Appropriate Boundaries

Appropriate Boundaries

Then Moses said, “Behold, I am going out from you and I will plead with the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow. Only let not Pharaoh cheat again by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” Exodus 8:29

After my second major relapse, when I had to go to outpatient treatment yet again, my wife established clear and appropriate boundaries. I’m not going anywhere now. We’ll work through this. But if you relapse again, we’re done. I’m not going to raise my kids in a using environment. She was appropriately worried that a pattern of bad behavior was developing, and she needed to protect her and her children from it. She wasn’t subtle. Rather, she directly stated the behavior that she expected and the behavior she simply would not tolerate in our marriage. At that point, I had a choice to respect those boundaries, or to violate them and risk our marriage. I clearly understood her expectations and the consequences of ignoring them.

This is what Moses did in today’s passage. In the story, Egypt suffered its fourth plague, one of flies, for refusing to let the Hebrews go worship in the wilderness. In his misery Pharaoh promised to let God’s people go, if Moses removed the flies. Moses had been in this position previously though. During the second plague, one of frogs, Pharaoh made the same promise but then recanted once the frogs were gone. Moses recognized that a pattern of bad behavior was developing and so, he appropriately outlined his expectations to Pharaoh. I’ll ask God to remove the flies, but you cannot change your mind again. If you do, there will be consequences (my paraphrase). This was no idle threat. Moses clearly outlined his boundaries and had a definitive plan to follow through with consequences if his expectations weren’t met.

We could learn a lot from Moses, and from my wife. When confronted with a pattern of repeated bad behavior which inflicts destruction upon us, we must establish boundaries, and have a plan for what to do if those boundaries are violated. This isn’t unforgiving or un-Christian. My wife could have forgiven me while maintaining boundaries. This is about protecting ourselves from the hurtful behavior of those around us, which isn’t wrong or inappropriate. Moses did it and we should too when necessary. This isn’t easy. Often, we simply tolerate bad behavior, allowing ourselves to be victimized, or we make idle threats and then don’t follow through with consequences. For our own protection, and the protection of those dependent on us though, when confronted with a pattern of hurtful behavior, we must boldly establish appropriate boundaries.

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