mike’s reaction as surprise and pride cross his face, then dissolve into a troubled look.

“When did all this happen?” he says.

“Mike, you’ve been gone so much. Matt wanted to tell you. He wanted to discuss schools with you. In the last few months it seems you’ve been rarely available to him.”

“I’ve helped Mr. Franklin with closing his business, been taking you to your treatments, teaching Sunday School, not to mention my job…” Mike’s words fade at Gloria’s answer.

“You haven’t taken me to the doctor in six months.  Mike, I’m fighting this disease alone.”

When we know what to say “yes” to, we know what to say “no” to. As compassionate as we may feel, for every “yes”, there is a “no” to something or someone else.  

Boundaries allow us to stick to the right “yes”es. No matter how noble, needful, self-sacrificing, godly, loving, etc., we may believe a kindness to be, if doing it is not the next right yes, our answer must be no. 


NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

*Mike is a composite of people 

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