Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guard Rails and Trees

 I’ve committed to working out every day to get in shape and lose a few pesky pounds, so my muscles have been aching lately. And now that summer’s here I’ve been weeding, mowing, and trimming. So cuts, bruises, and an aching back on are my list of maladies as well. But, even though it hurts, it’s all good, because I and the yard will look better in the end (no pun intended).

The same thing is true in the spiritual realm. Sometimes what feels wonderful in the beginning actually brings harm in the long run, and things that initially hurt can be beneficial. Authors of Boundaries Cloud and Townsend admit that none of us want to hear the painful truth about ourselves even when others can see we’re headed for disaster. But if they pretend the problem doesn’t exist to make us happy it will hurt more later. Expressing this kind of genuine love to others can get sticky.

Kelly and I have had to practice this several times in recent months, and it’s been heart wrenchingly painful for everyone involved. We love God and know that His ways are perfect, even though not always easy. We’ve had to say no to people we love when saying yes would have enabled them to get comfortable on their path to destruction. They haven’t been very happy with us and hold us at arm’s length because they’re determined to choose what’s harmful to themselves and others. We ache to comfort them, but pray instead.

God blesses us with both guard rails and trees – boundaries and people – to protect us from harm. A couple weeks ago, we visited my college roommate and her family on our vacation. Pastor Brent at Silver Creek Family Church was doing a series on “Guard Rails” – how God’s instructions keep us from veering off the road and crashing. After his talk on sex the first week, he introduced God’s boundaries in finances. A congregant had sent two photos to illustrate how important guard rails can be.

It seems this guy fell asleep at the wheel and ran into one. He woke up after it had penetrated his front headlight, gone through the motor, and the front windshield on the passenger side. He was jolted awake by 27 feet of guard rail hurtling through his suburban and out the back window! This wreck certainly did hurt his vehicle, but he was miraculously unharmed. He later realized that if the guard rail hadn’t stopped him, he would have woken up at the bottom of the cliff just up the road from where he stopped.

I can’t count how many times God has protected me from stupid mistakes and wrong choices by placing guard rails in my path. His Word and circumstances have stopped me in my tracks and given me a chance to make a better choice, and stay awake!

Pastor Brent called God’s instructions guard rails; authors Townsend and Cloud describe the people who stop us from certain harm as trees. Dr. John Townsend tells a story about a memorable family trip in their book Safe People. After they all hiked up a hill together, his sister, Lynn, started running down the other side. The family was horrified when they realized Lynn was hurtling out of control, toward a wicked barbed wire fence at the bottom. Thinking that if she went sideways it would slow her momentum John’s dad yelled, “Turn, Lynn!” She immediately turned, and ran smack into a tree. By the time they raced to her side she was already turning black and blue.

However, every time they tell that family story they end by saying, “I never thought we’d be so thankful that Lynn ran into a tree!” By speaking loving truth to each other, we can stop or at least pause our headlong rush to greater harm. It may hurt on impact, and it may take a while for the bruises to heal. Later, however, every time the story is told, we’ll be so grateful for truth telling trees.

This Christian life is all about building muscle, pruning, and getting rid of the weeds that spring up. I want to be willing to let God do that in me, to make me strong and beautiful. I also want to be willing to be a genuine lover of those around me – pointing out guard rails that are there for our protection, and even to be a tree when needed. To withhold the truth to keep the peace is harmful. They may think they’re having a fun ride as they plummet down the mountain, but they need to know about the barbed wire at the bottom.

~ Beth Vice

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