Practicing Boundaries…


Sunday, after church, a friend and I were talking about the process of single adulthood and dating. The friend mentioned that she was doing ok when she concentrated on being a single mom, employee, and growing Christian. Although she is busy… and pretty amazing, I might add… she has learned to structure her time well. However, when she meets someone that is interesting in a romantic sense, it makes life more complicated. She finds herself missing time alone with God. So she now wonders if she should continue to put dating on the back burner or if she has lived so long on her own that she is too independent and unable to let someone else into her everyday life. Then there is the practical question of her kids, who are still young. How would they react to a man in their lives? 

Tough questions. I mentioned that when you first become involved in what may be the beginnings of a relationship, the pull is for it to take over your every waking thought. That’s pretty natural, and honestly, it can throw your carefully laid plans out of whack. So you have the warring factions within your mind of enjoying the thought that someone cares about you, and the accusing finger of Adulthood that says, “You must control your life.”

I’ve been thinking about that conversation…

I was a jock in high school and college. I loved the games, but didn’t really like practice that much. I think most athletes are that way. However, eventually, an athlete begins to understand the importance of practice and how it builds a team that will perform well during a game. Practice trains your mind and body to respond in a manner that allows the team to play up to their highest level.  While I know that no amount of work can make up for natural talent, the work you do on the practice field or court prepares how you act and re-act at crunch time… when adversity hits. With all deference to  Allen Iverson, who couldn’t understand why he was being fined for missing practice and then used the national media to question his coach’s decision and sanity, practice is very important to developing trusting relationships between teammates.

So, maybe dating gives us practice in developing new skills needed to place boundaries in our lives.  If they are honest with themselves, I suspect most people who have gone through a divorce probably had boundary issues in the old relationship. I don’t recall the church talking much about boundaries. I think we may misread Jesus’ comments about turning the other cheek and giving someone your shirt when they ask for your coat, and believe subconsciously that being Christian means we aren’t supposed to treat ourselves with respect. However, when Jesus drove the buyers and sellers out of the temple courts, he was drawing boundaries. He was treating his Father, and himself  by the way, with respect. Respect is a hallmark of love. When respect is lost, so is love and regaining it is VERY difficult.

A temptation for us, I think,  is to try to put a lover into the place in our lives that only God can fill. We all enter relationships with expectations, even with God. Some expectations we may be aware of, but others are hidden. We may expect our lover to know us so well that they will meet all those expectations. Obviously we don’t knowingly believe that,  but in daily actions, we may. So we need practice in treating God, ourselves, and others with respect. That means carving out time specifically for each in our daily lives.

We were originally created with a need for at least one other close person. I believe we were created to share life with God. But we were also given Another to keep us from living self-absorbed lives. Even God said that it was “not good” for Adam to live alone, and Adam’s original companion was God! God isn’t afraid of sharing us, but he is concerned if we replace his presence in our lives with someone else. That doesn’t work.

Now regarding boundaries… we each need to be free from coercion, especially regarding our feelings and thoughts. Someone who tries to control another’s thoughts or feelings doesn’t respect them, let alone love them. I have another friend who has been punished for her feelings so long that it’s hard for her to share them, and the tragedy is, I don’t think she always realizes it. She hasn’t felt safe to be herself, for a long time.

If I love someone, I want them to be healthy. I need to give them room to be fully alive. And I need the same from them. That is respect. God treats me that way and he is due my respect. Actually, all we see around us is God’s creation living in the way he designed and created it. This is God treating himself respectfully. The Natural/Physical/Spiritual laws are God’s boundaries. When we cross them, we do so at our own peril.

Practicing boundaries leads us into Mutual Living: relationships filled with both giving and receiving. Open. Honest. Willing to confront and unafraid of the process of resolving the conflict to the benefit of both people. Serving and being served. Loving and receiving love. Honest about our mistakes and weaknesses and gracious when dealing with another’s shortcomings. Celebrating another’s strengths and our own. 

We need practice to love better.

Hmmmm… now that practice I might like!

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