I’ve listened to a series recently about establishing guardrails in our lives to guide us in the right direction and protect us from harm. For example, if someone has an inclination toward gambling addiction, a good guardrail might be to avoid the poker table. The more you expose yourself to a temptation, the more likely you are to compromise your principles, make excuses and avoid accountability.
What I realized in going through the series though, is that there are areas in my life where I’ve established a guardrail, that actually became a roadblock instead. What I thought was a boundary put in place to protect a relationship damaged it in the long run. For example, when I know someone is struggling, my natural inclination is to give them space; not to impose conversation on them if they’re not ready. But this can come across as unfeeling and insensitive to their needs. The intention of my guardrail is valid, but I put up a roadblock instead. My ability to help a friend is minimized and I’m left wondering why. Instead of building community, I’ve actually sabotaged it.
So, how do I know if a guardrail is serving its purpose? How do I know if I’ve built a guardrail or a roadblock? I think a few key questions can help us find the answer:
- What is the danger I’m trying to avoid? In my example above, I’m trying to remove pressure from a difficult situation. Simply asking a friend what they need from me can go a long way. Instead of making the assumption that they need space, I can ask if that’s what they want. If that is the case, I simply need to follow up with them so they know they’re not forgotten.
- Am I imposing a guardrail on someone else? Though necessary in some situations (parent/child, teacher/student, etc.), sometimes it’s tempting to impose a barrier on someone “for their own good”. Again the intention here is admirable. But by not allowing someone to learn from their own mistakes, I’m building a barrier to their growth (and my own).
- Does it strengthen my relationship with God and with others? Does respecting a barrier keep me focused on God and the people he’s put in my life, or does it lead me toward isolation? There’s a vast difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude can be a great way to maintain focus. It’s a “productive silence”, if you will, where I can renew my overall perspective, and a good guardrail. On the other hand, isolation cuts me off from God and others. I’m only barricading myself in to avoid fear and pain. If I find myself in isolation, and I’ve put up yet another roadblock.
Asking these questions frequently can help identify relational disconnects in not only your relationships with other people, but also your personal and spiritual growth. Breaking down the roadblocks allows God to use you in new and exciting ways! So, who needs a sledgehammer?