boundaries and love: the essential connection

"I'm not sure how to have good boundaries, AND be connected to other people."

This is a conundrum that arises for many of us who learn to practice good boundaries as adults.

Many of us grew up thinking that it was our job to make others happy.  Our job to be responsible for the feelings of our parents, our siblings, our Sunday School teachers, our pastors, and most of all, God.  (Who remembers hearing "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit" read in menacing tones?  Anyone?  Anyone?)  Then we got married and it was our job to make our husbands, our children, our friends, and random strangers happy at all times, too.  

Eventually, we realized that "making other people happy" was short-hand for "being controlled by other people."  We grew to understand that Love didn't ask us to live under the control of other people.  

Love came for freedom, and not for slavery ever again.  (See Galatians.)

And besides, we were losing our ever-loving minds without boundaries.  The whole thing had turned into a do-or-die situation.

So we parked the crazy bus at the nearest exit, got off, and found a nice spot to build our boundaries castle.  Once it was built, we pulled up the drawbridge, and rested inside the fortress for days, months, maybe even years.

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Big Island, Hawaii, also called "Place of Refuge."  Fascinating history--look it up!  (photo:  Andy Bruner)

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Big Island, Hawaii, also called "Place of Refuge."  Fascinating history--look it up!  (photo:  Andy Bruner)

And now we're thinking, "I wonder if it's safe to have a friend over yet?"

I think the answer is yes.

We should have friends over.  We're supposed to have friends over.  

In fact, I think we MUST have friends over.  Because it's not good for any of  us to be alone.  That's the one not-good thing God said, before there was any messing around with the tree. (Genesis 2)

Our kind of creature--created in God's image--requires connection.  

AND our kind of creature--created in God's image--requires boundaries.

You see, I don't think that boundaries are simply a shield against evil that's only required because sin has run wild in the world.  

I think boundaries are an essential feature of the way we were created to image God in the world.

Let me explain.

In traditional Christianity, we see God as three persons:  Father, Son, Spirit.  God the Community.  

God-in-three-persons is also "God Is Love."  (I John 4:7-10)

Love only exists in relationship.  Love without an object is nothing.  Love requires Another.  Love consists of knowing Another and being known by Another. 

I think that's why God is Three Persons:  God requires Another because God is Love.  I think that's why God made the world:  God wanted more Anothers.  More places for Love to be:  in the sky and the sea and the animals and flowers and trees and birds and mountains and beaches.  And in the people.

So here's the thing about Another-ness:  it presupposes boundaries.  You can't have Another without boundaries.  Without boundaries, it's not Another.

Another-ness has to be maintained for Love to continue to exist.

Love without boundaries would obliterate Another-ness.  

So.  Take a breath.  Here's my point:

In order to give and receive Love, and in order to image God in the world, we will always need boundaries, maintaining our separate selves.  

Those boundaries are not a result of sin and evil.  

Those boundaries are part of the Design, and necessary to Love.

Once we start to accept boundaries as necessary to Love, and not just an after-market add-on, I think we can stop being so threatened by differences.  We might be able see those differences as an opportunity to give and receive Love, rather than being so fearful of Otherness.  

We might see our own boundaries as the shelter that we need not to merely maintain separate selves, but as the Garden of Life where we celebrate, grow, and mature into people who can give and receive Love more and more and more.

Of course, we continue to understand that not everybody is living in Love.  Lots of people are living by fear-and-control, which is the natural state of us all after that whole debacle with the tree of knowledge of good and evil that we talked about last time.

As long as we live in this fallen world, we are still going to run into people who haven't answered the invitation to Love.  But we should be able to suss out the judge-and-control crowd pretty well, now that we know what we're looking at, and we've practiced boundaries for a while.  We can continue to invite those people into Love, while understanding that Love never overrides free will.  If it does, it's not Love.

When we need to, we can shut that castle door against invaders and find ourselves again in that safe space where there's always room for more Love.

So, to the question:  can we have love and boundaries together?  

My answer is:  we MUST have love and boundaries together.  

If there aren't boundaries, it isn't Love.

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