Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When the trail is closed...

Trail closed.
Don't cross this boundary. Trespassers beware.
Warning! Keep out!

When I am hiking and reach a "trail closed" sign, I can't help but begin to wonder: Hmmm, why is it closed? It could be because there is, literally, danger ahead. Or it could be because the folks who maintain the trail want to work on it without worrying about possible liability for accidents which may occur. Or it could be because the trail is being allowed to rest from the erosive impact of our footsteps. Or it could be that the trail was once closed and somebody forgot to take down the sign. The list goes on.

The point is, I usually don't just stop and go another way. I go down the trail just a bit to see if the path is truly perilous, or is it merely challenging? More often than not, I am able to continue on the path, appreciating the caution, without needing to terminate my trek.

I think this applies to what we learn about identifying and attending to boundaries, rules and social "regulations".

As we are formed for ministry, it is important to pay attention to the establishment of boundaries. Without boundaries we risk spillover of emotion or energy that can be confusing (or in extreme cases, harmful). Still, it is important to be able to relax our boundaries as well. When we are rigid and immovable in what we will or won't do, or where we will or won't go, we may miss some of the amazing and surprising opportunities to which God calls us.

Boundaries help us make sense of ourselves, and enable us to communicate to others clearly who we are and what we are about. Boundaries help to contain our energy, just the way a membrane contains cellular materials.

That leads to thoughts about impermeable and semi-permeable membranes and how we can learn from the way the healthy cell behaves. Impermeable membranes let nothing in, and likewise nothing gets out. Thats a rather closed off sort of cell with no relationships with its neighbors. Most cells are not like this by the way. . . if nothing can get in or out the cell will quickly die. There will be no give and take for the sake of the larger organism. (Manufacturers create impermeable membraned containers to transport liquids- think of milk jugs, plastic carboys for chemicals. These are desirable when one doesn't want flow between two places.)

Semi-permeable membranes, on the other hand, permit a flow of substances such as ions, nutrients and water to go through as long as those substances do not drastically disrupt homeostasis. Sometimes a harmful substance will make it through the membrane; it might even be toxic or dangerous to the cell, but more often than not the cell will right itself by allowing more fluid in to dilute the toxin (think of salt entering a cell and as the salinity becomes too high, more water is allowed to enter to bring the pH back to normal). A cell that is functioning properly and is healthy can maintain homeostasis without much effort, but a cell that is in trouble may be overtaken by toxins which could lead to cellular death. Boundaries keep the cell healthy, but cells have to interact with one another for the sake of the organism of which they are a part, therefore there has to be some flow from one cell to another.

Back to boundaries in relationships, we can allow ourselves to venture near something or someone that might not be overtly healthy but we have to be clear about who we are, what we stand for and so on so that the "toxin" does not overtake us (differentiation of self). We need to know "when to say when."

That's what Pamela is talking about when she discerns why the trail is closed-- is it dangerous? Or is a "proceed with caution" sort of warning more in order?

One thing I have learned: When I choose to head down the closed trail, I make sure that I am equipped for the potential difficulties. Do I have adequate physical energy? Is there enough daylight left? Hiking stick? Water? Take a look at the clouds...rain?

The point is, we need to be wise about how we "are" when we relax our boundaries. Before we enter the riskier areas of relationships we need to take a look at our own fullness of heart and soul as well as our physical and mental health. If our "tank" is full we can go ahead. But if we are running on empty we may do harm to ourselves or to the other.

How do you discern if you are equipped to proceed? What are some of the signs that you are full (or, conversely, on empty?) Only you (and God) can know.

How have you experienced the significance of boundaries? Where have they been helpful? When have you discovered the importance of relaxing a boundary (and discovered the benefit of being "semi-permeable")

Color key: Pamela, Amy

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