Countercultural Love in the Era of Boundaries

There’s a scarlet letter many of us have unwittingly stitched onto our lives. 

I saw it on the woman who told me about the birthday gifts she reloaded into her car unwrapped. She’d placed them on the stoop of her adult daughter’s home as a way to show love to the grandchildren she cherishes. The daughter replied with a message to come pick them up: the gifts were a violation of a “boundary line” the daughter had drawn. The tearful woman was no longer welcome in her grandchildren’s lives. “We don’t even know what we’ve done.” 

I noticed it again this Christmas as a friend of mine endured another holiday without hearing from her grown son. “It’s been years,” she told me through tears. No texts. No phone calls. No explanation. 

I see it stitched on many friends in ministry when relational doors are slammed in their faces and locked from the inside out. 

To be clear: toxic relationships exist in a world warped by sin, and there are those who have harmed others and used the Word as a battering ram. (Ick!) There are times when wisdom dictates that we make hard choices in our connections with each other. And yet, if we put our relationships under the microscope of God’s Word, it’s worth asking—what have we lost in this “Age of No Contact”? And how does our obsession with “boundaries” line up with all that God calls us to through His Word?

Having felt the sting of “no contact” relationships in my own life as of late, I’ve had to wrestle with the countercultural relationship guidelines of Scripture anew. A single blog post cannot summarize the riches of the Word on this (or any other) topic. That’s why we need the whole counsel of God and the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is room for nuance here, but so many of us are walking around with the “scarlet letter” of “no contact” stitched onto our hearts that it’s worth working to realign our thinking with God’s truth. Here are four big ideas, straight from God’s Word. 

1. Relationships will always be messy (until they aren’t).

Open your Bible to the first chapters of the first book and you’ll find the first messy relationships. Eve ignored Adam’s God-given authority in her life. Adam was passive toward sin. When their sin fractured God’s beautiful world, they quickly defaulted to blame shifting. Though Eden was its epicenter, sin’s shockwaves have never stopped reverberating. Sin impacts every human relationship. 

  • We envy when we should celebrate. 
  • We take when we should give. 
  • We lie when we should tell the truth. 
  • We lash out when we should welcome in. 
  • We talk when we should listen. 
  • We withhold when we should forgive. 

If relationships must be perfect to be healthy, we’re all doomed. Again, there is a spectrum here. Abuse and neglect are real and need real intervention, but too many of us have turned our back on someone simply because they’re flawed. This approach to relationships is anti-gospel. We cannot put our hope in painless, perfect relationships on earth. We can love each other well knowing a day is coming when sin’s black mark will be removed from our lives and we will live in the perfect shalom God intended.

2. Grace getters are grace givers.

Every person in your world needs grace, and grace is, by definition, not something they can earn. To draw a line in the sand that says “you cannot be in my life until you stop all bad habits” or “unless you can promise your actions will never hurt me again” is to profoundly forget the grace that God has lavished onto you. 

Of all the wonders of salvation, perhaps the one we lose sight of most quickly is that Jesus did not require us to clean ourselves up before allowing us in. God had every right to go “no contact” with each of us and yet, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 ESV, emphasis added). 

In view of such mercy, how can we justify being stingy with grace?

3. All means all.

Proverbs 17:17 is weighty with countercultural wisdom, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (ESV).

Godly relationships are never fair-weathered. I fear we are too quick to turn tail when the going gets tough. Sometimes that’s circumstantial. Just as often the battle is within. A blue mood becomes chronic depression. False comforts become addictions. Sin patterns become besetting. How will we love each other then? The acronym I once wore on a bracelet still holds: W.W.J.D? What would Jesus do? We don’t have to wonder. 

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV)

Jesus will never abandon you. He will never walk away in disgust. He will always be with you. Thick and thin, on the best days and the worst, He will love you. That’s just what true friends do. In our “no contact” world, stick-to-itiveness is a rare virtue because it bears the image of Jesus. 

4. Don’t ditch seventy-times-seven relationships.

Matthew 18 could easily be describing our current relationship culture, except, of course, it wasn’t. Two millennia ago, people were just as eager to draw relational lines for their own comfort and protection. Jesus had just finished teaching on forgiveness when Peter pulled Him aside and asked, “How many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” (v. 21). 

I’m long enough in the tooth to know this likely wasn’t rhetorical. I bet Peter had a specific brother in mind. He probably thought he was being generous by offering to forgive seven times, but there was a line he was itching to draw. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me eight times, and I’m cutting you off. 

Jesus’ retort obliterates most ideas about boundaries. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (v. 22 ESV). 

If you’re determined to cut someone out of your life, I beg you to ask the hard question: is this decision rooted in unforgiveness? If so, as they say, you might as well dig two graves. Your bitterness will not protect you. It will eat up your joy from the inside out. 

As I sort through my own messy relationships with the Word, not the world as my guide, these questions seem unavoidable:

  • Who will love others like Christ has loved them?
  • Who will forgive freely because they’ve been forgiven of so much?
  • Who will stick it out when life is messy because they recognize their own mess?
  • Who will resist conditional love and seek to shower others with the love of Christ?
  • Who will define others by their Creator not their behavior?
  • Who will suffer long with others because Jesus has suffered long with them?

Will you? No doubt it will be messy. But when you lose heart, look to the One who refused to let the boundary of sin separate you from Him. He’s worth it. They’re worth it. May the only mark we wear be His name for His glory. 

He brought me into the banqueting house, 
and his banner over me was love. (Song of Solomon 2:4 ESV)

This month at Revive Our Hearts, we’re inviting you to be still and seek Jesus. It’s a message that we believe women around the world need to hear, and we can’t take it to them without your support. When you give toward our mission of helping women thrive—and be still—in Christ, we want to express our thanks by sending you Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s piano album Be Still (available as a digital download or CD). May it serve as a soundtrack for your stillness in the weeks and months to come. 

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager … read more …

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