When our son’s fraternity dog, Hudson, came to live with us permanently, we needed to establish some rules with him. Number one: No leaving the yard. Our HOA has rules about dogs and leashes and the golf course doesn’t like dogs tearing across the greens. But try explaining that to a Labrador chasing the deer!
More than just following the rules, though, we wanted to ensure Hudson would be safe. Running loose put him at risk of being hit by a car, injured in the woods, or even attacked by other animals. He had no idea of the dangers out there, but we did.
Our solution? Install an electric fence. This underground wire, looped around the perimeter of the yard and marked visually with small white flags, has a low level electric current running through it that a receiver on a special collar detects when within a predefined range. The receiver emits a tone, then a vibration, and eventually a small electric shock when your pet gets too close to the wire.
Training consists of walking your dog, with the collar on the lowest, tone only, setting, around the yard and toward the flags. The idea is that your dog will see the flag, hear the tone, and learn to associate the tone with the perimeter of your yard.
It took one time approaching the perimeter for Hudson to hear the tone. He bolted back to the center of the yard.
Faster than I could have imagined, he was cured of running away.
But we had another problem. Now he would not leave the center of the yard. We have a large yard and we fenced in the whole thing – so he had a good bit of territory. We wanted him to learn to enjoy all of it.
Bribery works wonders with dogs.
Each morning I’d fill a scoop with food, grab his bowl, put his collar on him, and coax him outside. Then I’d walk around the yard enticing him to come to me with breakfast.
The exercise became less about teaching him where the boundaries were in order to keep him from running away, but to teach him where they were so he could discover how much freedom he really had.
Isn’t that an awesome life lesson? Good boundaries teach us less about what we can’t do and more about what we can do. But have you ever felt like you just weren’t sure where the boundaries were? Where is the white flag that warns you are approaching the zap zone?
Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. (Pr 4:5-6)
We installed the fence because we love Hudson and want him to be safe. The tone he hears is a nudge to turn away and stay inside his yard. The purpose is not to punish him for getting too close. The purpose is to warn him not to keep going.
To those who are unfamiliar with the Bible, it can certainly seem like it is full of thou shalt nots designed to make life un-fun. Maybe it seems hard to grasp a loving God who sets such boundaries. Maybe you believe God is waiting for you to get to close to the edge in order to zap you.
That is not what the Bible is at all. The Bible is an invitation to free living. God establishes boundaries in his Word precisely because he knows the dangers we face and desires to protect us.
There is no guessing. He clearly defines boundaries on our language, our marriages, our friendships, our habits, our leisure activities, our thoughts, and our money because he loves us and wants the best for us.
When we seek God’ wisdom through his Word, we will know exactly when we are about to get that warning zap that says you are flirting with danger.
I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (Ps 119:45)
The wire is buried in our backyard. Once Hudson learned where it was, he was able to confidently walk about his yard with confidence that the boundary would always be in the same spot. It wasn’t going to change.
God’s Word is the same way. It is the unchanging standard of truth by which we are to live our lives. What makes a God-honoring marriage doesn’t change. How we are to speak to one another doesn’t change. The command to forgive doesn’t change. Grace does not change.
We can breathe a sigh of relief that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. God wants us to live free of fear, shame, bitterness, and everything else that keeps us from experiencing joy. God’s boundaries are designed to help us live in freedom and experience his joy.
There are other ways we could keep Hudson from running off but none of those gifted him with the entirety of the yard. Hudson can roam, investigate, sniff, and do whatever else dogs like to do. I’d love for him not to trample my flowers, but there aren’t any restrictions on him inside the boundaries. He is free to enjoy the whole thing.
Life with God is the same way. Far from being restrictive, God’s Word gifts us with abundant, joy-filled, strength-infused, life. We are invited to enjoy the entirety of what he lavishly gives us.
God promises that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Cor 3:17). The Spirit of the Lord is squarely inside the boundaries of God’s Word. This is where we will find our freedom too.
This article and other great articles that focus on freedom are in this month’s Christian Community News magazine. I hope you take a few minutes and join us all over there.