"Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”
Boundaries are clear lines that mark limits - they divide one thing from another. For example, a property boundary is a line that demarcates where you can legally walk on a public sidewalk from where you are illegally trespassing on someone else's property. Where you can build your house or install a fence and where you cannot. When boundaries are crossed, there are consequences.
As God is creator of the universe and everything in it, he sets out the boundaries. He sets the limits of what is allowable and what isn't. As his creation, we don't get to decide what's acceptable to him or not. To break through the limits he's set for us is to rebel against him and sin. And that sin carries both earthly and eternal consequences.
Living in sexual sin and addiction, we have broken boundaries that God has clearly set out that we were not to transgress.
A starting point to thinking about setting boundaries in recovery is to identify all of the things you have done sexually that are outside the limits of what God allows. What are those limits? The Bible is clear that sex, including our actions and thoughts, are only intended between a husband and wife in marriage.
Start a section in your recovery plan called "Boundaries" and begin to list boundaries that God has set that you are committed to obeying moving forward.
"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
1 Peter 5:8
Now that you have developed a set of "inner circle" boundaries as they are sometimes called (those that are at the core of your addictive or sinful behaviour), it's time to think about what behaviours, situations, people, or thoughts can lead you towards breaking those inner circle boundaries. Then add those to your list of boundaries (these are sometimes called your "middle circle" boundaries).
Think of these middle circle boundaries as setting fences or walls further and further away from the inner circle boundaries you are committed to not breaking. By expanding your boundaries outward, you create trip-wires to keep you alert to the enemy's approach. Let's talk about a few specific examples.
For most guys, unrestricted Internet access has been a major gateway for sexual sin. So, in addition to having an inner circle boundary not to look at pornography or inappropriate images, they also put up a middle circle boundary such as "no unrestricted Internet access (e.g. install filtering/accountability software on all devices such as Covenant Eyes)". Or they may take it a step further and make their phone a "dumb phone" (e.g. no access to the Internet at all, remove social media apps, Youtube, etc.). And another boundary not to "test" or circumvent those safeguards.
Another boundary that one of the guys in our group has found really helpful on top of the measures we've already covered is a "no aimless Internet browsing" (i.e. he only goes on the Internet for specific legitimate purposes and then gets offline, no browsing aimlessly at all). Other men have a boundary like "no phones/computers in bedrooms or bathrooms - only in public areas of their homes".
For many guys, social media has been a big part of their sexually sinning, so they put a boundary about "no social media" or only in the presence of their wife or a friend.
For other guys, alcohol or drugs have been a part of their addiction or, at times, contributed to their sexually "acting out". You can add a boundary to your recovery plan about abstaining from substances.
The above examples are just a few of the kinds of things to think about. It's important that you develop a set of boundaries that is directed at your particular vulnerabilities and ways of acting out. This varies between men.
We encourage you to share your list of boundaries with a few guys in your men's group, both for accountability and to learn from each other. Be sure to add boundaries they have that you think would help. Print off your recovery plan so you can regularly review your boundaries and they become second nature.
Now is also the time if you haven't done so to "clean house", getting rid of any pornography of any kind or anything else that you have used to sexually sin.
"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God"
What do you do if you break a boundary? The first thing is to have a "24-hour tell policy" where you commit to confessing it to God, telling your wife/fiancé/girlfriend (if you have one), and a man in your recovery group within 24-hours. Also report it at your weekly meeting. The longer you wait, the harder it gets and more vulnerable you will be to further temptation, so do it right away. Rip the bandaid off.
Doing this is a natural consequence that none of us wants to do, but will help us in our recovery. It breaks the shame, isolation and secrecy of our sin. It reaffirms the boundaries we've set, and is an opportunity to learn and grow.
There's a saying in recovery that "you're only as sick as your secrets". King David knew this well as he eventually had to publicly acknowledge his adultery with Bathsheba. Until that happened, he was in misery:
"When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, 'I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.'
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin."
"Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."
Sometimes we get a temptation to "change" (i.e. weakened or reduce) the boundaries that we have set. There may be legitimate reasons for doing so, but this should always be approached with extreme caution.
Dr. Doug Weiss recommends you have a boundary about changing boundaries: only change a boundary after prayer, a certain period of time considering the risks/advantages, and after consulting beforehand with your wife/fiancé/girlfriend (if you have one), and a leader in your recovery group.
If your boundaries have been helping you stay clean and you've been experiencing sustained periods of clean time, it is not the time to go weakening your boundaries. In fact, guys in long-term recovery are always looking for ways to strengthen their recovery and their boundaries can become stronger -- not weaker -- over time.
"Keep to a path far from her,
do not go near the door of her house"
If we were a group of men in recovery from alcohol, we wouldn't long be able to show up to group and explain that we'd relapsed once again after drinking alcohol from our fully-stocked bar fridge. If we didn't come to our senses of doing this week after week, month after month, someone would hopefully pull us aside and ask: "Hey, if you're committed to quitting drinking, why do you still have a fully-stocked bar fridge in your home?"
Yet that is just what we are doing if we have any unfiltered, unaccountable devices in our home and are seeking freedom from sexual sin and addiction (e.g. smartphones, gaming systems, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, smart TVs, etc).
This task is about locking-down your devices - getting rid of the equivalent of that fully-stocked bar fridge.
“What we are attempting to do is make a radical life-change that is as difficult, if not more difficult, than overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction. Rarely, if ever, will a significant change like this result from insignificant measures.”
This quote from Pure Desire Ministries is bang on. Part of repentance is taking those decisive and concrete steps to shut down every avenue for temptation. Adapted from their materials, here's a list of questions to work through in taking these steps:
1) List ALL devices, locations, and methods you have used to access pornography/sexually sin in the last six months:
2) From this list, which one is your greatest threat?
3) Starting with your greatest threat, what decisive step(s) do you need to take to remove access to each threat?
4) By what date and time are you committed to completing this action?
5) What obstacles or roadblocks do you anticipate facing in this decision, and what is your plan to address them?
6) Who will you be accountable to follow-through and stay truthful and transparent with regarding locking down your technology and keeping it locked down?
Update your recovery plan based on what you've learned about boundaries. It is starting to get more robust as you're taking concrete actions to turn from your sin and towards God.
Here's the template we've been working with, but your plan should be evolving to become your own. Add in other elements you want in there, including verses that God is using to speak to you.
MY RECOVERY PLAN
(Version: [Today's Date])
Prayer, Meditation & Reading the Bible
2) DURING THE DAY
Daily-Check In Call
Worship and Praise
No screens 30 minutes before bed; set alarm to be up at least 1 hour before usual; get to bed at least 7 hours before I need to be up; Pray before going to sleep
Attend Men's Group(s)
"RAW": Renounce, Announce, Worship
Lock down devices (e.g. filtering & accountability software, "dumb phone")
List your "inner circle" and "middle circle" boundaries
24-Hour Tell Policy
No boundary changes without first consulting with wife and group leader
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