Boundaries and margins and the in-between

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.”

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.

Discussion questions:
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.)

Christians don’t shake hands, Christians gotta hug!

Day 3 – Christians don’t shake hands, Christians gotta hug!

Many people would call me a hugger. Gracious people sweetly have described my finer points as being warm and enthusiastic. I have heard things like bubbly and energetic and full of joy…most of the time at least. Don’t worry, I stay humble as a person way to quick to speak, impatient, and almost always late.
I do like a loving touch, a hand on the shoulder, a touch to the arm, but I am just plain awkward with a hug. I can never figure out when to offer them?
I spontaneously must hug you if you are sad.
If I see you after a long time, that seems hug worthy.
If you share something personal and deep and I can see the vulnerability written all over the conversation- hug.
Small children- they are definitely huggable.
Professional relationships that involves ministry – maybe a hug???
Narthex chatting on any given Sunday – to hug or not to hug?
Random acquaintance/friend in the grocery store, who says “Hi!” with gusto – hug? Yes? No?

You can see my dilemma. Am I the only one? Please say no.

Our Ecclesiastes passage today tells us that there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. We’ll get to the refraining tomorrow, but today, let’s settle on the embracing.

Read Ecclesiastes 3:5 to refresh your memory:
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;”

What a beautiful word – embrace. Maybe circle it. It’s such a good word. It exudes so much more meaning than our word for hug and there’s a reason for that. The rich Hebrew root word certainly means to hug, but it can also mean to clasp or, my favorite, to fold.

Have you ever had that person that just folded you into their bosom?
I bet your remembering or imagining it right now.

My Aunt Sheila was a tall and regal woman. She was beautiful. She had prematurely grey hair my whole life. For many years her hair was long, and as a child, I imagined her spending hours combing it. When she hugged me, I felt like I became part of her. She wrapped one arm around me and drew me in. Her hair settled on my shoulders and face like little caresses. It felt safe and warm. I wanted to live in that embrace, away for the scary world.

There are times for embracing. Even when we’re not hugging people. Can you sit back and think of a few of those times? Who has held you and kept you safe from the world for even a moment? Who has offered an affectionate embrace at just the right time?

There is a woman in the Old Testament longing for another kind of embrace. Her story is both sweet and heartbreaking. It’s a long passage, but I promise you, it is oh so worth it! Please read 2 Kings 4:8-37.
One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” He said to Gehazi,“Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.”

Here is this woman. She prepares a place in her home, she opens her heart to this stranger, this man she knows is of God, from God. She has no expectations. She simply serves with her whole heart. Elijah asks her, “What can I give you for all you have given me?” (My paraphrase.) Elijah’s servant has to share her need for her. Praise God for the people in our lives who are speak up for us in those moments, who notice our needs!

Elijah’s prophesy is so beautiful to me. It is not that she will conceive and bear a son, or that she will simply give birth to a son.
At this season, about this time next year, you shall embracea son.” (v.16)

This prophesy cuts to the heart, so much so that the woman sits in the place of trust-distrust that we so often sit with God.
I know you are True, God. I know that you are grace, God.
But this…this thing, do not lie to me.

When we know with all our heart that He is not even capable of a lie. Trust-distrust.

When your arms are empty, when you are too afraid to pray it or dream it or hope it…whether that looks like miscarriage, or infertility, or loss and grief, a diagnosis, divorce, a broken relationship…any of it…God promises He enfolds us. He embraces us.
He knows, when we just do not.

And then when dreams come true and the world still shatters around us. Hold fast.
This Shunammite woman. She has been there.
Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?” (v.28)

But in this story there is another kind of embracing. The healing of this precious child is so personal, it makes me catch my breath. Elijah lays on the child,
mouth to mouth
eye to eye
hand to hand.

When we are in that place of trust-distrust. Or we are in need. When we feel lost, alone, and maybe even a little bit bitter. Maybe we simply feel overwhelmed. He sends His people to physically show us Himself. The Body of Christ fold themselves around us and pray and feed and remind us of who He is, holding it up before us.

Sisters, I can’t think of anything more like an embrace than that.

