We’ve all seen guardrails on the shoulder of the highway. They exist to block our cars from straying into dangerous terrain. Most days, we don’t even notice them.
But if you hit a slippery patch of road or have to drive a treacherous mountain pass, you’re sure glad those guardrails are there. Yes, hitting one will do some damage—a busted fender or a dented door. But without the guardrail, the damage could be catastrophic.
Highways aren’t the only place guardrails are helpful. Personal guardrails can keep you from straying into dangers that could damage your marriage, your finances, or your career.
The most important guardrail is the one that protects your heart. If you don’t deal with what’s on the inside, it eventually makes its way to the outside. And when it does, it will not only hurt you but also the people you love most.
Let’s talk about four emotions that should ding your conscience. When you feel one of them, it should be a warning sign that it’s time to establish or reestablish some guardrails. They are:
Guilt (I owe you.)
Anger (You owe me.)
Greed (I owe me.)
Jealousy (Life owes me.)
Don’t let these emotions fester. When you feel them, take immediate action to address the internal tension.
Guilt says, “I owe you because I took something from you.” It creates distance and leads to keeping secrets. It seeps into your words and makes its way into your relationships.
Anger says, “You owe me because you took something from me. You either pay me back or I will pay you back.” The problem with anger is that it leaks. It’s never isolated to the
relationship of its origin. If you were hurt as a kid or in that last job or in that last relationship, you carry that hurt into adulthood or the next job or the next relationship.
Greed says, “I owe me.” It’s the assumption that all you have is for your consumption. When you’re greedy, the people closest to you feel like they’re competing with your stuff. When you like stuff more than you like people, it’s a problem. It should bother you.
Jealousy says, “Life owes me. Somebody else got what I deserved.” And now you don’t like that person. It’s almost impossible to be nice to them. You resent what they have because you believe it should be yours.
When you feel these emotions—and we all feel them sometimes—you have to address them right away. These four preventative heart exercises will keep you out of a ditch.
When you feel guilt, confess. And don’t just confess to God. If you feel like you owe someone because you took something from them, confess to that person. That kind of confession has the power to heal guilt. It’s a guardrail for your heart.
When you feel anger, forgive. Forgiveness is identifying what was taken from you and deciding the other person doesn’t owe you anymore. Identify what that person took from you. Be specific. Then decide to cancel the debt.
When you feel greed, give. Write some big checks (whatever “big” means to you). Give to a church. If you want to get serious, sell something precious to you and give the money away. Give as radically as you need to in order to break money’s control over you.
When you feel jealousy, celebrate. Begin by celebrating what God has given you, and then celebrate what God has given others. Congratulate your coworker on that promotion you wanted. Be happy for the nicer, bigger house your friend just bought. Celebrate your sister’s pregnancy even as you struggle with infertility. There’s a fake-it-until-you-make-it
aspect to that kind of celebration. And eventually, your celebration will become genuine.
So, let’s stop flirting with disaster. Let’s set up the protection we need. No one regrets having guardrails in place. But plenty of us look back and regret not having them.
HOW TO USE THIS STUDY
This is a five-session Bible study by Andy Stanley, updated for today’s moral, ethical and relational pressures. The subject of Guardrails couldn’t be more timely. With current news headlines about the #MeToo movement, culture wars, opioid epidemics, and more, we urgently need this challenge to stop flirting with disaster and establish some personal guardrails.