Self-Imposed Guardrails vs. Divine Hedging


I’ve been pretty tempted since December ish to date men I oughtn’t to date. When I’m honest, I admit the ones I ought to avoid are more attractive to me than the good ones. It also doesn’t help that the ratio of good men who are interested, to bad men who are interested is something like 1:20. Still, I’ve been disappointed in myself for even being tempted. I’ve gotten the idea somewhere along the line that I should be above temptation. Of course, Jesus Himself was tempted (Matthew 4), but Katie James ought to be better than that.

Right.

Remember my buddy Scott, the VC who got a little handsy, and the friend who’d taken me along that night? On our car ride over to the steak house, my friend was trying to talk up that guy she was going to set me up with (Jonathan) because he was a virgin right up until his marriage at the age of 23 (he’s involuntarily divorced nowadays). I, unfortunately, was sort of unimpressed with that tidbit, seeing as I’ve made it 29 years and I don’t think I’m anything particularly noteworthy – I’m too busy worrying about how stupid I am for being attracted to tall, thin older men who are not Christians and that I’m a poor steward and I always need to lose like 20 lbs.

Realistically, I haven’t dated any of those non-believers, and I have an envyable credit score. I’ve run quite a few long-distance races and have shocking muscle tone. I don’t write these things to brag, but they’re important to my credibility in this topic because I actually make pretty good life choices. I’m reliably obedient to God in areas that aren’t really easily-obey-able.

At church, we’re still in our “Guardrails” series that I find to be super-annoying. And I feel like a jackass for being annoyed, but I am. I especially found the one about sex to be annoying… not because I’m above sinning, but because I’ve made it 29 years, which is significantly longer than most people have made it, and I disagree with the premise the series is founded upon – that sin can be avoided with the right man-made restrictions and protections put in place.

I used to put trust in something akin to guardrails. The phrasing my church at the time went with was “on-ramps” but you say potato, I say… po-tah-to.

In spite of all the pastorly advice I was given about guardrails/on-ramps (through sermons and knowing one of my pastors pretty well) I started dating my dirtbag about a year after putting those “guardrails” into place. I’d read my Joshua Harris and my Elizabeth Elliot and I was never going to be alone with a dude. I’m pretty sure I even wrote out a contract with myself listing the “rules” I was going to follow that went above and beyond what the Bible required of me – limits to how often we’d see each other and the circumstances in which we’d see each other… no dating after 10 pm, no unchaperoned time in the apartment, etc…

And yet, 12 months later, I was being all horizontal on the couch with my dirtbag, who had only recently gotten out of the slammer (statutory rape). He was constantly drunk when we got together (drinking together was explicitly restricted in the rules, by the way) and he was rarely fully-clothed (also against the rules).

What I learned from that mess? Guardrails didn’t keep me from making stupid choices.

Of course I don’t think guardrails or on-ramps are particularly bad ideas to think about, and there are certain actions that I will never take (and could probably be categorized as guardrails), but I cannot attribute the past 10 dirtbagless years to any such guardrails. Those years have come to me completely by the grace of God.

You see, guardrails don’t strike me as particularly Biblical. I don’t think they’re necessarily unbiblical, but I can’t think of a single passage that promotes guardrails. I can think of some self-help books that encourage their use, but nothing in the word of God. Soooo… perhaps guardrails are good secular advice. Perhaps they’ve helped millions, but I’d rather place my trust in something founded in biblical truth.

One biblical truth I call on when it comes to obedience and combating sin:

*Note: there are tons of additional passages to talk about, many of which more directly address the battle with sin. I’ve just selected what touches my heart. Also, this one strikes me as the biblical version of guardrails.

“Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land…”

This is Satan criticizing God’s relationship with Job (10th verse of the book), because he believes Job’s affections for God are reliant upon the blessings God provided for Job. Even though Job isn’t generally considered a comforting book, I find this particular passage pretty comforting. God doesn’t tell Satan that he’s wrong – so I conclude that He did indeed surround Job with hedges. Also, I conclude that it isn’t outside of His nature to protect His children that way.

