Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Boundaries and Rules

A few weeks ago we had a terrible ice storm here in Northeast Ohio. The ice storm caused the power in our house to go out for over 24 hours. So rather than stay in our home where the temperature was steadily dropping, we decided to seek shelter at my parent's house.

Now an interesting thing happened while we were there. You see, our 5 and a half month old dog, Blitzen, is still in the process of house-training. Estith and I often laugh because when he has to go outside, he makes it very clear to us. He barks. He growls. He howls. He stares. He will even try to nibble at your leg if you don't take his other signals seriously. This happens just about every time he has to go out without fail. However, while we were at my parent's house, I discovered that Blitzen had had a few accidents. These accidents occurred without any previous warnings. There had been no barks, no growls, no bites to warn me that he had to go, and I began to wonder about the cause of his relapse.

Then it occurred to me. In our house, we have gates up all around the house and doors that we can close in order to limit Blitzen to one small area of the house -- primarily, the kitchen and living room. In my parents' house, on the other hand, everything is very open. Blitzen had free range of the house without any gates or doors to confine him. He could easily get out from under my watchful eye, do his business and return without me even knowing it.

His behavior made me reflect on the importance of boundaries. Anyone knows that it's a bad idea to bring home a brand new puppy and give him free range of your house, unless you want your carpet to have a permanently foul odor. We also know that it's a bad idea to hand a 16 year old a set of car keys and tell them they can come home whenever they feel like it. I'm sure that in both of these cases, the puppy and the 16 year old would like to have such complete freedom. However, there is an equally good chance that they would not know how to deal with it well, and eventually would have to pay some consequences which might not be too pleasant in the long run.

Make no mistake, I fence Blitzen in because it's convenient for me. I don't want the hassle of having to clean up all of his messes, and I certainly don't want to deal with any foul odors. But I'm fairly certain that Blitzen is not going to enjoy being in a room covered in his messes for very long either. So the boundaries protect him too.

A lot of people are quite skeptical of rules. And I'll be the first to admit -- if rules are bad, I'm not saying they shouldn't be challenged. However, rules, in general, are meant to protect us -- sometimes from other people, but every bit as often from ourselves. I think about the 10 Commandments. Here's a list of rules that a lot of people don't want to follow because they feel it limits their personal freedom somehow. And certainly it does. However, these rules, when followed, are not burdensome. Rather they are boundaries that keep us from making a mess of our lives and the lives of others. They protect us.

As Blitzen demonstrates his trustworthiness over the course of the next months, I will be able to take down some of the gates and barriers that prevent him from having full range of the house. It's not that I'll be changing the rules. The difference is that he will understand the rules without needing to be told, without needing that visual reminder. The Bible speaks of a day when God's law will be written on our hearts and minds instead of on stone tablets. When we grasp this and allow the rules to become part of our very DNA, we have more freedom than we ever imagined. Not freedom to break rules, but freedom to live by the rules that give life.

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