Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Stepping on toes causes much of our stress. Lacking clear vision of the other’s space, one steps into it, doing damage. Sometimes the blindness reflects ignorance about the needs of the other. Sometimes it reflects tunnel vision for one’s own agenda that obscures peripheral vision of boundaries. Sometimes it reflects such a sense of entitlement that one steps on the other’s toes willingly and knowingly.
Yet, often enough, the victim lacks vision too. Many grew up in homes where others stepped on their toes so routinely that they never learned that they possess personal boundaries. Others see boundaries but not their right to defend them, usually deeming themselves too unworthy. Still others see themselves as prisoners who they have no choice but to endure their wardens’ daily stomping.
As a therapist, I often find myself gently guiding people to a fresh vantage point from which to view their interactions. From there I shine a light on the boundary. Then I hold up a mirror, point to their dignity, freedom, and rights and help them develop the nerve and skill to stand up for themselves.
Well and good. But what about the following words of Jesus?
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again (Luke 6:27-30).
Is this a call for retreat to boundary-free living and disrespect for ourselves? No. In each of these hyperbolic maxims, Jesus entreats you to take initiative, not to acquiesce passively to boundary violations. Turning the other cheek, giving more than the coat off your back, and waiving your property rights serve notice that you are on a mission. Your stuff and status over others do not preoccupy you. Rather, you focus single-mindedly on preparing a broken world for the advent of a kingdom where status and stuff do not matter because everyone has more esteem and treasure than anyone needs.
Then Jesus introduces the Golden Rule:
“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
That entails not only respecting the rights of others but respecting your own. Do you want others to let you walk all over them, secretly hating you and themselves and showing at best a phony respect and kindness for you? Of course not. Then for love of your neighbors, respect yourself and assert your boundaries, giving others an opportunity to know the authentic you, full of dignity and worth.
Stand up for your rights as you would have others stand up for theirs. Stand up for what you stand for: Mercy that will not relent until all are true to themselves and to others in a community of love.