When I think about the night with Scott and Jonathan, I’m struck by the hedges God put in place before I even came to that night. Divine intervention about nine years ago, placed me at a church with good men. That particular intervention set me on a new path in life and healed many-a-wound that I’ve written about before, but I’m beginning to realize that in addition to giving me new people to hang out with and new Bible studies to go to, God used that intervention to build hedges around me. You see, one of the odd things about the night with Scott was that when I’ve been in similar situations over the past few years, good men have intervened on my behalf. They’ve both verbally and physically repelled drunken advances and various other dangers that’ve come my way. They are one hedge with which God has me surrounded.

My friend responded that night by verbally assaulting Scott and taking his $, because she believes she can take care of herself. She would probably have even rejected help from a good man who tried intervening. She exudes that girl power aura of, “I’m in control, so don’t mess with me!”

I’m not like that. I’m not sure I ever truly had the internal landscape required to talk back to a drunken man, though I was raised to be indpendent. Honestly, I didn’t once consider saying anything to Scott to get him to stop. I don’t know why. I thought about getting up and sitting next to his wife. I thought about asking my friend if we could go home, but there is nothing in me that felt confident or right in confronting a drunken man I don’t know. Because of the life God has bless me with, I’ve had the luxury of relying on men in that situation. And that’s how I believe it should be. I know, how very unfeminist of me, right?

Additionally, God’s intervention nine years ago that put me at a little church with good men provided me with yet another layer of protection. Without it, I honestly think I might have slept with a guy like Scott or one of the others who’ve been around lately. You see, with every man who crosses my path nowadays, I can’t help but think, “Wow – can’t bring that guy home to Dad! He’d never preside over that wedding!” To this day, I’m disappointed that I was able to introduce my dirtbag to my father. Not only was my dirtbag just an overtly, in-your-face fool, but he was pretty drunk the night I introduced him to my father. And nothing happened. We kept dating. Through God’s nine-year hedge in my life, I gained a second father, who gets to approve my fellas, and wouldn’t have signed-off on my dirtbag. I also gained some other big brother types who cause me to think, “Matt/Steve/Danny/Lawrence/_______ might beat the hell out this guy if I bring him around.”

When I look at my life as it is now, I can only attribute my triumphs over sin to God’s divine hedges of protection built up around me. I could not have manufactured “guardrails” that even compare to the hedges God put around me. His hedges tower over and cast long shadows upon any guardrails I tried to protect myself with. Prior to the dirtbag, I thought I could control my own sin… post dirtbag, I realized that I’m far less powerful than I originally perceived myself to be. So I started relying on God’s protections rather than my own.

Now, I’m aware that what I’ve written here isn’t very practical. The thing is, I don’t believe our struggle is primarily practical: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore [we must] take up the whole armor of God…” (Ephesians 6:12-13). I approach sin this way because, in my experience, combating sin is not a simple task and I believe we trivialize it by believing rules that we’ve created will protect us.  I haven’t made it 29 years by separating myself from cosmic forces of evil with rules as my defense. I am grateful that God has built or been what stands between me and wickedness.

My only practical advice  is the same action I take on my own behalf: I pray for God’s hedge of protection around me and that He’ll create in me a willing heart. I ask Him to sanctify me every day and to show me more of the cross and Him. I ask Him to instruct me in what it is to be His daughter… as well as what it is just to be His.

There are a lot of other things I pray… and I am constantly disappointed in myself for not being more faithful. I also work hard to be an obedient daughter. And yet, I know that my relationship with God is good, not because I have been good to Him or because I’ve kept myself from sin… I know because He has been good to me and defeated sin on my behalf, and anyone who preaches guardrails/on-ramps/rules as the protection against sin rather than preaching Christ on the cross and God as our greatest defense… is missing the point.

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