I’m listening to the constant rumble of planes overhead in my otherwise quiet community. For me and my neighbors, circling planes are a sign that there’s a wildfire close by. We usually come out of our homes when we hear the planes and start to look for smoke so we can figure out, from the direction of the smoke’s plume, if the fire is coming our way. As a safeguard, we check, once again, to be sure we have 100 feet clearance of dry grass or shrubs around our homes. Even if the danger of fire is not imminent, we are always wary and ready. (Just a note: this particular fire is no threat to my home, so I am safe to write this post!)
I always thought containing a fire was the equivalent of putting a fire out. Not so. Containing a fire involves creating a perimeter around the fire so it cannot burn beyond designated boundaries. In our area, bull-dozers scrape away vegetation and other fuel that the fire needs to continue its growth. Wide scathes of land that have been scraped and then saturated with water or fire retardant material from the planes create a “line of control” which provides safety for any structures outside the containment area. When a line of control completely encircles the fire, we say it is “contained.”
Here’s the tricky part. A fire that is 100% contained can continue to burn for days and days. As long as no structures are threatened inside the lines of control, firefighters may choose to let the fire burn itself out. Firefighters monitor the lines of control and make sure the fire doesn’t “jump” or cross over the lines. Their vigilance in keeping their lines clear and effective is imperative in keeping citizens and their homes safe.
Our personal boundaries have some similarities to the firefighter’s lines of control. Though the word “control” might give us the idea that we can control our addict, we can’t. We don’t control our addict. In fact, our addict may choose to engage in his addiction behaviors until he burns out. We can, however, keep ourselves safe from being burned. Similar to the firefighters who create a line of containment around a fire (addict), we also need to put strong perimeters or boundaries around our own homes, ourselves.
Keeping boundaries is not an easy thing. Just like a wildfire, an addict can blow a lot of smoke! They can become defensive, minimize, or actually shift blame to others. They might test the effectiveness of our boundaries by skirting along the edges, looking for places where we are weak so they can plunge through and continue their destructive behavior. When this happens, depending on how unsafe we are, it might be necessary to evacuate our homes or the relationship until we know our safety is ensured.
I’m often asked what boundaries look like. Well, my boundaries are not going to look like your boundaries, just like the clearance around my home, does not look like my neighbors’. I have slopes, rocks, shrubs, and trees that are unique to my property. So, I have to prune, weed, and clear around the perimeter of my home differently than someone else who has corrals, barns, or fencing to save.
Though each of our boundaries are unique, it sometimes helps to see an example of boundaries in order to have a starting point for our own. I have permission to share these partner-boundaries (click here) from an LDS wife and mother. I appreciate the loving tone of these boundaries. They seem to be written from someone who feels empowered. Again, everyone’s boundaries should be unique, but I do believe they are best written from a place that indicates we know our worth. Fire on the horizon can instill a great deal of fear in us, but fear does not create a good foundation from which we make sound decisions.
As a final thought, firefighters sometimes fight fire with fire. If you’re living with an addict on fire, someone who bullies or demeans your self-worth, then you need to light your own fire. You need to know that you are a child of God who is worth better treatment. Feel the love of God burn within you and use that empowering feeling to guide your next loving step.
“I survived because the fire within me burned brighter than the fire around me” (Joshua Graham).