Boundaries: The Queen’s Guard and Secret Service

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The Tension of Boundaries:

Boundaries are tricky. In thinking about boundaries, I’ve swayed between “No one can abuse me at all’ and “I’ll turn the other cheek when someone hurts me, like God says.” I think the reason Christian’s don’t quite know HOW to act on our boundaries is because we aren’t sure what boundaries to set.

There are so many different opinions.

One view: I heard one evangelist talk about how a man raped her daughter and she welcomed him anyway into her home. While that would usually be an extreme violation of boundaries deserving of an extreme consequence, the man was shown grace, which led to him seeing God.

Another view: Boundaries NEED consequences. When kids break rules, they need a timeout or the rule is meaningless. Same with boundaries. If someone breaks my boundary, I give a consequence, otherwise the boundary is empty. Sometimes I can’t give others a consequence (like if my boss disrespects me), but my consequence for THEIR actions could be for ME to confront them, or tell them less information about my life.

I believe both these things are truth, but I’ve had such trouble learning how these two truths combine. We want to be Christ-like, and Christ was loving and serving, yet somehow not a doormat. He accepted persecution, but didn’t self-loath and believe He was deserving of it.

What I see in today’s society are two groups- one that is so stubborn on not getting put down that they forget to love others, and one that focuses so much on not offending others that they fail to confront when offended. I think both of these extremes are a bit cowardly, and yet I fall into both at one time or another.

I started asking God how to have a perfect balance, and I felt Him showing me that to focus on one way alone may not be what people need. For example, if I told a battered woman about loving through persecution, she may see abuse as her cross to bear (which is NOT what I mean). Meanwhile if I focus on having consequences for boundaries, I may be encouraging someone to continue in their ways of protection without servanthood, never wanting to forgive people who hurt them. It’s a huge tension of Christianity.

The One Thing I Know:

What I did feel him leading me to is this distinct sense of identity that will help each of us in achieving the balance between the two tensions.

This identity is crucial. I felt Him telling me I am a queen. And that the boundary around my self-worth is a boundary that shouldn’t shift based on situation.

I feel God encouraging us all to know we are kind, brave kings and queens. When people belittle us, ask too much of us, or insult us, we must MUST know we are royalty. I have taken this as far as literally picturing myself as a queen. Would a queen accept this behavior? No! She would know she is worth more than this! But would a (kind and brave) queen lash out in return? No! She would know her identity so soundly that any offense would be bounced off of her self-worth.

This knowing of our worth acts as the greatest boundary we can carry. It guards our heart, not by becoming callous or unaccepting of others words, but instead, by knowing that we are royalty. When someone crosses their rights into our lives, we know it isn’t our fault, but rather something he/she must be struggling with.

If a crazy lunatic comes up to the queen of England and spits on her, do you think she spits back? And this lack of revenge- is this because she thinks she is worthy of that spit? No! She knows she is so above the spit that the hate, while obviously upsetting, doesn’t affect her heart. In fact, she is most likely appalled at the audacity of someone to spit on her.

In the same way, we can have humble spirits, all while knowing our royal worth. We do not have to surrender our servanthood when we take up our crowns. I believe this knowing of our worth acts as the Queen’s guard/ or secret service.

While people may say cruel things or try to lash out, we have a bubble of worth around our hearts.

I believe this bubble can only be sustained when we have Jesus. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we are royal when people adore us, but when people spit at your feet, we need the base of Jesus… the unchanging base…to encourage us in our royalty.

For we see this in Jesus. He was the King of the Jews. He knew this even when people posted it sarcastically above his blood-stained cross. He KNEW his worth as royalty. Therefore, he could serve wholeheartedly. He could be persecuted without accepting that it was because HE must not be loved, worthy, or wonderful. Instead, He knew He was irreplaceable.

My friend, YOU are also irreplaceable. You are a coheir with Christ. And while some may push you, you must know that you are not deserving of it. You may suffer at times, but you also should address the persecutors with such a strong sense of identity. Boundaries aren’t the opposite of getting spit on, but they are the opposite of resting in the resolution of ‘I must be worthy of it.’ You can instead think, ‘This is not the behavior meant for me- I’m a king/queen. To know the royalty we are meant for- even when we feel like the peasants rather. What is meant for us is honor, respect, and love. This knowing- this secret service/queens guard- will help us in knowing how to navigate in the boundaries tension we have.

