Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rules to Live By

I bristle at rules. I don't like to be told what to do. I don't like blanket statements about what is right or wrong about how to live life. (Unless of course I have asked for directions because then I really do want a set of step by step instructions. Especially if it involves cooking or furniture painting or something because I am not intuitive in the home arts.)

But in general, I don't like a list of rules to live by.

I love to learn from others. I love to hear stories of how other people conquered their fear, or dealt with that difficult relationship, or figured out how to get their kids to sit quietly at the dinner table without touching or looking at each other in a provocative manner. I learn from other people's successes and failures.

But I do not learn by being told what to do. No, at that I bristle and react. I cannot hear much of what someone is saying if they are giving a set of rules for living.

I think because in my life, rules were always safe. Rules gave me a set of standards to hold on to. They showed me what was right and wrong. They let me know I was safe and good if I stayed inside the lines.

But I don't think that is what God intended. I don't think He meant for us to create a list of dos and don'ts so that we could then just live happily keeping our actions in between the lines. In reading Isaiah, I am finding that a lot of God's words bemoan this way of living. This idea showed up again in Isaiah 29.

We do this. In worship, we create rules and rituals that allow us to act out our worship without it ever reaching our hearts.

In life, we do the same. We set boundaries around us that keep us from sinning physically without ever addressing what is in our hearts. Some people make rules about alcohol or movies or dancing or some other "sin". They create don't lists and share them with the people around them because of course what is right for them is right for everyone. Some people make sure they do all the right things; attend the right church, eat organic foods, listen to the right music, read the right books, vote the right way. They cross off their lists of things to do, relaxing in the knowledge that they have lived a right life.

To do lists feel productive. Don't do lists feel safe. But if we simply borrow from someone else or adopt the cultural rules of those around us, our actions are empty. Our hearts are still lost because we never really spend time searching through how we feel or think about any of these things. We never really consider why we do what we do. We simply do or don't do.

I believe in boundaries, personal boundaries. Because as Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:23:
"Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 
Boundaries are for my benefit. Boundaries are meant to be constructive, to help me grow. And what I need may be very different from what another person needs. My boundaries may look very different from another person's.

Not because I am right and they are wrong but because we are different and our needs are different and where we are in our spiritual growth is different. God made us unique. God gave us different needs and our histories bring out different struggles for each of us. What is permissible for me may not be beneficial for you. And what is permissible for you may not be constructive for me.

It is certainly easier at times to take up a how to live a good life task list. But if I am acting without knowing who I am and what God has in store for me, that list will eventually burn me out. Because it was never a list meant for me.

God has the list of dos and don'ts for my life. My list will not be the same as yours. And that is a good thing.

So I will not be sharing a set of rules to live by. But I will continue to share my stories, the stories of what has helped me grow and what has caused me to stumble along the way.


  1. Oh, Jen, my wise and beautiful friend, I am so grateful for you! These words, your heart speaking His truth, sets me free. Thank you.

  2. Dear friend. You are free! That's the greatness of grace. 

  3. Yes, I am!!!  And you help me remember!  Life is listening to His voice in us -- abiding in it -- and not following the rules of this world.

  4. Great post! Freedom in Christ.