Lara Patangan considers Jesus' example of setting boundaries, an example we must look to as we strive to love our neighbor.
Boundaries make me think of the Lewis and Clark expedition map I learned about in grade school – merely a definitive shape delineating territory. Boundaries seem like a good idea the way staying in your own section of the bed is to avoid the creep of cold feet. But in relationships they often blur – an intoxication of wanting to be liked, laced with teachings of Christianity about service and loving our neighbor. As with most things, it can become an addiction if not kept in check.
It’s easy to think that Jesus didn’t have a lot of boundaries. During His time on earth, He was out loving everyone – prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. It didn’t matter to Him – He is boundless and unconditional in His love. His invitation to salvation is wide open. He doesn’t worry about quotas or lineage, or cultural differences; He wants us all to have eternal life. So, in many ways, He doesn’t seem much like Lewis and Clark out on expedition to discover, claim, and mark territory. Yet He did have boundaries. He didn’t heal everyone – then nor now. He doesn’t always remove our sufferings. He isn’t an “anything goes” kind of God. He gave us commandments and teachings to follow. Most of His boundaries are summarized in “Love thy neighbor as they self.”
It sounds ridiculously simplistic when you consider it. Love is pink and passion and exuberant. It floats like the moon and warms like the sun. By this definition, how hard can it be to love our neighbor? (There’s not a good enough metaphor to address the challenge of that answer – something along the lines of prying the six Infinity Stones out of grip of Thanos, or Harry Potter and his friends having to destroy all the Horcruxes Lord Voldemort created. Doable, but complicated, for sure.)
Navigating the treacherous expedition of expectations, hurt feelings, and our own priorities and plans can make that pesky commandment to love and serve others feels like it requires the strength of a superhero or the magic of a wizard. Yet God never said we needed to say yes to every request. He didn’t tell us to do everything or be everything to everyone. He didn’t romanticize love. He knew it wasn’t pink. He bled red. He gave us the tools of the Commandments and the teachings in Scripture to help us decide for ourselves where we put boundaries in our lives.
It isn’t an easy thing to know. It isn’t always clear. Sometimes the best way show love for our neighbor is to walk away, saying no, or not now. Christianity isn’t only about giving, sacrificing, and suffering but discerning for yourself and the people in your life what to give, sacrifice, and suffer for.
We can’t be all things to all people. It’s important to be deliberate and intentional in our love for others. Having boundaries in a relationship isn’t as easy as drawing definitive lines on a map. Sometimes they blur, often they change, and ideally, they take into consideration the needs of others. But always, the boundaries God has set lead us back to Him – an exploration of love deeper than the color pink and with more paths than any map can depict.
Copyright 2021 Lara Patangan
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About the Author
Lara Patangan is a freelance writer and inspirational speaker. A wife and mother of two boys, Patangan spent a year doing works of mercy. She writes about the life-changing power of mercy at LaraPatangan.com in a way that is humorous, relatable, and rife with humility. Her book, SimpleMercies: How the Works of Mercy Bring Peace and Fulfillment, is available for purchase wherever books are sold.