I urge us all to be brave. The balance of boundaries looks different for different people, but bravery is at the core of boundaries no matter how they look. For some of us, realizing our royalty will encourage us to confront the people who have walked over us, or to give space between us and them. For others, it will encourage us to love people and grant pardons when it feels unfair. I know it is hard to tell, but I think with realizing our royalty, we have a strong boundary around our self-worth and we can better know how to act in kindness and bravery.

Walk tall and proud, my most royal of friends. You have been called to greatness in Christ. You have the Queen’s Guard and the Secret Service around your heart and even the greatest of insults can not affect your worth.

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Abandoning The Walls

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Close your eyes and picture a medieval castle: either a real one, or one from your favorite fantasy movie or video game. It stands strong and imposing, glinting in the sun, and it’s under attack. A vast army besieges the castle and the odds don’t look too good. However, the castle’s surrounded by thick walls a hundred feet high and soldiers line the top, ready to repel the invaders. Those walls are the castle’s savior; as long as they’re manned and defended, no one can conquer. But the defenders are outnumbered and soon the defense fails. “Abandon the walls!” comes the cry, and the soldiers flee. They may hold out for awhile in some part of the castle, but with the walls down, the fortress belongs to the incoming army.

Most of the walls we build in our lives are wise ones. Good boundaries keep us safe, keep us within the law, keep us from sinful behavior or toxic relationships.  But some boundaries are fortresses, constructed as off-limits zones to keep God out. And while I’m no expert on medieval battle tactics, I’m very good at staging quiet hold-outs in my own life.

“You can have all of me, Lord, except this one part.” – “Do with me whatever you want, God! Just….not that.” -“Jesus, You’re Lord of my life, but not of how I use my free time.”

As believers, we’re willing to die for our faith, to sacrifice in big ways for Jesus. But so often what we put boundaries around are the small things. I want to serve my Lord in missions, but I struggle just getting out of my cozy bed early enough in the morning to spend time with Him. I pray to abandon everything for His purposes, but my actions when it comes to my internet usage, my daily habits, my finances, the media I consume all speak differently.

So why do we do this? There seem to be three reasons why we put up boundaries against God:

  1. We think we’re too limited for what He’s asking.

Everyone’s been there; God asks us to do something and our hearts sink, because we just can’t. We’re too weak, too busy, too poor, too scared, too burdened already. And yet Philippians 4:19 says: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” If God meets our personal needs, doesn’t it follow that He also meets needs that come from asking us to do the “impossible”? Whether it’s needing more ways to save so we can give our money, extra discipline to control the flesh, emotional energy to invest in one more person, etc. He’s sufficient.

  1. We’re sinful and selfish.

We just can’t stand to not have the power, can we? The irony of us, the creation, asking our Creator with the tongues and breath He gave us to “stop taking everything away and let me be the boss!” would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. Consider this, though: if you’re a Christian, you’ve already made the greatest surrender of control you’re ever going to make. You’ve admitted that you can’t save yourself, that you have no ability on your own to be in relationship with God. So your entire spiritual life is already built on a pattern of relinquishing your life to Him.

  1. We’re terrified.

It’s hard enough to sacrifice the little things, but what about the things we cherish? What if God tells us to give up the dream of being married? Of being healthy? Of having children? There’s this insidious, buried fear in a lot of our hearts that God isn’t as good as He says He is. That His plans are somehow a loss for us. So we try to surrender, but inside there’s a whisper: How much are You going to ask for, and how much is it going to hurt?

The truth is, Jesus takes our lives only so He can give them back in ways we can’t even imagine. Psalm 16:11 says “In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever”. Not just joy, but fullness of joy. A delight so rich, so potent, so overwhelming that our most amazing moments of earthly happiness can’t even compare.

Or as C.S. Lewis puts it, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If only we could grasp that when we fearfully say “no” to God, we’re saying “no” to what we would choose in a heartbeat if we could just see it.

And perhaps the ultimate answer to our limits, our selfish sin, our fears, is the Cross. The ultimate answer is the ultimate surrender.  Jesus gives up His glory and perfection without question. He comes down, walks our soil, willingly surrenders to experiencing illness , pain, hunger, burden, and the moral filth of every soul that ever lived. He hangs suffocating and bleeding out on the cross, gasping for one more breath through cracked lips, and “no” is not in His vocabulary. Boundaries? Behold the Son of Man, smashing right through them.

