Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why Reading Boundaries Are a Good Thing

I've been thinking about boundaries for a couple of weeks. Facing some that might be tested, some I honestly don't really want to hold. Because let's face it, a boundary is just fine until something we want is on the other side.

I don't like that idea. I like collecting the people and books and objects I love around me and holding them tight. I don't like staring over a fence at something I love on forbidden ground, wrestling with why it would really hurt anything to climb over and get it.

Have you ever been there? In that scary middle place between faithfulness and compromise? It's not a fun place to be.

Today's article I'm writing to myself, to remind myself of some things. Some of that soul preaching I have to go through now and then, to keep myself in line. I hope it blesses you, too.

Why We Should Have Reading Boundaries

1. God Set Them First.
Ultimately we're not the ones who set boundaries at all. We choose to stay within God's boundaries or go outside them. That's the way free will works. His boundaries are set within the ten commandments and the great command to love God and love our neighbor. But knowing God's boundaries doesn't stop with knowing a couple of verses. The best way we can know his boundaries is to know the Word of God inside out. The less we know what God says, the easier it is to twist right and wrong to our own desires and wisdom. To read human books correctly, we must read God's Book first of all. There are books outside that boundary zone: books that fill our minds with sin, warp us to embracing evil mindsets, set lustful passions on fire, or simply waste our time. Books have great power to shape our lives and minds. We need to know God's boundaries so we can make sure we're following them in our entertainment choices.

2. They Help Us Stand Firm in Temptation.
Our life is a constant war between flesh and spirit. It doesn't matter if we're tired, on vacation, or raised in the most fortunate of conservative homes. The flesh is always there, ready to seize a foothold. It comes in the guise of things we love. I've even had it come in the guise of characters I adore and have to say goodbye to. Sometimes it's a temptation to act a certain way, but often enough it's a temptation to adopt a faulty mindset.
If we go out without weapons or mental preparation into a war, we're going to get taken out pretty quickly. But knowing our boundaries from God's Word before we are tested help us to stand firm before that fun series comes up, or the gay relationship, or the rebellious main character. If we don't set boundaries, we'll be trying to figure them out right when the shiny temptation is dangling in front of us. That's never a good time to figure out right and wrong.

3. They Train Our Minds to Discern Right From Wrong.
Boundaries send signals to our mind. "This is right. This is wrong. This pleases God. This doesn't please God." The mind is the center of action, and when we constantly send it subtle reminders of truth, we're much more likely to act on the principle we're grounded in. Just as a small child is given boundaries by its parents to keep it from harming itself, so we should look at our vulnerabilities and blind spots and do the same. Boundaries train us to stay within the safe and good way. There are some books with a few things I disagree with that I choose to stay away from simply because I want my mind to remember "I don't agree with this." Other people read them fine, but I want that sharpened memory of the struggle with sin it leads to in my own heart.

4. They Keep Us From Getting Complacent With Sin.
A constant mindset of no boundaries leads us to a perspective of tolerance and self-indulgence. The Christian life requires crucifying the flesh and dying to self. If we refuse to place ourselves in the way for crucifixion of flesh to happen, then we will grow more and more occupied with making the flesh comfortable. It starts in little ways, turns into a mindset, and then slips into bigger things. If we never say no to one book, pretty soon we'll wonder why we're saying no to any book. The things we think we would never agree with are always possible for us to fall into, and they start with just a little push here and a little push there beyond what we know is right.

How We Should Hold Boundaries

1. With Graciousness for Other Convictions.
That being said, I have seen (and set) boundaries that leave those who do not keep them judged and condemned. If the Word of God judges a book as wrong for everyone to read, then I should uphold that judgment when I talk to others. If my preference or personal weakness judges a book as wrong, then that's for me and not for everyone. Boundaries should be held with firm confidence, but gracious humility. Just because I use whiteout doesn't mean everyone has to. Just because I'm comfortable with romance doesn't mean it would be beneficial for everyone.

2. Changing Them With Increased Understanding.
We should also understand, especially as young readers (twenties is relatively young) that boundaries change with age, and that's fine. Something I allow now might not be something I can allow later. On the other hand, something that would have been damaging to me younger might be perfectly acceptable now that I'm old enough to handle it. While I was young, my parents wouldn't have sat me down in front of The Scarlet Pimpernel to navigate the guillotine, Armand's girlfriend (yuck) and Sir Percy's language. Now that I'm older, they give it to me to preview for the family, so I can help everyone else navigate it. What would have crushed me younger I'm able to handle now. Set your fence with God's boundaries. Anything within your own particular struggles and weaknesses should always be considered adjustable.

Here's what I repeat over and over to myself when I'm tempted to go beyond wise boundaries: Jesus is better than any temporary satisfaction. Jesus is more satisfying than this thing I want. Jesus gets the worship over my own flesh.

No book, no character you love, no plot line that sounds fun, no scenes that satisfy those carnal lusts, no peer pressure for a popular series, is worth climbing over that fence for. All you'll get is dirty and lost and have to come crying back home.

Sometimes your feelings will be yearning to climb over that fence. But when you preach to your soul the truth, and walk by the truth, and believe in the truth--then your feelings will come in line with the truth.

And that's the whole truth, as I've learned it so far.


  1. I love this post. So well done. Something I've been thinking a lot about lately, though not just in relation to books. Sometimes it's hard to find that line between what our preferences are and what God's commands are, because for an earnest Christian, I think many convictions are going to stem from God's commands. But it's am important line to find because there are standards that we might set for ourselves that we don't necessarily have the right to hold others to. Different seasons of life call for different preferences, as well. Really good post. Love you. <3

  2. Fantastic post, Schuyler, and I think one I needed to read. I've never straightforwardly and concretely set boundaries for myself concerning reading, but I think I already judge which books I should read and which ones I shouldn't. I generally tend to stay away from books which I know would cross the boundaries I have, but there have been times when I've picked up books with too much over-the-top romance that I've had to stop reading. There are other things which aren't immoral, but which I know I can't handle. I'm especially sensitive about stories having to do with the Holocaust because previous learning about that period in history has left me scarred and I just can't handle reading more about it, fiction or not. I also love your reasons for setting boundaries, and I would add that people tend to respect more those who set wise boundaries for themselves.

  3. I think setting boundaries in every area of our lives, including entertainment, is always good. The only time when boundaries can become a hindrance is when we blur the distinction between the boundaries God has set for us and the boundaries we set for ourselves and our own consciences. As for my personal boundaries, I don't really have them set in stone, but I tend to not pick up anything and read it unless I have had the good recommendation of more than one reliable friend. And I don't hesitate to set a book down, throw it out, or burn it if necessary, if the book crosses my threshold in terms of explicit sexual content, language, or even violence.

    My only question is, when is it appropriate to read constructive literature that is not necessarily PG and yet is still thought-provoking and edifying to our worldview? For instance, in high school I read Orwell's 1984, Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", and Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray". None of these books are PG or are even books I necessarily enjoyed and would read again, but they still were thought-provoking and conveyed powerful messages about humanity, sinful nature, and society, even if the messages were rather negative and uncomfortable.

    I think it's important to draw boundaries, especially when it comes to unnecessary explicit content that serves no other purpose than to sensationalize and glorify sin, but at the same time I think we shouldn't shy away from having our worldviews challenged and dealing with weighty, scary subject matter. How would you define a helpful balance between the two?

    Dani xoxo
    a vapor in the wind

  4. Thanks for this brilliant article - I always appreciate how much time you put into writing quality blog posts.

    The points you listed made me think too. I think I need to define a few of my boundaries, to make sure I don't slip into just reading whatever comes along.


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