As a believer in Christ, the issue of setting boundaries within relationships has often eluded me. I've always thought since God's love for us knows no bounds, neither should mine. Not to say our sin has no consequences, but simply that we cannot out-sin his mercy and grace. Knowing this, we try to be Christ -like in every way by loving all people unconditionally regardless of how difficult and unpleasant they may be. We do this because we know that God has offered us forgiveness and mercy and we want to make that available to others as well. However, the list of broken relationships within the family of God keeps getting longer. From marriages that finally dissolve after months of counselling to acquaintances that never stood a chance at real friendship, some measure of broken trust severs all hope of a lasting unity. We become unable to maintain the relationships due to a person’s unwillingness to change certain behaviors. With this reality in mind, I’m beginning to believe we shouldn't confuse Christ-likeness with God-likeness. Although we should take every opportunity to show God’s love to all people, there are areas in which we are limited in our flawed state of humanity. Many of us struggle in the area of offering mercy and grace to difficult people around us; fellow believers and non-believers alike. When we compare the difference between God's response to such fractious individuals and our response to them, we come to a deeper understanding of God's astounding mercy and His radical grace that far surpasses our human ability. It is only then that we are reminded that we are in just as much need of his mercy and grace as anyone else.
To make this comparison, we must first take a closer look at how we react and respond to difficult people in our lives. When face to face in the heat of conflict, we may feel compelled to strongly inform them of how annoying, ignorant, self-serving, arrogant, or (fill in the ______) they are and why they should change. While some people feel comfortable and justified with lashing out correction or spouting deserved criticism (directly or indirectly), most people do not. The majority of us refrain in the interest of taking the high road or simply the lack of time or energy. Most of us hold our tongue and do our best to distance from such a person if and when possible. The thought of attempting a civil and meaningful conversation rarely surfaces in the heat of the moment. When those negative attributes are actively displayed, we quickly look for the exits. Self-preservation takes the driver's seat and we are out. Even if we did put forth the effort, it's doubtful that our motive would be sincere. Most likely it would be self-motivated. Our attitude is usually "You need to change so that I'm more comfortable" when maybe it should be "you need to change so that you can be more content and have a more meaningful life." But let's face it, we just don't have that much patience to put forth that kind of effort for every irritating or narcissistic person that crosses our path. We think by letting it go and fleeing the scene, we're humbly showing them mercy as a "good Christian" should. We say, "oh well, it's just the way they are"....translation-"to hell with them!" It's easier to just let it go and get away as quickly as possible than to stick around and to find out the “why” behind their behavior. It's just too messy!
We do, however have to choose these battles wisely and decide the proper recourse for each situation. Our communication with a close relative may differ greatly from a complete stranger, but no matter what, there are boundaries for which we allow a person's toxicity into our lives. We are human and we have limits. I believe we can maintain our message of God’s love and mercy and even attempt to have a positive impact on their lives while still establishing an understanding that their unwillingness to change behavior may result in limited or broken relationship. We distance ourselves because maintaining a close relationship would require extreme selflessness and a certain level of risk. This would be extending far beyond the point of mercy and offering grace as well - a gift which is wildly undeserved. Grace is trickier. The idea of offering a person like this a gift of trust, closeness, and community seems absurd. Trust must be earned. If we don't feel like someone is safe, we won't be vulnerable with them. We are pretty apprehensive when it comes to cultivating a meaningful relationship with people we like, much less those we find abhorrent. What if they betray me? What if they make promises they cannot keep? They need to first prove worthy of my relationship. For the difficult person in our lives, we can't imagine pouring out so much of ourselves for them. It's just too risky.
Each time he said, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Imagine for a moment if every time you are faced with an impossible person whose behavior you do not understand, you gave this person a pass, but turned to your innocent son or daughter and took all your anger and frustration out on them. Whaaaat??!! Are you kidding me?! That’s crazy! I know, it sounds preposterous, right? What if the only way to save such a person from themselves was to crush and torture your own flesh and blood to the point of death? Would that not be the most ridiculous and astounding response? Now lets take it one step further. Imagine after sacrificing the life of your own child for the actions of someone else, you actually offered to let this person have a place in your family with full rights to your inheritance as long as they simply believe and accept that what you say is true. Ha!!! Now you must be joking! There is NO way!!! You would say. That’s radical!!
But THIS is precisely what God has done for us all!
The creator of the universe loved the world SO MUCH that he allowed HIS own perfect son to be crushed by the most severe form of torture to death not only to offer mercy to a flawed race of selfish, arrogant people, but to also offer the free gift of adoption into his royal family and an eternal inheritance of His heavenly kingdom. He KNOWS how much we will continue to screw up and betray him. He KNOWS we will scoff at his mercy and squander his grace. He DOES NOT wait for us to prove anything to him or earn his mercy. There is NO expiration date on his grace. The only requirement is that we admit our need for Him and believe. His mercy is new every morning and the gift of a loving relationship is free and FOREVER. When we truly grasp the magnitude of what God did for us through Christ and how it extends beyond all human comprehension, we are reminded that we are just as much in need of this level of mercy and grace as any other “despicable” human being in this world. His astounding mercy and radical grace humbles us to the realization of our own imperfection. We are all flawed with prideful, selfish arrogance. There is no special category of perfect people in which we reside. There is us and there is God and He alone has offered us all mercy for our mess and grace despite the risks through a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.