When it comes to abandoning everything for us, God’s answer is and has always been yes.

In the end, He asks nothing of us that He has not already given, a thousand times over. And we pay Him back with death and rejection and pride and desperation to hold onto everything but Him. But still He waits, and He asks. Hide your life in Me, and you will find it.

Frederick Buechner writes, “We have killed our father, and we will kill him again, and our world will kill him. And yet he is there. It is he who listens at the door. … This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”

How can we not respond to love like that by letting it conquer our fortresses, too?

So let’s abandon the barricades we build in our lives, no matter how small, because they don’t really keep us safe. They don’t really let us hang onto what we clutch so tightly. All they do is barricade us from the abundance that our loving Father /wants/ to give us.

We only begin to know God fully when we let go of our walls and start using every moment of every day to say “yes” to Him. It’s a “yes” to the sea instead of the mud puddle, a “yes” to all things further up and further in, a “yes” to the life we’re looking for.

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Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
(john donne, holy sonnet 14)
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Fruitful Friends

Last week I wrote about the concept of boundaries specifically within the context of toxic relationships, and how proper lines in the sand can alleviate the grief they cause. However, it’s not only unhealthy relationships that require boundaries. In my opinion, every healthy relationship should also have checks and balances in place to ensure that both persons are only producing and consuming good spiritual fruit. Maybe that’s why the writers of the Bible took the time to outline what it means to be a good friend and neighbor.

One example is in Galatians 6:2, which says that we are to “bear one another’s burdens.” Then, just a few sentences later in verse 5, we’re told that “everyone ought to bear their own burden.” Confusing? Only until we look closer at the original language of the text and notice that the word “burden” used twice in English is actually two different words in Greek. The first instance uses the word “baros,” which paints the mental picture of a crushing weight that pulls one down. The second instance uses the word “phortion,” which roughly translated means “task or service.” There are things that we can’t bear alone, like the death of a loved one – we should be able to depend on each other to help us shoulder those things. However, we should also be accountable for the responsibilities of our daily lives, and not expect our friends to constantly pick up the slack when we don’t feel like earning our portion. To me, this passage means that being dependable is just as important having people to depend on, and that both are necessary for a community to flourish.

Another example is found in Proverbs 25:17, which says, “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he grow tired of you and hate you.” Here we see there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. No matter how much you enjoy someone’s company, everyone needs a certain amount of space to breathe. I’m an introvert, which many people think means I dislike being around people. On the contrary, I’m a very sociable person! But where the extrovert gets their energy from being around people, I need time to “recharge my batteries” in solitude. I’m sure even an extrovert can understand the need for alone time every once in awhile – it simply depends on the person. The best way to navigate this boundary for both people to be clear about what they need, as well as sensitive to each other’s needs.

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Many Christians are familiar with the phrase “do not be unequally yolked with unbelievers.” (2 Cor 6:14) But didn’t Yeshua (Jesus) Himself dine with sinners? I believe there’s a difference between the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24) and those we build relationships with for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom. It sounds harsh to be exclusive in our friendships, but I believe the reason for this mandate is found in Mark 9:49-50. “If the salt loses its flavor, how will you season [a sacrifice]?” We are likened to the salt of the earth – a healing, essential mineral. The only way to dilute salt is to mix it with something less potent. Our holiness is important to God – we’re called to be set apart. If we look like, sound like, and act like the rest of the world, then what’s different about us? The company we choose to keep is sure to affect our behavior, as Proverbs says “those who walk with the wise will be wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” We should be willing to befriend anyone seeking friendship, but judge all by their fruits, and be willing to

Finally, Romans 12:17-18 charges us with this:  “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” We should pursue the fruit of the peace with all people – no matter their race, religion or creed – to the extent of our abilities as believers. This looks different for everyone, because God has given us all diverse personalities and backgrounds. That’s why healthy, fruitful relationships require each and every individual to use discernment and wisdom, seeking FIRST approval and service to God, then the pursuit of love and friendship with our fellow man.*

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Trust Issues

It’s been a long time since the revolutionary war with Great Britain, but no one has forgotten about it.

That was a time when, although most people stood back and accepted the circumstances, a small percentage of people with a strong sense of right and wrong stood up to defend what they believed to be God-given rights.

Although the active side of that passion for freedom is like a recessive gene (only showing in a select few), we all share a desire for it.

It’s something that comes out when we are oppressed; it appears as far back I can trace civilization. It’s a drive to shake free of whatever keeps us bound.

