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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts on the book, "Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

I started reading the book, “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. The book makes me very uncomfortable.  I keep thinking they must be taking liberties, or that they are coming from a lopsided overly individualistic Western worldview.  In reality, I think the main problem is that I have problems with boundaries in my life.  I think I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing the difference between the sacrificial love/servant heart to which Jesus calls us and giving out of what I don’t have (and it ends in disaster—depletes, crushes, and depresses me, while it angers, disappoints, and enables others). 

“Made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks.  Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is know what is our job, and what isn’t.  Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.  It takes wisdom to know what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t.  We can’t do everything. “ p.27

An area where the book addresses this is by distinguishing between “burdens” and “loads”:

“We are responsible to others and for ourselves. ‘Carry each other’s burdens,” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This verse shows our responsibility to one another.  Many times we others have “burdens” that are too big too bear.  They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help.  Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ.  This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; he saved us.  This is being responsible ‘to’.

On the other hand, verse 5 says that ‘each one should carry his own load.’ Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry.  These things are our own particular ‘load; that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out.  No one can do certain things for us.  We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own ‘load’.

The Greek words for burden and load give us insight into the meaning of these texts.  The Greek word for burden means ‘excess burdens,’ or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down.  These burdens are like boulders.  They can crush us.  We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves!  It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders—those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives.

In contrast, the Greek word for load means ‘cargo’ or ‘the burden of daily toil.’  This word describes the everyday things we all need to do.  Those loads are like knapsacks.  Knapsacks are possible to carry.  We are expected to carry our own.  We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort. 

Problems arise when people act as if their ‘boulders’ are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their ‘daily loads’ are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry.  The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.

Lets we stay in pain or become irresponsible, it is very important to determine what ‘me’ is, where my boundary of responsibility is and where someone else’s begins. “ p.32-33.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Love in Strained Relationships--Prayer

A major theme of this blog has been “what does love look like”?  In the past 5 years or so, God has been teaching me about scandalous, sacrificial love—the kind of love that does not return reviling for reviling and the kind of love that treats others better than they deserve.   God has been showing me that this is exactly the kind of love with which He loved me—He has not repaid me according to my sin, but rather He has been merciful and gracious toward me, slow to anger and rich in love.  This is exactly the kind of love He wants me to have for others, out of the overflow of the love that He has shown me. 

There is a Puritan saying, “The same sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay.”  God’s love has this effect on people.   Similarly, when we love those who have hurt us, this love can lower defenses, soften hearts, and remove shackles.  It can also produce anger, bitterness, and cynicism in the people we love.  

How do we continue to love those whose anger is fueled against us when we reach out to them or show them kindness?  I want to spend some time on this subject, maybe in a series of blogs.  For this first blog, I want to focus on prayer.

We often think of prayer as the last resort.  When we cannot do anything, we pray.  But praying is powerful. 

Praying for someone is an act of love.  Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. 

Through prayer, God gives wisdom and direction to us in our circumstances.   Often, we simply do not know how to love others in conflict.  We can feel confused and powerless.  We can succumb to apathy.  But through prayer, God gives direction about how to love, even if that direction is to simply wait.

Praying open doors and changes hearts! I have seen prayer move the hearts of others in incredible ways!  But perhaps more often, prayer changes us.  Sometimes, it is hard to sincerely love those who hurt us deeply. But I have experienced firsthand what it is like to not feel love toward a person, to ask God to put love in my heart for that person, and to experience God producing love in my heart for that person. 

Through prayer, God opens our eyes to our own sin and the ways we may have acted or seen things in a wrong way.  This gives us an opportunity to repent and grow.

Even when a conflict is not a direct result of our own wrongdoing, through prayer we process and learn from a conflict and grow in character.   All of our circumstances are opportunities to learn and grow.  We all need more wisdom and growth.

Prayer may be the only tangible way of loving a person when we are unable to be in relationship with them—either because they do not want to interact with us or acknowledge the situation, or because being vulnerable with them in any way would simply be unsafe and unwise and we simply need to experience God’s healing before we can engage with them again.

Pouring our hearts out to God brings healing.  It releases our angst and moves us toward wholeness.  As we heal, we are better equipped to love those around us.  Through prayer, we experience God’s love for us.  As we are filled with His love, His love can pour out of us to others.

Prayer is an acknowledgment of our need.  We need God.  God meets our need.

Prayer is a healthy alternative to the unhealthy exercise of stewing on the ways that others abandon, betray, malign,  mistreat, and believe the worst about us.  Through prayer, we are able to meditate on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” and whatever is excellent or praiseworthy.  One deadens our souls and the other nourishes them-- creating a place for love to grow.

I have a wise faithful friend to whom I frequently go for advice.  Without fail, the first words out of her mouth have to do with prayer. How I long for more  maturity in this—that more and more my first thought too would be to pray!
Do you have thoughts about prayer as an act of love in difficult and strained relationships?  I would love to hear them!