When it comes to the topics of “Sexuality and Relationships” and youth and young adults the two most frequently asked questions are “How will I find ‘the one’?” (refer last week’s post on making decisions) and the big one “How far can I go?”
How far can I go? It seems like a pretty reasonable question. “Where is the boundary? Where is the line that I shouldn’t cross? Tell me what I can and can’t do – define it for me and then I can manage my behaviour accordingly.”
The reality, however, is that this question indicates a state of heart and interest that no external boundary would be strong enough to withstand. “How far can I go?” reflects a degree of intent to indeed go as far as you’re possibly allowed to. To run right up to that line and lean as far over the edge as is possible without breaking the big rules.
The question shouldn’t be “how far can I go?” but “how far BACK do I need to draw the line in order to be ‘safe’ and avoid regret?”
If you were standing at the top of a high mountain, on the edge of a sheer and dangerous drop off your question would not be “how far can I go before I fall off the edge?” You would not go all the way to the side and lean out to test what the very limit of safety was. You would ask the question, “how far back do I need to stand in order to be safe?”
This is true for questions of physical intimacy outside of marriage. It is necessary for handling temptation. It is pertinent to navigating friendships – both cross-gender and same sex. Not “how far can I go?” but “how far back do I need to establish my boundaries in order to avoid regret and honour myself and others?”
It’s at that point that we need to establish our guardrails.
Andy Stanley says “A guardrail is something you don’t do to stop you from doing something else you don’t want to do.” Disciplines, accountability measures, restrictions, habits, systems and boundaries that are established well within the ‘safety zone’ to minimise the risk of straying into the ‘danger zone’ and finding ourselves precariously close to the edge.
So maybe the strategy for answering the “how far can I go?” questions looks something like this …
1. Establish what the “too far” looks like – what is the risk, the worst case scenario? What regret are we trying to avoid?
2. Realistically process the factors that would lead us to that situation. What environments would most facilitate that? What decisions and compromises would find us there?
3. Construct non-negotiable guardrails. Determine things that you WON’T ever do in order to stop you doing things you DON’T ever want to do. Enlist others to help you establish and maintain them.