Learning to Know the Difference
Updated: May 19
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, Adonai will not hear. But certainly Elohim had heard me. He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be Adonai who has not turned away my prayer nor His mercy from me!" ~Psalm 66:16-20
Deuteronomy 19:14 teaches us not to encroach on our neighbor's property. Boundaries are mentioned throughout scripture with a mandate to honor them. Many people understand this principle within the obvious physical aspect of land encroachment, then also extrapolate that to emotional intrusions in the context of human interaction. I believe they are correct in doing so. Gaining wisdom to set and respect boundaries with our neighbors and Kingdom community is a vital pursuit that benefits both parties involved.
However, as we know that the Father frequently uses things in the physical to teach us things in the spiritual, we can also carefully investigate how He uses elements of human relationships to demonstrate functional aspects of our relationship with Him.
For example, He calls Himself our Father. What we understand about the bonding, hierarchy, and caretaking features between a parent and a child instantly enlightens us to the framework of our relationship with Him in this regard. He assigns us to the "child" status. Thus we learn in an instant that we depend on His intelligence and wisdom. A child has limits of understanding in many things whereas the parent does not. We take comfort in His self-described role as our protector and provider, and it brings a positive context to His correction, expectations, and pursuit of us.
He also identifies Himself as a husband to the covenant people whom He identifies as His bride. Immediately we grasp the union of fidelity and mutual joy that the ideal marriage encompasses. We understand the terms of the covenant as vows rather than dictations, provision rather than usurpation.
Accepting the importance of avoiding encroachment, I can see that boundaries don't divide people as much as they protect the rights of the landowners. In the case of the heart, this manifests as the proper pacing of emotional bonds so they may be constructive and not destructive. I also see a principle rarely hearkened to that might bypass our radar when discussing boundaries, and that is the boundary He has set between Himself and human beings. It is this point where the themes I am laying out become interwoven.
In our desire to be close to the Father, the idea of a boundary between Him and us might evoke a defensive response; "He is right with me! Don't tell me there is a separation!" Indeed, He is right there with you as the Psalm above elucidates. That is a comfort we can rest in.
However, we must ask; is there a partition between man and the Father in the form of a boundary? Let me ask it this way; Is there a boundary between a parent and a child? To answer this, we must distinguish the difference between a boundary and a separation. A parent and a child are not separate. The parent assumes with joy the caretaking and provision for that child exclusively. The village might add to that relationship, but it surely cannot replace it. In its ideal form (and our Father Himself can produce nothing but as He Himself embodies the ideal), the healthy intimate connection between a parent and a child is undisturbed and unshakable.
A boundary, however, is different. A boundary does not negatively impact intimacy and connection. Quite the contrary, it enhances it. A boundary merely separates territories.
Territories include responsibility markers. For instance; a child is not expected to pay the mortgage for the home they live in, nor is the parent expected to rely on the child for such a payment. The territory of earning money belongs to the parent. This is not a territory the child should, or even could approach. The boundary divides territories for the sake of responsibility. Case in point; when others encroach on our rights to parent as we see fit, we rebel against that boundary encroachment for the sake of the institution of parenting. Parenting is a Heavenly undertaking that comes with a hardwired passion to accomplish it provided the parent is invested and in tune with such a privilege.
In the case of physical land markers, each man has the right and the responsibility of their territory. If we are greedy, we move the boundaries to take more territory for ourselves. This increases our responsibility as the additional land requires tending. We grudgingly accept the added tasks produced by our theft because we are striving for a larger harvest than we were allotted which itself can be too heavy a burden. In the end, the thief has too much responsibility and too much yield. The yoke of excess drags the thief in the inertia of what they have grasped. The robbed party is left with less and must take action to restore their territory if they value the land they were given to manage.
