Isaiah 54 is the Lord's Sonnet to Israel, but as with most Old Testament writings, there are applications for God's modern Lady, the Church, and personal applications for individual believers.
and Exits to Your Life
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of sparkling jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
Imagine an entire city made of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and turquoise. How beautiful would that be? God wants to rebuild each one of us so we are that beautiful. Can you see it? Strong. Majestic. Magnificent even. This is not an outward beauty, but an inward beauty that can be seen from the outside, the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:3 – 5)
What makes a gentle and quiet spirit? This is not the spirit of a victim in denial. This is not a codependent who sweeps everything under the rug. This is not a subtle manipulator living in a perceived world of lack who sees everyone as competition for the last crumb of love, acceptance, or affirmation.
No. A gentle and quiet spirit comes from a place of power, protection, and provision.
We know God is for us, so who can be against us? (Romans 8:31-32)
We know our God is a strong tower, and the righteous run to it and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
We know He will meet all our needs according to the riches of his glory. (Philippians 4:19)
So we don’t have to clamor and clobber to get what we need, and we don’t have to suffer in silence while others take what we have and use and abuse us. We are beautiful because we are strong and there is no sense of lack in our inner being. This inner beauty makes us very attractive to unbelievers who might be seeking answers to their own emptiness.
Battlements of Rubies
Battlements are those notches around the top of a castle or city wall where soldiers can stand protected while they fire their weapons to fend off intruders. Rubies are not only beautiful but strong and very valuable. If our battlements that protect us are that valuable, it only stands to reason the one they are protecting is much more valuable. God is building us with outward protection because our inner person is worth far more than rubies! (Proverbs 31:10-31)
Gates have two major functions. They allow things in and they let things out. The gates of a city open in the morning to allow vendors to bring in supplies and food. They carry on their trading and leave with the supplies and goods they traded for. This is a good deal. Everybody wins. When you have healthy gates in your life, you open yourself to interactions from others. You exchange ideas and stories, validate one another’s experiences, laugh together, and cry together. This healthy interchange makes both people richer.
As a normal by product of the city’s daily business, trash, rubbish, and waste will accumulate throughout the day. At the end of the day, the gates serve the function of allowing the bad stuff to be carried out so that the city is not contaminated. Even in healthy relationships, there will be misunderstandings and hurt feelings. A healthy person is able to forgive and ask forgiveness quickly, so things don’t build up and contaminate the relationship.
At night, the gates close to keep out robbers and enemies. Gates that do not function properly may fail to allow good things in, and fail to allow the bad things out. They may open at night, and close in the morning. People may offload their damaged emotions on to you, and you may not have a way to drain them off, because your gates do not function properly.
Jesus alone can repair those gates. If you feel poisoned by a person or persons in your life, you may need to separate yourself. Find safe people and stay close to them while Jesus repairs your gates. A safe person manages their own emotions and doesn’t try to manage yours. They will accept you as you are and give you space to grow. They will model healthy boundaries for you.
Spend time in prayer and meditation, asking God to reveal to you ways you have been contaminated and kept empty by faulty gates, and journal about what you are learning. Ask God to show you how to fill up with good things and “take out the trash.” You may even feel physically ill. While you are working on this, remember to eat well, rest, and exercise to get rid of all the toxins that have been building up in your body.
He will make our gates of sparkling jewels and our walls of precious stones. Walls are the God-given boundaries that protect us. Some of us, many of us, have experienced a breakdown of those walls through the storms we have endured in our lives. They could have suffered sudden trauma that left gaping holes, or slow, steady erosion from years of abuse or neglect. The family pretends to the world that they are normal, healthy, and happy while unspeakable travesties await the children behind closed doors. These secrets teach the children that the family’s lie is more important and more valuable than the child’s heart, than the child’s truth. The child learns that they are expendable. They believe they have no value, and they do not learn to self-protect.
This inability to protect oneself is equivalent to a broken wall or lack of boundaries. Broken walls don’t just grow back. They don’t heal with time. They need the Lord to rebuild them by re-parenting the child within. We need to be re-taught that we are precious and valuable and worth protecting. We need to learn how and when to say no, to set limits, and to recognize where we end and the other person begins. When we cannot recognize and maintain healthy boundaries, we will be victims of other people’s emotions, opinions, and selfish motives.
When we don’t have proper boundaries, other people don’t know when to back off. They may ask you to run errands for them, babysit for free, listen to them complain for hours, work overtime, pay for their lunch, put up with angry outbursts, and so on. Spouses may expect you to tolerate abuse and infidelity. Your children may expect you to be their ever available chauffer, money dispenser, and 24 hour chef.
