When we talk about drawing a line with someone, it usually holds some negative meaning. Someone has pushed us too far or asked too much of us. We think drawing a line will protect us or keep them from taking advantage. But there are other lines we need to pay attention to in our relationships. Lines that are essential to the health and happiness of us and those we love.
Respecting the lines between us is essential to nurturing deep and lasting relationships.
I grew up like many believing in a certain kind of love. The fairy-tale happy ending where two lovers lock eyes and know they’ve found their “other half.” The “you complete me” kind of love romanticized in films. It wasn’t only romantic love I understood this way. I believed that when any two people have a deep soul connection – husbands and wives, parents and children, even two friends – some mysterious force draws them together and over time it erases their differences. That by the power of this love, two people could know one another so well and agree so completely that God himself would declare that “the two have become one” as they nod in unison and walk off into the sunset where they spend years completing each other’s sentences.
A love like that sounds, well, lovely. And you or someone you know may be living just such a storybook life. But there’s a potential problem with that kind of love. It can make it harder and harder to see the uniquely shaped and beautifully gifted individuals God created us to be. And over time, it can chip away at the respect and tender admiration that keeps true love alive.
When we stop seeing the lines between us, we risk missing the joy and wonder of truly knowing the people in our lives.
Without the lines between us, we might be tempted to shrink those we care for down to the parts that fit inside our needs and expectations. Asking – sometimes demanding – that they become less of who they are and more of what we want them to be.
There is a lot written about how to set healthy boundaries to protect ourselves. (I think Cloud and Townsend’s book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No should be required reading for everyone in any kind of a relationship.) But less is said about how to tell when we are the problem. When we are the ones crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed, perhaps unknowingly causing damage with thoughts or actions that we believe to be loving, but are not.
I know I’m crossing the line when I get frustrated with others who don’t fit into my plan or help me accomplish my agenda for the day. Or when I grow irritated with someone who won’t listen to my ideas or opinions (I call it wisdom) about their problems and instead chooses their own solutions. Whenever I think I know what’s best for another grown-up human being, even someone as close as my spouse or child, I’m getting dangerously close to crossing the line. And when I actively wrest control away from them, swooping in to rescue them with my brilliant plan, I’ve clearly crossed over to the other side.
In moments like these, I have a choice to make. I can choose to send the message that I don’t think my spouse, parent, friend, etc. can handle their life without doing things my way. Or I can choose to respect the line between us and ask more questions to understand the thoughts and concerns of their heart. One way drives us apart. The other draws us together by communicating respect and deepening our mutual knowledge and understanding of what makes us both tick. From that seed, true intimacy grows.
Respecting the lines between us is essential to the health of our relationships and the emotional and spiritual well-being of those we care for.
When we honor and respect the lines between us, relationships flourish. We feel seen and loved for the distinct individuals we are, not just how well we get along or fit into someone else’s plan. Not by whether or not we “complete” each other. Already complete in Christ (Col. 2:10), we bring together our whole selves and grow a deeper appreciation for the unique and dearly loved children of God we are.
God didn’t create us to disappear into one another. He designed us to love and encourage each other to become our best selves – separate yet deeply attached. We draw closer together and experience the joy and wonder of loving one another for who we really when we respect the lines between us.
So let’s pursue those things which bring peace and which are good for each other. (Romans 14:19)