Sunday, April 13, 2008


Someone told me last night that there 20-ish son (who has had substance abuse issues and some run-ins with the law) was currently living in the garage of his home. I replied innocently, "Oh, have you remodeled your garage?" This produced a hearty laugh. "No, but it's the only way I can keep my boundaries in place."

I heard this same phraseology from a woman at church who mothers one of the ladies at the rehab facility our church ministers to. She was relating a conversation with her daughter in which she felt her daughter was taking her for granted. "I have to maintain my boundaries...."

I know this is language that belongs to the recovering community. I've attended one AA meeting in my life, one NA meeting and one Al Anon meeting. At the Al Anon meeting in particular, there was an emphasis on disconnecting from the addict for the sake of your own mental and emotional health. I believe detachment was the term they used. The idea of establishing a boundary was at the heart of the strategy of detachment.

It brings to mind a phrase God invokes in a conversation he has with Job. He asks Job, 8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'? (Job 38:8-11)

Is this the kind of boundary my friend and this mother were speaking of -- in essence telling another person, "This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt."

I think by our very personalities, some of us are better able to establish boundaries than others (and sometimes without even thinking about it). I think the loner in me sets up these boundaries with other people in my life, but I'm not entirely certain why.

Case in point. Today, I left an empty seat next to me at church. I was saving it for a friend who always comes in late. Understand, this particular friend has substance abuse issues, making the use of boundaries necessary. At the same time, she seems to be in dire need of love and acceptance from me (perhaps because everyone else has written her off). As good intentioned and loving as I meant to be, when she plopped down next to me, this secret voice within seemed to be screaming, "This far you may come and no farther."

Now, was that me responding to the addict, establishing those boundaries that I understand are necessary to prevent enabling and codependency, or was it the loner in me?

Some of us turn cold in response to a hand reaching desperately for us. Others of us are more clever, using other means to keep people at a comfortable distance. The effect is the same: "This far you may come and no farther."

I know the Gospels are not exhaustive in representing the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. However, I like to believe they contain the most significant parts. At first, I was going to write that I never saw Jesus establishing boundaries with anyone. But I'm realizing that's not the case. When he spoke to the rich young ruler who wanted to be justified without meeting the true requirements of discipleship, he was establishing a boundary. When he accused the teachers of the law of being vipers who place intolerable burdens on the people and do not offer to help them carry them, he was establishing a boundary. When he told his followers, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me," he was establishing a boundary.

Interestingly, these boundaries do not serve to keep people out, but to make known what is required to be allowed in. In other words, there were certain established patterns of behavior required of someone who wanted to "qualify" as a follower of Jesus. It is presumed that in doing so, one would put his life, interests and previous misconceptions about religion second to the authentic pursuit of the Kingdom of God, as modeled in the life of Jesus Christ.

Loner that I am, my occasional knee jerk reaction is to put other's at arm's length and invoke the rule of "This far you may come and no farther." However, the love of Jesus Christ encourages me to fight this urge unless it is absolutely necessary for the good of the other person, not for the comfort or convenience of myself. Jesus Christ never presented himself as a "lovey" to those around him -- a rag doll or teddy bear to be cuddled and hugged for comfort. If my friend with the substance abuse problem tells me I am her best friend, it's likely she wants me to respond in kind and affirm her self worth by saying, "Love me, baby, squeeze the life right out of me." But that is not unconditional love; love that loves no matter what. In fact, it's really not love at all, merely availability.

Love says, "I will allow this, but I will not allow that, because that would only serve to hurt you in the end." Perhaps that is a boundary after all.

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