Q. How does this relate to our relationship as humans with our Divine Elohim?
A. As the wind blows and the tides come in, it's the very nature of an organized creation.
As we know, Adam and Chavah conspired with the adversary to reject their humanity in their pursuit to "be like God" (Genesis 3:5) by eating from the tree from which they were forbidden. Their goal was to move the boundary marker He set between Himself and them and take more for themselves. They wanted to be their own parent. They wanted to provide for themselves. They wanted to meet their own needs instead of relying on the Great Provider. They wanted to add His territory to the territory He had given them. They wanted the portion He had given to them and the portion He had given to Himself.
Our Father knew they could not be Him, nor could they manage His territory. They were fearfully and wonderfully made as HUMAN BEINGS, not as gods. He had created them to be recipients of all the goodness that He was and what He had made, not to be architects of their own version of it. His plan was perfect. They had free will to love Him, and in that liberty, He could take delight in a mutually satisfying relationship. Let the words "mutually satisfying" sink in.
What an astonishing thought that it is in our humanity that the Divine takes His greatest pleasure.
His heart was to care for, protect, sustain, and marvel at His workmanship of the designed human. His plan of interacting tenderly and enthusiastically with them as they discovered the destinies He had wondrously set before them was a benefit to Him and them.
In striving to be God, their failure resonated throughout creation like a massive storm of weeping separation. We still feel those reverberations in every moment of chaos and despair we experience on this planet. As it turns out, the boundary marker between Him and them was a gift that connected Him to his creation with intimacy and trust. The outcome displays this. In their pursuit of covering their shame, they disconnected from Him, hid from Him, and formulated excuses that ranged from blaming Him, to blaming each other, to blaming the evil influence that had ensnared them by their own desire to themselves take the place of Elohim in their lives.
Rather than run into His arms sharing their experience, their fears, their regret, and their shame, they took matters into their own hands. With the very fig leaves Elohim had gifted them, they ignored His provisions. They used His gift of His creation as an alternative to turning to Him. What was created had become what they relied on in their pitiful attempts to be like Elohim.
They had moved the boundary stone and discovered that this marker had been the fence that was designed to prevent their separation from Him.
Creation wept. Yet the Father pursued.
He found Adam and Chavah, and He covered them. The original territory they had been given had become their source of replacement for what He knew they really needed, which was Him, so lest they lock themselves in that status and eat from immortality in that rebellious moment, He sent them out. As they staggered out into a different land His heart had and still beseeched them to choose Him, lean on Him, and trust Him. He was enough.
He is still enough. But we, like Adam and Chavah, still lean into the echoes of that tactical strategy to BE LIKE GOD as the instructions to do so swirl about our ears and heart in the harsh winds of toil.
Moving boundary markers in this way has been a black market side business I have been dealing in for most of my life. I never really saw this until my younger son enlisted and started serving in the United States Marine Corps. Suddenly, and I mean SUDDENLY, my "Mother territory" seemed (from my perspective as a mother) to have been encroached by a stampede of forces, not just physically removing him from my home, but bent on stomping out so much of what I had planted with such care and investment. As much as my head knew this was my son's choice, my heart still felt ferociously looted in the dead of night. No longer "mine," my son was the physical property of the United States Government. He was still my son, and nothing, not even death could ever change that, but through the lens of our defense forces, he was their weapon against a clear and present danger. They would train him and mold him into that weapon day after day while I could only pace nervously outside the gate with no contact, no input, no means to provide comfort...essentially no territorial access.
Did I wail to the Father in wild, radical, desperate pleas? Yes, I did at first. But then something happened. Somewhere in the pit of my loss, I stopped believing that God was enough. I wept with creation. I ate from the forbidden tree. I wanted to be like God. I demanded input. I wanted the pain and the fear to stop so I found fig leaves wherever I could and tried on my own to cover all that was vulnerable and aching.
