I was talking with a friend recently about a topic we disagreed on. When we got to the heart of the matter, they said they just "couldn't ignore their feelings" about this issue. They said, basically, "how could all my feelings be wrong?" I replied that we should follow that train of thought to its logical end. I threw out a number of examples of things that "feel" very good - physically or emotionally - but lead to obviously negative consequences. I asked if these things were, following their definition, the right thing to do? Ultimately this leads to the question, "are there any real boundaries to our behavior that are real and deep and true?" Despite a popular belief that any kind of personal boundaries or constraints are bad, I believe they are actually critical to our survival and what's even better, will lead us to a fullness of life and joy.
In my lifetime I have seen a continual assault on anything remotely resembling limits on personal freedom. Along with it we've seen an elevation of the individual to the highest place - let's call it the throne - as people claim they are their own masters and no one can tell them what to do. There are those who believe that any boundary, constraint or limit to their personal freedom to do whatever they want is silly - even evil. But this requires a deeper look.
The problem with this way of thinking is the fruit that it bears in our lives. A mentor of mine is fond of saying, when people are complaining about the things happening in their lives, "you don't have a fruit problem, you have a root problem." And so when bad fruit is present, we must ask, what's the root?
Why do we have boundaries and limits in the first place? And who puts them in place? Who gets that authority over us? I believe in a loving, omnipotent creator God. That's where it starts for me. So if you don't share that belief or aren't at least open to the idea, you can go back to scrolling Facebook or Twitter now, though I'd love it if you stuck around.
So, if there is a loving, all-powerful God that created the universe it follows that He is in charge, not me. He gets to set the parameters for our existence because, well, he made us. He made everything we see and know.
Now before you think this is going down to a long list of do's and don't's from the Bible, that's not where I'm going. I do believe the Bible is the best possible source of knowing our boundaries. But that's for another time. No, I want to talk about the inherent value of boundaries. To remind us that instead of limiting us, boundaries are actually incredibly life-giving. They ensure and sustain joy. They lead to fullness of life here on earth.
I'm kind of an expert on boundaries because I've charged through most of them at one point or another in my life. I know what boundaries look like from the broken side - the outside looking in. I also know what it's like to live within them. I can say without any hesitation that life is much, much better inside the boundaries. Far from restricting us, they protect us. They give our lives structure. They allow us to focus on what really matters and ignore what doesn't. And yes, they keep us from getting into big trouble.
What are some of the boundaries that are helpful and life-giving? What do they look like? Here's a few, just food for thought:
- Technology should not be ever-present in your life. You need breaks from it. Complete and total breaks. How many moms and dads out there have heard some form of, "Daddy, put your phone down and listen to me." I have. It hits me between the eyes every time. Instead, what if you had "no phone zones?" What if you never looked at your phone in bed? Or took an entire day off every week from social media and technology? This will pay off. Trust me.
- Our bodies, especially sexually, are not "free" to do whatever we want. Many, many sexual choices will lead to bondage, not freedom. Just ask someone who's divorced, addicted to porn, a victim of sexual abuse or depressed and confused about their sexuality. God gives us boundaries regarding our bodies for our good, not to limit our freedom. Trust me.
- You cannot "save" that person you love. Stop letting them charge through your boundaries like a drunk rhinoceros. The rhino won't get where he needs to go and all you'll be left with are shattered fences and a trampled garden. It's so, so hard when it's someone you love - I know. You want to do everything you can to "help" them. Meet every need. Answer every call and text. But you can't save them - only the loving Father can. Love them. Do what you can. But don't abandon good boundaries. Trust me.
- Your boss or client is not your slave-master and you are not their slave. If you answer emails at 11 o'clock at night, they'll always expect you to. If you ask, "how high" every time they say, "jump," you will get very tired, very quickly. In contrast, if you set proper boundaries for communication, work-load and expectations you will find that clients and bosses will either respect the heck out of you (because so few do this well) or they'll pressure you to do more, in which case you know its time to quit or fire that client. It's not worth it. Trust me.
I could go on. But you get the point. Maybe you need to take a minute to think about boundaries in your life that have fallen apart. Maybe there's some you've never even considered. Or maybe you need to admit you've intentionally charged through others and are now reaping the consequences. Whatever it is, there's great hope for a better future. A fuller life. A deeper peace.
God doesn't give us boundaries to restrict us. He gives us boundaries because He loves us. If we will carefully discover those boundaries, mark them off, care for them and live within them, we will experience a fullness of life that is something truly special. Trust me.