Last week we looked at various ‘markers’ we can use to help us see when we are drifting off course. The bottom line is that when you are feeling stress and anxiety – let’s call it what it is: fear, or you are beginning to try to manipulate and control, or your conversations with yourself and others are filled with “I’s” and “me’s” and “my feelings”– you’re drifting off the path that leads to the “Life to the full.”1
These may be helpful indicators, but they’re sort of like those ruts grooved into the edge of the pavement: they alert you that you are about to get off track, but they won’t prevent you from doing so.
There are times we are drifting so badly, and are so blind to it, we need guardrails to bounce us back onto the path, and away from a destructive ditch.
Perhaps you have a weakness, and you have repeatedly failed to conquer it. You’ve tried, really hard, with multiple attempts at rigid self-discipline. You’ve taped reminders and inspirational quotes on your mirror or in your car. You’ve even tried praying!
But to no avail. You’ve made no progress.
It still has you … mastered.
We might be talking about a bad habit, physical or mental. Perhaps you smoke too much, drink too much, dip too much, or cuss, lie, cheat, gossip, condescend, judge, lust … whew.
It could be dysfunctional coping mechanisms that you know are not constructive, but in the moment, well, “I couldn’t help myself.” You just can’t seem to hold your tongue, or refrain from self-vindication, or counter-attacking when you feel threatened, or even launching a preemptive attack, just in case.
Like the Apostle Paul, you cry out, 15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” 2
You need a guardrail. Because no matter how much you try to keep it between the lines, this issue, this weakness, has you mastered, and is causing you to behave like a drunken driver in your moment of weakness. And you keep ending up in a ditch.
We place guardrails for our children to keep them safe. They think of them as rules, but we see them as protective measures. You might tell your young child not to ever go in the street, or take candy from a stranger. If you live in a high-traffic area, you would likely put up a fence in addition to your instructions.
We see guardrails as perfectly practical for our children, but somehow we assume we’re mature enough not to need them for ourselves. Ha!
Just take a look at the mayhem we mature adults are causing.
So let’s be a bit more specific about guard rails for us grown-ups.
Tiger Woods had a weakness for women. Do you think Tiger wishes he had paid someone $5 million dollars to form a personal guardrail around him for the sole purpose of protecting him from himself? A mere pittance compared to what he ultimately lost.
I know a man who was so fed up with his own aggressive driving, and the resulting frustration with all the “idiot drivers” in his way, he wrote a $100 check to a trusted friend and said, “You have my word, before God, the next time I drive that way you get the $100. And any time after that, I’ll write you another check.”
He drives with much more peace now.
I know a man who sensed he was drifting toward a pornography problem. He wrote a check to a trusted friend, and with a similar vow, said, “You keep the $5000.00 check if I ever do it again.”
Eight years later he says he’s never even been tempted. (He simply cannot afford to be)
I know a woman who just couldn’t quit smoking. She took a similar action.
I know a woman who just couldn’t seem to bite her tongue when her husband was so obviously wrong. It was hurting the marriage and damaging his self-esteem. She put in a guardrail, and is no longer a slave to her tongue.
Okay, I’m guessing about now you’re either thinking, “Sam has slipped a mental disc,” or “But where is God in all this? Why aren’t these people praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to deliver them?”
They have. But they keep failing. And now they are adhering to God’s directive to do their part, as well as look to him for strength:
“ …continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”3
They are “working out their salvation” with protective, and in some cases prohibitive, guardrails. And looking to God to work in them, “to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
These men and women were tired of defeat, of slavery to their weakness, and finally took definitive action to free themselves.
Guardrails are not my idea, and I’m not trying to be a Nazi about it, nor a restricting legalist. I’m following God’s lead:
“Above all else, guard (build a garrison around) your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”4
Do you need a guardrail somewhere in your life? Yes, you do.