I visited a friend out of town recently and as I got ready for bed, I noticed a book on the bedside table. Its title was one word: Boundaries. I picked it up to discover that it had been written by a pastoral counselor sometime in the past few years, and flipped through the pages to see if the pointedly Christian “take” on the subject varied from my own psychotherapist’s view of the concept. I was pleased to find that, for the most part, it didn’t.
It was “coincidental” that the book was there at that particular time, but God has always had to be “sneaky” with me. As I said in an earlier blog, I’m editing a book about the effects of “spiritual abuse,” the term some have come to use to describe sexual abuse perpetrated by a person in spiritual authority, someone to whom we have been taught to believe, by virtue of their position, that we can lower our boundaries to, becoming vulnerable in a way that we cannot dare to be in general. It’s particularly egregious to me because I believe that the crux of God’s message to us about how we are to treat each other is about boundaries—loving our neighbors as ourselves to me, as long as I can remember, has meant that we are to respect the boundaries of others as we expect our brothers and sisters in Christ to respect ours.
I would argue that a great deal of human suffering comes from the trouncing of emotional boundaries by someone or something outside of ourselves, just as it does when our physical bodies are intruded upon by accident or plan. It affects how we feel emotionally about ourselves, our value in the grand scheme of things, because we are prone to see everything that happens to us as a function of reward or punishment. Healing of those boundaries, repairing the “fences” around ourselves if you will, comes about only in environments where we are guarded by those we love and by whom we are loved, those whom we can trust implicitly not to further the damage by stepping on already bleeding wounds.
Our first job as Christians is to guard our brothers and sisters in Christ, our vulnerable neighbors. It doesn’t matter whether we believe that they brought whatever it is on themselves. There will be time enough, later, when their ability to defend their own boundaries has been restored, to confront them if we believe ourselves to have earned the honor to do so.
That’s what Jesus did for the woman about to be stoned. He knew she was an adulteress, but he sent the rock-throwers scurrying, drew the line in the sand for her when she couldn’t do it herself…first. God knows (pardon the pun) he would not have earned her trust if he’d picked up a rock himself. Nothing he said after that would have mattered.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.