There are very few people who will admit that they don’t need rules in their life. Sure, there are a lot of people who don’t like rules. But ultimately, people value rules over anarchy. But what if there was something better than rules?
Boundaries are a way of providing the benefits of rules without the same restrictions. It may sound like semantics but if you can distinguish between rules and boundaries, it makes all the difference.
A rule is a principle or regulation governing conduct. A boundary is something that indicates limits. A rule enforces external control. A boundary develops internal control. Boundaries always have reasons. Rules do not always require reasons. There are many more, so let’s dig in.
Next topic: boundaries
Let’s look at 3 benefits to living within boundaries:
1. Boundaries provide protection
Like rules, boundaries provide protection. Where rules regulate specific conduct, boundaries set limitations.
A rule says that alcohol is forbidden. A boundary says do not get drunk. The rule forbids an action. The boundary sets a limit. If you have never had one drop of alcohol, you can gather more reason for the boundary than you can for the rule. Both are for your protection but one controls your behavior, the other trusts you to control your behavior.
If you break a rule, you receive punishment. If you’ve ever had a sip of wine, you know it’s not enough to do any real damage. Yet because you broke the rule, the only way to prevent you from doing it again requires punishment.
However when you cross a boundary, the consequence is a deterrent in and of itself. When you get drunk, that hangover in the morning causes immediate regret. There is no need to argue over the fine print. Every time you cross a boundary, you suffer a consequence. You don’t need an enforcer to mete out that consequence. It comes naturally as a result of the reasoning for the boundary.
2. Boundaries provide clarity
If you’ve always lived with more rules than you can count, this new lifestyle can be a little overwhelming. The new found freedom is exhilarating at first, then terrifying.
People don’t really want to do whatever they want because too many options is overwhelming. If you are without rules, you are without external direction. It’s easy to fold under this pressure and revert back to rules simply for safety.
When I was a kid, my dad wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant for lunch after church every single week. It was our family rule. You could suggest another place but you may as well have asked if we could eat tree bark. We were going to Lucky Dragon whether you liked it or not.
As a single adult, one of the staples of going to church was finding a restaurant for dinner after an evening service. I always was in the group of people that could never decide where to go. There were too many options! No kidding, I’ve stood in the parking lot for over an hour just trying to decide. Finally, I would have to start throwing out ideas: Italian? Mexican? Thai? Once we decided on that, we could finally figure out where we were going.
When you have an understanding of boundaries in your life, you can be free to make choices within those limitations. Which leads to the third benefit.
3. Boundaries provide freedom
When people, especially creatives and artists, think of rules or boundaries they typically think of a prison. Many believe that limitations kill freedom and creativity.
However in the most paradoxical way, boundaries create freedom. Boundaries can spark creativity. My friend Keith Jennings wrote a fantastic post illustrating how constraints can propel creative thinking.
An Olympic skater is limited by his rink space. Within that area he is free to be as graceful as he can be. Because of the limited space, he learns to perfect the timing for his jumps and turns.
An artist is limited by her canvas. Yet the canvas can contain unlimited shades of beauty within those bounds.
True freedom is found in learning limitations and thriving within them.
The ability to do whatever you want isn’t freedom, it’s anarchy. Freedom is simply the absence of external control. Anarchy is confusion, chaos and disorder. Freedom requires internal control.
Freedom is about navigating through choices. Many can find freedom in rules because they don’t have to constantly make choices. In an ironic way, this is freedom:
Freedom from thought.
Boundaries are less constraining than rules. Boundaries open up choices. To be able to make wise choices, you must master self-control.
You will never learn self-control without an environment of freedom. Rules pose external control which limit choice and remove freedom. Boundaries provide freedom of choice within limitations.
Rules teach obedience. Freedom teaches self-control. If you have too many rules, you will never develop your inner life.
The more external controls you need, the fewer internal controls you breed.
Controlled By Love
The strongest controlling force is love. Love is also the most effective motivator. Not reciprocal love, self-less love.
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14
Love naturally creates boundaries. Love creates boundaries for protection, not for control. Loves creates boundaries for clarity, not for demands. Love creates boundaries for freedom, not for constraint.
Just as Adam and Eve were given a choice between the two trees, we are given a choice. We still eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and so we must learn to navigate between the two choices.
With freedom comes responsibility. We are responsible for the consequences of the choices we make in our life. God gives us this freedom and these choices because more than compliance, He wants our hearts.
As we move away from the external control of rules, we can move into the internal control of love. When we are controlled by the love of Christ, we can truly walk in the Spirit.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
Do you prefer rules or boundaries? What is the danger of replacing rules with boundaries?
*If you missed the first part of this series, read Life Without Rules