Episode 1. The Importance of Boundaries
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There’s nothing worse than when someone treads on your toes – you know they get in your space, they tread on your toes and what you feel is something between discomfort, anger and fear. That’s …
There’s nothing worse than when someone treads on your toes – you know they get in your space, they tread on your toes and what you feel is something between discomfort, anger and fear. That’s why boundaries are so important.
The concept of setting and maintaining boundaries in our lives is actually very important yet it’s not something that we tend to think too much about until someone crosses a boundary, until someone, as I said, tread on your toes. Then all of a sudden we react and more often than not our reactions aren’t all that good.
That’s why it’s important for us to think about and to understand our boundaries and that’s why it’s important to set our boundaries in the right place with the right controls. Boundaries that are too tight end up isolating us, boundaries that are too loose allow our lives, our emotions, our possessions, to be plundered.
Different people have different concepts of boundaries. I remember back in the 1980’s I was doing a consulting job for the City of Melbourne in Australia. They set up a small office for us in a small laneway not far from the Town Hall in a building that we shared with, amongst other things, an English language school with lots of Asian students.
There was only one elevator in the building and as I recall it was a pretty small one. Now we all have a concept about when a lift or an elevator as some call it, is full. You get in, you take a look, it looks too packed to you, so you decide to wait until it comes back again empty.
But it turned out that the Asian students coming from countries much, much more crowded than Australia had a totally different notion of what ‘full’ looked like and so they just keep on packing in and packing in and when I thought we simply couldn’t squeeze anyone else in four more people would get in the lift. That truly tested my notions on the boundaries of personal space with bodies pressed up against me and people literally treading on my toes.
But it didn’t seem to bother them because they were used to that sort of overcrowding, it was entirely normal for them. Fortunately though the lift never broke down, I don’t know how I would have ever coped with being stuck in there for half an hour pinned to the wall.
So we all have different ideas of what boundaries are acceptable, and what boundaries are unacceptable. You see it between nations, in most of the world you have to have a passport to enter a country as a foreign national but not all foreign nationals are the same.
Many countries treat different nationalities differently in terms of visa requirements and security requirements and so on. I have to fulfil certain requirements to get a visa to enter India but if you’re a Pakistani national the requirements are much more stringent. And yet travel to Europe now, most people can pretty much move across national borders without any sort of control whatsoever.
The more you think about boundaries whether on a personal level or a national or an international scale, the more complicated it gets. But there’s one thing for certain, if someone, a person, a group of people, an army or a nation steps over a boundary that they’re not supposed to, well there’s going to be a clash of some sort, anything from friction to all out war.
That’s why boundaries are important. And yet we spend little, if any time, thinking about, talking about the boundaries that we’ve set. Mostly the setting of boundaries is an unconscious thing and because boundaries are never talked about people step over them, often without knowing it, until it’s too late and right there you have the beginnings of a potential conflict.
Given that this subject is such an important one in our lives it won’t come as any surprise to you that God has rather a lot to say about the boundaries in our lives. It seems to me that if I set the right sort of boundaries in the right sort of places with the right sort of controls, balancing stringency and defence on the one hand with kindness and openness on the other, I’m going to have a much better life.
The Bible tells us that we should pursue peace. And since war happens over this whole issue of boundaries, it seems to me at least, it’s worth talking about and thinking through the boundaries that we set in our lives and perhaps adjusting a few of them to bring about more peace.
That’s why we’re talking about boundaries, learning to set the right boundaries on the program this week and next. And today I want to get us thinking by kicking off some wisdom on this whole issue of boundaries from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. Have a listen, Proverbs chapter 22 verse 28:
Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up.
Landmarks were the basis of boundaries. When Israel came into the Promised Land every one of the twelve tribes of Israel bar one, the Levites, were allocated their own land in this Promised Land. The ancient landmarks were set up to draw the boundaries between the lands between the tribes.
But here this idea is being used metaphorically, it’s this idea that God has ordained certain boundaries, certain things that are good and yet in this day and age we want to toss all those things out because they’re not all that convenient because we think we know better. Meanwhile, wars continue to be fought over boundaries, marriages continue to fall apart over boundaries, and lives continue to be robbed of God’s peace over boundaries.
Just a few verses on God takes this to a whole other level, Proverbs chapter 23 verses 10 and 11:
Do not remove an ancient landmark or encroach on the fields of orphans for their redeemer is strong and he will plead their cause against you.
He uses the example here of the orphans, the poor and the needy and the vulnerable in society. God has a heart for the poor and what He’s saying here is, “Don’t step over that boundary, don’t move the ancient landmark because God, the redeemer of the orphans, is strong and He will defend them”.
See there are some good boundaries that we can set in life, we’re going to talk about a few of those in the rest of this series and there are some very bad boundaries that we can set like exploiting the vulnerable as in this case or being selfish. When you think about it, selfishness is about setting the wrong boundary in the wrong place, having more than enough and not sharing it with those who are in need, placing your comfort above others needs.
And when we move from being selfish to generous with our resources, with our time, with our encouragement, what we’re doing is saying, “Hey, this boundary around what I have and what I own, I’ve had it set in the wrong place. I actually need to move it outwards a lot more, I need to make it’s defences less stringent so that some of what I have can flow out to those who don’t have what I have and who need what I have.”
Do you see the point? Do you see how important it is to have our boundaries set in the right place? The question is where is the right place? What is the right level of control? Well the answer to that is that the right place is the place that God sets up according to His ancient landmarks.
We tend to think of things ancient as being irrelevant, hey! Come on, the world’s moved on. In this era of instant connectivity, in this era of having the world in the palm of your hand on your smart phone, what possible relevance can ancient landmarks really have?
Well for God the answer is rather a lot of relevance as things turn out. Let me bring you back to it, Proverbs 22 verse 28:
Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up.
What landmarks have you set up in your life that defines your boundaries? Are they where God would have them or have you set them up to suit yourself with little or no thought as to God’s will for your life? Now that’s something worth thinking about, have you removed God’s ancient landmarks in your life?