You can say that people should be more considerate and should know better than to take advantage of you. However, if you look at it from their perspective, imagine that you came across a beautiful park, with grass, trees, flowers, and a picnic table. You decide to go sit at the table and eat your lunch and relax in the sun. While you are sitting there eating, someone walks up to you and asks you why you decided to make yourself at home in their yard. You are shocked and embarrassed. There is no house in view, no gate, no fence, and no sign. You had no idea this was someone’s private property because it looked like a public park. Perhaps you are like that person’s yard. Perhaps this is how you look to other people. They see no outward indication that any part of you is off limits to them, so they make themselves at home in your personal, mental, emotional, and spiritual space.
The task of learning boundaries develops naturally during childhood when children are raised in a healthy home, but boundaries are very difficult to understand for those whose development was interrupted by abuse and trauma. When we first begin to learn boundaries as adults, it may seem like hit and miss. We might say no too often and alienate family and friends unnecessarily. Then, we might over correct by saying yes too often. People with poor boundaries often have trouble identifying their own wants, needs, and feelings as opposed to what they think others want or need from them. This can make the world a confusing place. Through prayer, meditation, journaling, and fellowship with healthy people, we can begin to learn boundaries and gain confidence in where those boundaries lie for us.
How well do you know yourself? Do you know what you really want? Do you know how to decide between what is good and what is best? Do you know how much of your story to tell and how much to hold back? Are you able to name your feelings and manage them on your own, or do you feel the need to often seek support and validation? Do you let other people’s problem emotions become your problem? Do you make your problem emotions someone else’s problem by acting out?
If you struggle in any of these areas it is not your fault. Your brain did not develop the common nerve pathways that would naturally place those boundaries in your everyday behavior without you even having to think about it.
I explain it like this: An adult trying to learn boundaries is like waking up one day and being told that your body will no longer carry out its automatic functions like breathing, your heart beating, pumping blood through your body, your food digesting and being distributed, and all your organs and glands functioning. You now have to use your own conscious effort to ensure all these functions continue working every minute of every day. This is how overwhelming it is for an adult to try to learn boundaries if they were not formed through natural development during childhood.
Perhaps it is now a little easier to see how a person whose boundaries were violated as a child becomes an “afflicted city lashed by storms and not comforted.” But God says He will rebuild us and make our walls of precious stones. Imagine how beautiful that would be! Instead of us stomping our feet, clenching our fists, and shouting “NO!” at the top of our lungs, He will teach us to graciously and beautifully reflect our limits and expectations to others. They will see our strength and dignity so that they admire and respect us too much to violate our boundaries.
Questions for Reflection or Group Discussion
Can you think of some examples of times when others have crossed your boundaries?
Can you think of some examples of times when you have crossed the boundaries of others?
Do you sometimes feel responsible for the emotions or actions of others?
Do you sometimes blame others for your emotions or choices?
My walls and gates have been broken down. I know this is not my fault. I now surrender these broken walls and faulty gates to you, for you alone are able to rebuild them as they were intended to be. Teach me to know what belongs within my borders, and what does not. Help me to recognize where my thoughts, feelings, and actions begin and end, and help me connect to others from a place of safety and protection. Help me to take responsibility only for what is mine and refrain from trying to manage or control the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others. Lord, I give you permission to restructure my inner life and my relationships with others so that they look like the beautiful city surrounded by precious stones and sparkling jewels.
Sit in a comfortable place with no distractions. Shift your body so it is well supported. Gently close your eyes and focus on your breath, breathing in slowly and deeply and allowing your muscles to relax as you exhale slowly and fully. Take a few more deep breaths as you become more relaxed and focused.
Imagine yourself as a strong, beautiful, perfectly built city. Take a walk through the streets of this city. Notice the bustle of people in the market place, making purchases and trading social pleasantries. Children play happily nearby as their parents conduct their business. Everything is in order. Now as you continue walking, you notice the streets becoming rough and narrow. There are ruts and holes in the pavement and the buildings are worn and shoddy. You see some people huddled on the sidewalk, cold and alone. Children are poorly dressed and searching for food. As you come to the city’s edge, you see its walls are broken. Perhaps some wild dogs come in and steal food from the people who are unprotected. Just stand her for a few moments and notice how it feels to be here in this broken place. See if it reminds you of any part of your life. Know that this is the area of your life Jesus came to redeem. As you stand here gazing toward the break in the wall, see your Redeemer coming, just like Nehemiah did to rebuild Jerusalem. He calls the people to attention. Even the children can help. He gives everyone a job to do, but he is the leader, and he takes responsibility for every part of the job and for the finished product. Watch, as all the people take heart. They stand up straight, with strength and dignity they smile as they pick up whatever tool they are given and march forward with courage. The walls are rebuilt, the gates are set in place, and the buildings are restored. Just allow this process to unfold and come back her often as a symbol of presenting your life to the Lord and allowing him to restore every part of you.
And now, take a couple of deep breaths, wriggle your hands and feet, let out a big, big, sigh, and when you are ready you can open your eyes.
Read the book Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Read the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.