Bridges as Boundaries
I cross Hammersmith Bridge every day on my journey to work. About every two weeks there will be an issue with the barrier you can see in this photo. If you look closely you may notice that the barrier pole is actually lying on the floor. In a normal month I would think TFL go through about 5 of those poles! Many of them end up squashed or snapped off at the joint!
The purpose of this barrier is to stop big trucks from crossing the very delicate and historic bridge which was actually built in 1827. Over the year I see the impact of those very heavy vehicles on the bridge and closures to traffic is not uncommon. Whenever the barrier is broken this is exacerbated further by all of the trucks who make take advantage of the open short-cut! This broken barrier has become a metaphor for broken boundaries for me and a visual prompt for me to reflect upon the wear and tear of pastoral ministry. Jim West wrote, “Bridges are metaphors for everything in life. The bridge is not just about getting back and forth between north and south. The bridge is about connecting our communities.” I thought it may be helpful to share a few thoughts about boundaries with you on this theme:
Respecting the Bridge:
Bridges are often a metaphor for the psychological process of integration. We as people, often provide a bridging experience for others, family, friends even strangers to find resolution. Our bridges may appear strong or imposing but if they are not respected they will get worn and begin to breakdown. If you feel resentful that people are ‘walking all over you’ maybe it’s because they are!
There is a limit to what any bridge can carry, particularly if those burdens are persistent. If we are unaware of our own limitations or the need for respite from incessant pressure, again we become vulnerable. Remember that the bridge has to support its own weight as well as the weight of the traffic it is carrying. As Christians many of us struggle to push back, and tend towards thinking that being a martyr is better than saying ‘no’. It isn’t. Brene Brown wrote, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”
Boundaries are there to control the flow of traffic and to enforce the rules of transit over the bridge. When boundaries get broken-down the cost may not be immediately recognized but over time there will be a significant impact. Edwin Louis Cole writes, “Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures.” We need to re-establish our boundaries every day in line with our own emotional capacity and the issues that we are carrying for others. Remember that it is never selfish to set healthy boundaries.
Christian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” If you struggle with an emotional or mental health issue it can be particularly hard to manage your boundaries, but it is even more important that you think about ways in which you can maintain your bridge with regularity. That might involve medication, therapy a support group or just a good routine of life with daily prayer, regular rests and good nutrition. Regular self-care is a great way of staying robust and being able to support others in their own needs. God wants to use you, not wear you out. Attend to your boundaries so you can be effective, not exhausted.