It’s a stallion fighting the fence. It’s a bird fighting the cage.

It’s a good thing!

It has overthrown tyrannies and established democracies, freed nations and dethroned despots. If there is a purpose to life, surely this urge for unhindered liberty is an integral part of it?

Probably.

But then again, you have the pot that boils over. Free will at wild can range from being beautiful all the way to being murderous. At the end of the French Revolution, nearly 16,600 were executed with the guillotine*. (There were a lot more executed than that, but this number will work for now.)

That’s a lot of people killed in the name of freedom! Gosh, I’m sure at least some of those people would have been willing to relax the reigns of government in exchange for their life, but no! They just had to be led up to the stocks, locked in, and decapitated.

Domestically, free will at large looks like teenagers pushing at the rules. It’s not nearly as severe, but the danger and damage are just as real. Look anywhere and you’ll find drug abuse, premarital sex, violence, and let’s not forget the absolutely awful hairstyles and tattoos some people expose themselves to just to push the norm (a moment of silence for all those unfortunates who wear misspelled “no regrets” tattoos).

That’s when you need the rules. See, a boy who isn’t trained to treat a woman with respect may one day deliver abuse, verbally or physically. Someone who is not taught to honor the laws of his household may one day dishonor the laws of the state, and end up in jail. A girl who does not respect her own body will not demand said respect from others, and thus risks of being taken advantage of. A child who isn’t taught not to steal a sibling’s toys might one day become a condemned thief. The list goes on. Believe me.

Well, that swings the pendulum now, doesn’t it? Let’s all just fold and beg for communism, then.

We begin to see that a healthy balance is needed. But is that all there is to it? I don’t think so. Let’s begin to hit the nail on the head… dig a little deeper.

Clearly Great Britain was wrong; at least, that is the majority’s opinion. Clearly too, the leaders of the French Revolution could have acted with more moderation.

Clearly, a healthy amount of boundaries in and about our lives should at least be looked upon with a neutral and accepting attitude, shouldn’t it?

And yet, there is no cheer we absorb at the thought of regulation. We accept it almost like an ox, acquiescing to the yoke of the farmer. It’s a necessary misfortune.

But this is nowhere near the way David the psalmist regarded the laws of his time. In his writings (Psalm 119:16, 20, 97, 113, 163, etc.), the way he described the laws that God placed on him is not only with total acceptance, but with delight, with longing, and even with love!

It’s true. David not only received the rules that God has set on Israel, but he sought them out with desperation! He embraced them, studied them, chased them, and devoted himself to them! He begged to be commanded, he pleaded to have the boundaries set about him.

The question of why may never have bothered you before, but it sure bugged me! I could never comprehend David here. I said, “Yeah, we need to obey the law and everything, yeah… but could you go back to writing about shepherds and valleys and the prettier stuff now, Dave?”

Why did he show such affection for the law of God? What makes God’s rules any different from those that we must obey in society, on pain of arrest?

Let’s hit the nail on the head again. Boundaries, both God’s and those of the state, are made to protect what is valuable.

God values marriage. That’s why he banned adultery.

God values human life. That’s why he banned murder.

God values truth. That’s why he banned deceit.

With every law you find, try to see what exactly it is that God is trying to protect. It might surprise you! Does God value comfort? Does he value peace?

And now what about the first half of the Ten Commandments, those that have no apparent consequence in modern society (keep the Sabbath holy, have no other gods before me, etc.)?

This leads us to the final rap of the hammer on that poor nail head. I believe this final point is at the heart of understanding boundaries.

David trusted God.

When you trust someone, and you know that they act only out of wisdom and love for you, you can easily embrace their acts of providence even when you cannot understand them.

That is what makes God’s laws different from the laws of a government. That is what makes God’s boundaries perfect, and even lovable; the knowledge that they were made for our own good!

If you trust the One who created the rulebook, a new light is shed upon the rules. You no longer see them as stern and asphyxiating; you see them as acts of love.

You cannot always trust a government to do what is best for you. You cannot even trust your parents to be perfect (though their experience should strongly persuade you reverence them). But you can trust the God who created you.

When you trust the God who gave the laws, your whole outlook changes.

I pray that one day we can all pray like David did when he said,

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So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts. I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and I will not be ashamed. And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.