People have different moments when they discover that they too use this strategy. That was mine. Something about the powerlessness I felt when my son shipped out that day to become what I feared would be a person I didn't know anymore by forfeiting all that is wholesome for all that is savage, just did me in. It felt like a death of a thousand dreams. It felt like a loss of innocence I could not bear, and it tugged at frayed threads that were tangled up and fossilized in my heart since my own childhood. I vacillated between intensely shredded and vacantly numb. I also started to question if my grief was legitimate. Some mothers lose their sons to death. Mine had simply gone into the service like so many before him and so many will after him. Why was I so crushed? What was wrong with me?
While it is true that the Marine Corps in the most hardcore of the armed forces and many mothers I had come to know along the journey with sons who went to boot with my son suffered right along with me, I was acutely aware that something inside me had completely and utterly broken. I wasn't just grieving. I was shattered. I withdrew from almost everything that made me engaged in life, made me tick, and made me, well, me. I watched my purpose and my goals dissolve right before my eyes, and I did very little to try to hang on to the rhythms and structure that had always stabilized me. I became depressed and a stranger to myself. To the spectator, I was adequately pulled together with the false beacons of humor and sass that I sometimes shine to deflect the light off my brokenness. But the truth is that I was lost in a sea of fears that the world was stronger than God.
My world wept. Yet the Father pursued.
Circumstances escalated and some of the things I had feared became a reality. Military life, while noble and admirable, is dangerous in many ways. Facing some of the biggest giants from my destructive imaginations in real life brought me to a breaking point. Something had to give. It is when we are broken that we are the most whole we can be. I surrendered. My battalion had lost. My maps became irrelevant. My weapons lay emptied and scattered across a bloodied field where a solitary war has been fought in vain. Wounded, limping, and drained to the core, I approached the throne of grace sobbing and ready.
He heard my cries and He came to my side. He brought me back to the camp where the fire of mercy flickered on. Slowly I started to thaw from the frozen girl I had become. The Father gently shared with me that I can't be Him. He sweetly reminded me that my son is His. There was a boundary stone there too. Yet what makes that survivable, He urged me to cling to, is knowing that my son is His and His Son is Mine.
God could be trusted. No matter what was happening across the world to the very heart of my hearts, my precious son, God is enough for me. I had to learn this, and this was the particular road He allowed me to travel to get a glimpse of it. I was encroaching on His territory to live in worry behavior, thinking I could control things with my sheer will and determination. It was all an illusion. I had no control. I could not be God for my son. I could not be God for myself.
I COULD NOT BE GOD.
This profound revival of intimacy with Him released my paralysis, and I started to turn in my fig leaves, one by one. I began to pray again as a human petitioning God rather than as a demi-god politely seeking approval for efforts I thought would complete what was perhaps an oversight on His part. He shared with me that "lonely" is not "set apart." He explained that "taking it on" is not "vigilant for direction." He reminded me again that fixing everything is not my job. I am not the Messiah.
I'm still clutching His hand. I've found my footing again on my own territory, though it is still a daily struggle to let go. My heart is full. I constantly have to pray; "Father, in the life of my son and all areas of my life, keep me only as vigilant as you desire so I may serve You, and not so vigilant that I try to BE you,"
Have you moved the boundary stone? Are you walking on a territory that exceeds you, that was never meant for you? Are you crushed? Encroachment on His territory destroys you. Can you take a moment right now and cry out to the Father that you want to return the marker and you need Him to show you where it goes? I had forgotten where it belonged. Not only had I had moved it so long ago, but I had also stealthily continued to encroach until all I could hear from my territory were the distant shouts of the Kingdom lovers who righteously and mercifully wanted to see the whites of my eyes again. Could I ever express my gratitude to those who stood in that gap for me?
I have found my day. It followed night, as the saying goes. I have returned the boundary stone to its rightful place with its rightful owner, and I stay on my territory.
There is His territory, and there is my territory, and in this age, never the two shall meet. The beautiful gift I have been given is that through this experience I have learned to know the difference.
"Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." ~Psalm 16:6-11