Day 4 – Boundaries and margins and the in-between
Boundaries is kind of a buzz word at this point. My generation (guess how old I am! 😉 ) has been inundated since college with the lingo of boundaries. The trouble with boundaries is that they are pretty easy to talk about, slightly harder to define, and much harder to put into practice. My friend, Ali, reminded me of the newer terminology “margins” which is a little different from hard and fast boundaries.
Webster’s dictionary defines a boundary as:
something (such as a river, a fence, or an imaginary line) that shows where an area ends and another area begins
a point or limit that indicates where two things become different
Or boundaries: unofficial rules about what should not be done, limits that define acceptable behavior
Whereas, margins are defined as:
the part of a page that is above, below, or to the side of the printed part
the place where something (such as a piece of land) stops : the edge of something
an extra amount of something (such as time or space) that can be used if it is needed
a measure or degree of difference
Can you see the difference? Boundaries are something that you define very clearly. There is definitely a time for this. However, margins are a little less defined. They are important and create space between two people for healthy relationships to exist, but they are a little more fluid. Note that the definition for margin is a degree of difference. When we exist in relationship with others we have to constantly be evaluating what is healthy, what is godly, and what is simply not. Sometimes this is clear cut, and sometimes this is not so clear cut.
I think the Hebrew word that translates to “refrain from embracing” can help us understand this matter better. The Hebrew lirhoq can be translated to shun, to keep distance between, or to wholly abstain. The definition alone helps us to see that it isn’t always cut and dry. Sometimes we wholly abstain- we say no to a relationship, we walk away and don’t look back, we wipe the dust off our feet. Other times we need to put distance between us and our friend, family member or acquaintance. We need to refrain for a time until the relationship or those involved are in a different place. Sometimes our refraining is very short lived – a night, a day, even a moment, a conversation. Sometimes my husband and I need to walk away from one another for a period of time to cool off and come together again on a subject. Sometimes someone we care about has a season of wild living, like the prodigal son, and we have no choice but to wave as they walk down the road and pray for God to bring them back to us whole again.
How does the Bible speak of boundaries and margins? We could talk about this subject all day, but this is a blog, not a book. 😉
Let’s look at 3 margins that surely fits in our space here.
#1 – 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 tells us not to yoke ourselves with unbelievers.
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.”
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.”
What exactly does this mean? I think you could find as many suggestions about this as there are commentaries, but I will tell you what I tell my youth…Jesus ate with tax collectors. Jesus ate with sinners. Jesus would eat with you and me in our darkest moments. But we are not Jesus. We have to understand what relationships we are capable of and still flourish and grow in our faith. We need to welcome, as well as know and understand our relationship with God in the context of our relationship with others. Marriage to an unbeliever, knowingly, willingly, with eyes wide open, let’s take that off the table right now. (Already married to an unbeliever, that is a different story, for a different conversation.) Absolute best friends in the universe, also off the table.
You can not share your entire heart and soul with someone who does not, in fact, share your Heart and Soul. Jesus is my everything. He is the air I breath and the Lord of my heart, my mind, and all my being. I can love you. I can eat with you. I can share with you. I can honor you as a friend, but there will always be those margins of faith and purpose and being between us because you do not know what I know. We do not seek the same things. We do not run to the same well in our desert places. That does not, does not mean, I do not value you and hold you in absolute high esteem.
#2 – Jesus did not pretend people were his friends who were not.
Banking off the first margin, Jesus responded to people in truth. He responded to the pharisees in truth. He responded to Pontius Pilate in truth. He responded to sinners like you and me, in truth. He never pretended to admire and seek relationship with someone whom wasn’t in it for an honest relationship. Neither was he hurtful, rude, or inconsiderate. Jesus embodied in flesh “speaking the truth in love.” Here’s an example in John 8:4-11 –
“They said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
#3 – Jesus sometimes spent time with one person, sometimes with several people, sometimes with a crowd, and sometimes…with no one.
Jesus…so wise. To be honest this is an area that I struggle in everyday. I am reminded of the earlier portion of the 2 Corinthians 4 passage above (v. 11-13), about throwing open the doors of our hearts. I have often paid little attention to searching for motives and landed in heartache time and time again. It bites, sisters. It hurts to land face down on the ground because I went in with my eyes shut and gave everything I had to someone, instead of giving it all to Jesus and letting Him guide the way. When we open our hearts, there is surely risk. We will get hurt, but if we are consistently hurt, it’s time to check our margins, bring them to God in prayer and ask for some wisdom. He gives generously. He does! (James 1:5)
Also noted in this margin is that we need different sizes of relationship experiences. We need one-on-one conversations and we need group gatherings. Sometimes we even need the crowd (NYG anyone?! Higher Things?! Sunday Worship?!). We were created for not just supersize- life in the crowd – or mini-size. We were created for all of it…in it’s time. And sometimes, that means no one but us and God. Rest. A quiet place.
It’s hard to speak about boundaries and margins, because just like every other subject. I fail. I’m a sinner, desperately in need of a savior. But I do think the challenge is worth it. In Christ we are new every day, every moment, thanks to His mercies. We fall down and we get back up, by the strength of His outstretched hand.
Father, help us with our boundaries and our margins. Be in our relationships. Give us clarity and wisdom and love and generosity and Truth and understanding. You, Lord, are perfect and you are perfecting each of us everyday, just as we are perfectly holy under Your cross. Help us to live the empty tomb life, outside of shame weighing us down, but honoring you in freedom and in unabashed trust in Your Spirit. In Jesus name, by which we are saved. Amen.
What hard and fast boundaries do you think are important?
What margins do you try to maintain instead?
Discuss one person you have a hard time maintaining good boundaries with and why? (No need to use names.)