And maybe it isn’t a desperate sort of time for you. Maybe the warmth of an embrace in this season is fun and spontaneous and not because of burden, but a way to communicate affection and connection. Maybe you are the aunt who folds a frightened child in your arms, or the friend who invites someone to clasp your hand. Whatever the style or season, know that it is His work, any genuine love we receive. That is the Lord at work in His people.

Jesus, you are in the hugs, you are in the warmth and caring, you are in the words of affirmation and edification we receive in one another. May we ever be a source of Your genuineness, Your caring, and Your kind embrace. In Your Holy name we pray, Amen. 
Discussion questions:
Who has offered you memorable hugs in this life?
Have you ever experienced a season of emptiness or deep longing for something?
Do you have any current hopes or dreams? Do you feel like God is asking you to embrace them or do you feel it is a time to step back and refrain?

(All Bible quotations are used from the ESV

Gather together

The Lutheran Service Book, copyright Concordia Publishing House

Day 2 – We gather together

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
he chastens and hastens his will to make known;
the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.”

Can you hear the hymn in your head? I was reading Scripture and commentary to get ready for this post and I just could not get this particular hymn out of my mind. The hymn is traditionally a thanksgiving hymn, but was originally used for patriotic purposes by the Dutch. The last time I heard it, it was at a baptism.

I watched the darling baby being baptized and I sat back and listened. I didn’t sing. I listened. In fact, I entered that weird vortex when everything seems to still around you and it’s just you and God. Except it wasn’t. It was me and God and the voices of a hundred of God’s precious people singing praise to His name.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!”

Beside us, joining, maintaining, at our side. Gathering together Scripturally is almost always about relationship. This made it a perfect hymn for baptism- it’s all about relationship!

Let’s look at the Ecclesiastes 3:5 passage to refresh our memories regarding the wording…
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;”

The counter to casting away stones from yesterday is to gather stones together.

What can we learning about gathering from Scripture? Open your Bibles and check out the following passages. I’ll include the text of two passages here for ease of use, but challenge yourself to dig in!

Genesis 25:8 “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.”

Genesis 31:43-55
1 Kings 18:19-20
Ezra 3:1
Isaiah 11:12
Mark 2:2
John 11:51-53
Acts 13:44-45

2 Thessalonians 2:1 “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers…”

The people and things in these Scriptures were not simply collected and placed haphazardly. These people were gathered together for a purpose, whether as His people or by Him as the diaspora, or even in order to plot against Him. Even that is by His hand- gathered together.

One of my favorite stories of gathering is in Esther 4:10-17… If your Bible is handy, read the whole chapter. Here, I’ll focus on these seven verses:
10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”
12 And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. 13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Underline Mordecai’s wisdom for Esther in verse 13:
Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.”

This passage in Scripture that is all at once familiar and confusing to us, with all of it’s names and ‘he said’ ‘she said’, reminds us that God values all His people. He sees us for sure as individuals, but He sees us as community also.
When we stand as Christians, we stand for the Body of Christ. We are not living our lives for only ourselves, but for one another. And each of you are being lived for, by your Christian brothers and sisters. The great cloud of witnesses isn’t just a fun picture of the saints gone before us and the saints around us. It is a living and active breathing ministry, to the whole Church…to you, beloved.

Look around you. Who are you here for in this time and place? Who is God gathering you to and with?

This historical event from Esther gives us a glimpse of a moment when the people were all gathered together for the needs of the body. Reread verse 16:
Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.’”

One for all and all for one. Sometimes persecution brings scattering, sometimes it brings complete and utter unity, all for Him.

What has God asked of you in your time and place? How does this desire He has laid on your heart, or task He has given you, gather you with His people?

In the end, we will be gathered together in Him, perfect and whole and complete. Until then, let us spur one another on- casting living stones, gathering them together, all in His time.
Discussion questions:
Look around you. Who are you here for in this time and place? Who is God gathering you to and with?
What has God asked of you in your time and place?
How does this desire He has laid on your heart or task He has given you gather you with His people?
(All Bible quotations are from the ESV Scripture translation.*I am unsure of who to credit for the Hymn “We Gather Together.” I found it in an old file from a retreat. The author itself is unknown.)