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A lesson about borderline behavior.

Dusk is approaching as I find a quiet stretch of woods to walk, hidden in the suburbs of Annapolis. I’m eager to see what the Lord has for me tonight as I go, but I’m aware that I’m taking a risk being out so late in the day in a place I don’t know. I call Alison to tell her what I’m doing. She’s a bit concerned.

Edge of night. Edge of caution. I sense that I’m pushing it a bit.

The trail takes me to a beautifully worn footbridge over a finger of the South River. I test its stability as I cross over, thinking about how humans like to live on the edge of water. We pile up buildings on ocean-front properties. We ring any lake within driving distance with cottages.

But our proclivity for edginess goes deeper. Not everyone is a risk-taker, of course, but we are all, by nature, limit-testers. We start when we’re young, trying to see how close we can get to the borderline of our parents’ rules without getting into trouble.

Some of us never grow out of that.

A few days ago, I read this exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus:

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  (Matt. 19: 7-8)

What strikes me is that Jesus is pointing to this same issue of living on the edge of the law. God’s ideal is life-long marriage. But because “of the hardness of (their) hearts,” God, in his grace, allowed for an exception. (I’m not weighing in on this difficult topic, just on this tendency.)

Because the religious teachers had lived so long on the borderline of God’s permission, they convinced themselves it was his law, part of his original purpose. How we justify ourselves!

I know that I, too, test the limits of God’s permission.  As if God is illustrating the point, I come across a thin, jagged spear of a log jutting out over a drop-off. I inch out onto it, feeling it bounce under my weight. But I quickly sense the limit of safety and retreat.

We all do this, don’t we? Without consciously thinking, we test the edge of our freedom: how much can I stream and not be affected by it? How much can I talk about someone and not be gossiping? How much can I critique behavior and not be judgmental? How deeply can I trust in something and not have it be an idol?

There is safety in the harbor of God’s will. Not on the borderline of what he permits.

Sensibly, I exit the woods before the sun set. But by the time I trek my way up the long, busy road toward my hotel, it’s quite dark. Crossing a street on my side of the road, I look up and suddenly realize there’s a car about to hit me. I leap out of the way just in time.

The driver was in the wrong – I was within the crosswalk. She didn’t see me. But I was in that risky situation because of my unnecessary edginess.

There’s a truth to learn here. In addition to listen to your wife.

Father, forgive us for our borderline behavior – all the times that we, like disobedient children, walk along the edge of what you permit, testing the limits of your grace. Make us aware of when we do this.

Reader: Were you a limit-tester as a child? If so, what incident changed your tendency?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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