Rules of Engagement

boundaries2Personal boundaries are important.  But they’re hard to get right.

In theory they should be simple, like mapping terrain:

Here’s where you are, here’s where I am.

Here’s how far you can come and here’s how far I am willing to go.

There are levels of difficulty and there are certain rules.

Level 1: easy.

Example: ‘hi. howareyoufinethanksyouhowstheflatdogjobcarteethmyitscoldwellgreattocatchupseeyousoon‘ (breathing and pausing optional) .  Suitable for supermarkets, coffee mornings, car-parks, school runs and most public spaces.

Status: Appropriate for general public.

Level 2: tricky but do-able.

Example: ‘yeah we’ve had a rough time of it lately with  job/marriage/family/health but mostly sorted now because (wait for it) God’s got a plan‘.  Suitable for home networks and coffee shop corners.

Status: Appropriate for close friends and family.

Level 3: the stuff of nightmares.

Example: ‘no I’m/you’re not fine in fact I think I/you/we might cry/swear/get angry and I/you/we don’t know where God is or how to get through it or what to say or do with our arms/face/hankies/heartbreak‘. Suitable for locked bathrooms,  New Year’s Eve and a fridge-lit kitchen at 3am.

Status: Inappropriate (with exceptions for Mr Teddy, Mr Cheesecake and paid professional).

It goes without saying that most of life is level one with flashes of level two.  And providing your circumstances and blood sugar remain stable, it’s all good. Now we can be friends or enemies or acquaintances or strangers or lovers or whatever. But we know where we  stand. This my friend/colleague/mate, is civilisation.

But what of those who don’t follow the rules? The weak ones who can’t keep it together? Embarrassing displays of emotion. Honesty. Mess. Cross the rubicon of level three and you go beyond normality and polite society. Anarchy. Loss of control. Dependence. Need.  And maybe – maybe, real life.



4 thoughts on “Rules of Engagement

  1. Level 2 1/2:

    David: Hey! Missed you last Saturday. How are you guys?
    Me: Well…not good.
    David: oh. Is somebody sick?
    Me: No. No one is sick, were just not doing very well. If you could pray for us David, I would really appreciate it.
    David:(long pause) Um…ok.
    Me: I’m so sorry David, it’s very personal, but we could really use your prayers.
    David: Uh. Well. Um. Then…I guess I’ll talk to you later. Uh..bye.


    Me: (silently) OH MY GOD!.. What Have I just done?

    Yes. Levels 1 and 2 are so stinking safe, but oh so dead. Thanks for pushing the level of comfort with your blog Emma.

  2. I know what you mean – I get so tired of the polite church conversations sometimes. I want to connect properly with other people, to be a proper family with them – which means making ourselves vulnerable and sharing uncomfortable things. It frustrates me that I sit around politely drinking tea when what I want to talk about is things like suffering, hatred, death and how we can do something! I want to help other people but I don’t even know where to begin, let alone sharing my story.
    Anyway, thanks for this post. I think I’ve stopped appreciating 1 & 2 in church circles. To me Christ is all about the bare knuckle stuff. (As well as the polite things!)

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