Regarding the American Delusion of Boundaries


“Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it… The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.” – C. S. Lewis

Just as we ought to be cautious of the biases of our time period, we must also be cautious of the biases of our culture. Since moving to Ladera I have been amazed to discover that many of my ideals I had formerly classified as Christian would actually be better classified as American – specifically, my understanding of and entitlement to boundaries. We talk about boundaries in our home, boundaries with work-life balance, boundaries in relationships, and even boundaries with our service and ministries. And please hear me say, boundaries are a great and healthy thing. The book, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, changed by life and has allowed me to serve with more humility and freedom. However, just as the distance expected for personal space differs from culture to culture, the boundaries we weave in and out of every nook of our life are influenced in much the same way. As I see better now through a lens widened with input from many different cultures, our American boundaries can often take the form of a giant stiff-arm held out to the world around us protectively guarding a glutenous amount of personal time and space.

This is where I specifically want to challenge American Christians. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have collectively decided to implement fierce boundaries around our time, our families, our finances, and our lives in general, in regards to our service and labor for the Gospel. We have drawn a line right where comfort meets stress, enjoyment becomes inconvenience, and manageable tips towards sacrificial. The second our leisure time is squeezed, our families’ comfort is challenged, or our wallets are stretched, we take a huge step back and tighten up our boundaries.

I was so convicted about this the other day when I was feeling overwhelmed by all I had to get done for the fundraiser I am helping organize for DASH (please come!). I thought to myself, “that’s it! I’m overcommitted and stressed. It’s time to let Ashley know I won’t be taking on so much in the future.” But as I pressed into my discomfort I realized that I do in fact have enough time to get everything done, it just might be at the expense of the time I would normally spend laying out by the pool or shopping or relaxing. And it dawned on me that my idea of healthy boundaries left no room for discomfort for the sake of others or the Gospel.

When I look to Scripture, I see no examples of our American concept of boundaries. Paul describes his ministry in 2 Corinthians 11: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

When I study Paul, I see a man who is truly running with perseverance the race marked out for him, taking up his cross daily, and bidding others to follow him as he follows Christ (Heb. 12:1, Luke 9:23, 1 Cor. 11:1) . Our life here is fleeting and yet so incredibly purposed and the amount of personal time and space we hoard for the sake of our comfort is most definitely an idol our culture struggles with. Our families, spouses, jobs, and responsibilities certainly shouldn’t be neglected. On the contrary, we need to tend to our people! But I suspect that somewhere between our much needed family time, date nights, and work, we all have so much more to give. In fact, what an opportunity we have to invite our people to join us in our dying to self. In doing so, we can both set an example and create community along the way. Discipleship at its finest.

Now I realize that a message to labor hard is almost counter [American-Christian] cultural. We live in a society and time that is constantly on the go, where productivity is the bottom line, and busyness is celebrated- and much of these ideals have seeped into our Christianity. In response, the Church has inundated our generation with reminders to be still, to walk in freedom, knowing that our works are not earning us favor before God, to abide in Him and rest in grace. All truth, all good words. However, we need to hold these messages hand in hand with our call to deny ourselves and to give ourselves fully over to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). Our resting fuels our labor, God’s grace provides freedom to work despite our shortcomings, our abiding enables Spirit-filled ministry. We need these messages to put into right context the former notions that can become cultural blindspots that lead to disobedience.

I recognize that there is a tension to balance and that no black and white answer exists. Self examination regarding the boundaries we have set for ourselves will require prayer and discernment. But what I do know is that rest is important and necessary. God designed us and commands us to set aside one day each week for the purpose of resting because we need it and because what is required of us the other six days is a high and hard calling. I also know that we are so bad at resting well. We seek rest in Netflix binging and mindless social media scrolling in small chunks scattered throughout our week, and then wonder why we are tired and have nothing left to give. When laboring is done right, it is exhausting and uncomfortable and yet so incredibly life-giving and joy-filled. If we rest well, we can labor hard. So my challenge for you and my resolve for myself is this: pray often- carve out and protect your daily quiet time, be fiercely dependent on the Lord, surround yourself with fellow laborers, and rest and Sabbath well so that we can pour ourselves out, open up our homes, cherish the outsider, love the weary, carry one another’s burdens, give generously, even sacrificially, withstand stress and discomfort, and use the life we’ve been given to live the life to which we have been called.

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