guardrail (n.): a boundary that protects one from serious danger
I moved to the mountains of NC to attend college. I still remember vividly my mom’s reaction to the narrow, winding roads. She’d stiffen her body and hold tightly to the handle above the car door as my dad drove around the curves . Then she’d breathe a loud sigh of relief once we hit a straight stretch of road again. She was comfortable on flat land where driving off the side of a mountain wasn’t a possibility. But here, the danger was real. Mom was able to see down the cliff, just a few inches past the white line of the road. And it was a place she didn’t want to go.
Many places have guardrails to protect drivers from the dangers beyond the edge of the road. I’d say most of us appreciate those guardrails! Even though hitting a guardrail may cause some damage, we know it is nothing compared to the consequences of driving off a cliff, into a river, or off an overpass.
-Cue the spiritual connection-
What are guardrails in the spiritual sense?
Guardrails are boundaries that may not be necessary for everyone but are beneficial for an individual. In most of our lives, we fight the same sins over and over again. We’ve been there before, we know we don’t want to go down that road, but it’s where our car tends to drive. Or sometimes we recognize the need for protection because we’ve seen someone else crash in that particular spot. Guardrails stop us and give us time to correct our driving before experiencing deadly consequences.
Guardrails protect what is precious. If you install guardrails properly and intentionally, they can save you from destruction. You’d never intentionally drive your family off the side of the mountain, but it may happen accidentally while you’re tired or distracted. Guardrails provide us with the opportunity to be jarred and to adjust our actions. They also enhance the trust of those riding with us! My mom probably would have felt safer on the winding roads if there was a strong guardrail separating her from the dangerously steep slope. Just like it may inspire trust from your loved ones if you’re willing to set up some key boundaries in your life to keep all of you safe.
What are some real-life examples?
There are lots of examples of guardrails. Maybe it’s not being alone with a coworker that you are prone to gossip with. Maybe it’s not watching TV shows that trigger your anxiety. Maybe it’s leaving your credit card at home. Some boundaries may seem obvious, but others may seem silly to those around us. For example, one of my own boundaries is that I don’t listen to country or top 40 radio stations often. I honestly don’t judge people who do and I don’t think it’s sinful. I just noticed that lyrics and topics common to those songs sent me into a spiral of insecurity. I know that insecurity leads me to search for meaning in the wrong places and through the wrong things. And that’s not a good place for me.
Let’s go from something that may seem silly to a few topics that are very serious. Did you know that 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month? (reference) In a church of 200 people, that would be thirty women. That’s not a small problem.
It’s important to protect ourselves and our families with guardrails. Nine out of ten boys and six out of ten girls are exposed to porn before the age of 18. That is devastating! I don’t want to be salesy (Is that even a real word?) but I do want to tell you about a specific guardrail in this area. It’s Covenant Eyes’ filtering and accountability software that can be installed on computers and mobile devices. Each week an accountability partner receives a report detailing a user’s online activity. A parent might set it up to deliver a report about their teenager or single woman might set it up to report to a friend she trusts. Either way, it acts as a guardrail to the ever-present availability of online explicit material. This is my affiliate link; I highly recommend this program and it’s been well worth the investment for my family.
Another area where guardrails are vitally important is marriage. 68% of divorce cases last year involved one party meeting a new lover over the internet. That. is. crazy! I know a couple with what some may consider an extreme boundary in this area. They’ve committed to not private message or text anyone of the opposite gender. It’s a boundary that some might consider over-the-top, but they decided it was important for them with their particular pasts.
My friend shared that both she and her husband have bumped up against this guardrail a time or two and have had to engage in a few uncomfortable conversations with each other. I’m sure it’s hard. I can imagine it sucks to be confronted by your spouse for something that seems normal and harmless and just part of our online culture. But they say it’s worth it. Because you never know when one of you might get tired or distracted and accidentally drive off of a cliff that you can’t climb back up.
A necessary risk
Guardrails entail some risk of course. If you hit a guardrail, it will do some damage. Still we don’t question the necessity of physical guardrails because obviously there’s something worse on the other side. We shouldn’t question the benefits of spiritual guardrails either. Even though they require vulnerability and might bring discomfort. Even though we might fail at upholding them sometimes and with failure may come embarrassment. We have to protect ourselves from the devastating consequences of sin. Setting up a boundary far far away from the actual danger is a way of protecting yourself and what is precious to you.
I encourage you to ask God for discernment. What guardrails do you need to install in your life? Decide to set them up and tell somebody! Accountability itself is a great tool to help you stay on the road.
If this post helped you, please share it with people you care about! We all could use some encouragement to protect what is precious.
I originally heard the term “guardrails” from my own pastor, Bruce Frank of Biltmore Church. I honestly didn’t know about Andy Stanley’s book or sermon series prior to researching for this post, but his book Guardrails looks like a great resource if you want to know more about this topic.