Yesterday I was reading an book which referred to an area having been made ‘out of bounds’ following a serious crime having taken place; meaning that the police who attended the scene in the aftermath of the incident had secured and cordoned off the area. Only authorised persons were allowed beyond this point so that the scene would neither become contaminated nor important evidence destroyed. The area had been marked ‘out of bounds’ in order to ensure the integrity of the investigation. It was being protected interference and harm.
As a young boy I often went on adventures in the countryside surrounding my home. There wasn’t an inch of ground that I did not know during long and invariably wet Northern Irish summers. There were areas I was forbidden from entering however by my parents. One such place was a boggy stream that ran past the bottom of our estate. Nobody quite knew its depth and all efforts to measure this with tree branches had proven futile.
We constructed the myth that it was a bottomless quagmire and any poor soul unfortunate enough to fall into it would be sucked under never to be seen again. Nobody had the courage or stupidity to challenge this myth so the stream remained uncharted territory for my friends and I. Had my parents known I went anywhere near it I would undoubtedly have been grounded for the rest of the holidays; or worse felt the wrath of the dreaded ‘wooden spoon’ across the back of my legs.
The area was strictly ‘out of bounds’. But unlike the crime scene this was for a different reason; as opposed to protecting the area itself from intruders this was in order to protect hapless intruders like me from the scene itself. Just like elsewhere dangerous quarries, beaches and other sites are normally surrounded by such signage warning curious kids or lost ramblers from stumbling into hazardous terrain.
Our lives are littered with ‘out of bounds’ areas. For some, like the crime scene, it is in order to protect their hearts from external factors. Perhaps you have been badly hurt in a relationship and to avoid a repeat scenario you have ‘shut up shop’ so to speak. You have decided to not make that mistake again and have raised the drawbridge. You will never allow anyone to get that close to you again. Your emotions are forever a closed book; a book with no hope of a happy ending.
Such people allow their hearts to fester and stagnate. Love, hope and joy are firmly barred. Resentment, bitterness and fear take hold and flourish. The light is extinguished and the darkness reigns. And as any child knows the darkness multiplies any exitsting fears a hundred fold. For it is in the darkness that the demons lurk; under your bed, in your wardrobe or scratching at your bedroom window. Eventually they will overwhelm you and before you know it the ‘out of bounds’ area that you thought would protect you has in fact become your private prison of pain.
For other people certain areas of their own lives scream danger. Once they ‘step over the line’ into these areas they can easily become entrapped. And like setting foot in a boggy stream they become stuck and slowly sink beneath the surface. In these instances the human heart, in the form of our feelings and emotions, is the villain of the piece. And instead of needing to protect it from harm it is the instrument of harm, leading us inexorably towards our undoing. Emotions cloud our conscience when it tries to tell us the difference between right and wrong. Emotions deceive and lead to wrong decisions. Which, in turn, to lead to sinful actions.
How many times have you had that ‘out of body experience’ where you look down upon yourself indulging your heart’s desire. Cringing as you say things you never dreamed you would ever say; shuddering at actions you never thought you would carry out. It is so easy to become a slave to our emotions, to allow them to take control of the rudder and steer us into increasingly choppy waters and ultimately onto the rocks of ruin.
What can we do then? How do we stay in bounds? How do we balance reining in our impulsive desires while at the same time not completely shutting down emotionally? Because fire and ice both burn given the opportunity. Well there are numerous strategies. Surrounding yourself with trustworthy and mature friends who you can hold yourself accountable to; doing everything you can to remain mentally healthy and aware of your own weaknesses; striving to put strategies and barriers in place to protect yourself from all of the curve balls that life can throw at us.
I have fallen foul of both declaring my heart ‘out of bounds’ and following it into ‘out of bounds’ areas. I have tasted fire and ice. They both have left scars. I have been terribly hurt and hurt terribly. A double edged sword that cuts deep either way. Two meandering paths that eventually join on your journey to the grave. I have teetered on the brink and stared into the abyss, a step away from oblivion.
Each time, however, something has made me turn back. The lies in front of my eyes twist and distort, tantalisingly out of my reach. They are wrapped in mists and shadows. I crave a solid foundation. A toehold in reality. So I surround myself with my family. I strengthen my faith through study and prayer. I write and I run. My keyboard and the road. I pound both on a daily basis. I exist. I survive. And I choose to live.
Proverbs 2:18 – ‘Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead.’
Have you ever declared your heart an ‘out of bounds’ area?
Or allowed your emotions to lead you astray?
What strategies do you employ to keep ‘in bounds’?