                                                                                        (Psalm 119:44-47)

*http://www.port.ac.uk/special/france1815to2003/chapter1/interviews/filetodownload,20545,en.pdf

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Merciful Boundaries: Part 1

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man without self-control.” Proverbs 25:28

One of the most important lessons I have learned in my adult life is the importance of healthy emotional boundaries. When I was younger, I believed that to put up boundaries between myself and another person was uncompassionate and flew in the face of Messiah-like mercy, regardless what kind of fruit that person was bearing in my life. Looking back, I can see that this unbiblical mindset brought me nothing but years of unnecessary pain. The toxic relationships that I allowed myself to be in wreaked havoc on my spiritual well-being, and thus kept me from growing closer to God.

Being in a close relationship with an abusive person is like living next door to a nuclear waste site. Everything around you is exposed to poison. Nothing can grow or flourish, including relationships with other non-toxic people, because all of your energy is focused on trying to heal from constant spiritual attacks. Sadly, if you’re there long enough, the act of repeatedly being poisoned becomes your mind’s version of “normal.” This is why so many people never leave such relationships. They don’t realize that if they just moved away from the source of the toxicity, they could heal and get better. They have a warped view of what constitutes a normal, healthy lifestyle, which is why it often takes an intervention from another loved one (or a traumatic life event) for them to realize that staying is a choice — and the wrong one.

Thankfully for me, all it took was the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time away from the relationship to realize that what I mistook for love was actually the reason for my depression and constant spiritual stumbling. I realized that their presence in my life was inhibiting the fruits of the Spirit (joy, peace, goodness) from flourishing in my life. It was a painful wake-up call, but ultimately it brought me to a much healthier place, and to a clearer, deeper understanding of God’s unfailing love for me.

We as believers are called to live in the Light. The effects of a toxic person on those around them are the product (or fruit) of sin, and God’s Word is very clear that we should “abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thes. 5:22) In order to live in the Light, we must have healthy boundaries between ourselves and those who choose to operate in darkness. I’m not saying that we should never associate with non-believers — Christ Himself broke bread with sinners. Likewise, not everyone who professes to follow Him produces good fruit. I believe it’s up to each individual to determine, with the gift of spiritual discernment through the Holy Spirit, if there is a person in their life that is doing more damage than good. If a relationship is consistently producing bad fruit, it may be time to carefully examine the tree at its root.

Proverbs is full of examples of character traits that we would be wise to avoid, whether they manifest in ourselves or others. One very clear warning is in Proverbs 22:24, which says, “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man.” A man given to anger is a person who lacks self control, a character trait which breeds more than just anger management issues. Someone who lacks self control will inevitably struggle with the need to control others, which can lead to more abusive, manipulative patterns of behaviour. They don’t understand those who implement healthy boundaries in their lives, and often will even resent them because they are outside of their control. Proverbs 19:19 mentions the wrathful man, saying, “[he] will suffer punishment: for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.” Someone who lacks self control falls into a pattern of unrepentance. They return to the same sin over and over again, because it is comfortable and familiar. To those who love them, this becomes a constant cycle of stress. As their friends and family, we want to see the best in them, and believe that it’s our responsibility to “save” them until they come to their senses. The fact is, God’s Word says “it is better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool bent on folly.” (Prov. 17:12) The mental picture this paints is rather graphic, but it’s the hard truth — a fool who lacks self control has the potential to tear your life apart. It’s not our job to save them from themselves — only God can do that. It’s our job not to get in His way.


A wise person once put it to me this way: “it’s not compassionate to stand between a fool and God.” What that means is, it is not merciful to enable the behaviour of a toxic person. In fact, it’s the opposite. When we reward their behaviour by constantly rescuing them from the consequences of their actions, we are inhibiting God’s ability to reach that person through their self-made calamity, and change their heart. Sometimes compassion means distancing yourself from the toxicity they emanate, so that they must confront it head-on. This can be difficult, and may seem cold-hearted to some, but in reality it is an act of love — not only toward the fool, but toward ourselves. 1 Corinthians 7:23 says, ‘You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” We are called to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20) because we belong to Him. It does not bring Him honor when we willingly allow ourselves to be the prey of those with sinful intentions. Whether it be our own or someone else’s, sin cannot be permitted to have a foothold in our lives. As hard as it may be to say goodbye, sometimes we must love from a distance, and have the faith to allow God to heal the relationship in His own time.

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Part 2 will be published on Sunday, January 22nd.

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