About a year and a half ago, I learned my first lesson in hedges. Part of the nature of my job at that time was to frequently meet one-on-one with people. I didn't have an office, so many of my meetings took place in restaurants or coffee shops. Most of my meetings starting out were completely harmless, but one in particular meeting gave me a wake up call...
This particular time, the man I met with said he had to do breakfast at a specific place. I naively went, not thinking twice about the bad situation I had inadvertantly put myself in. He was young, single, and on the prowl. I was married, taken, and not interested. We were at the restaurant for over two hours, and he really had very little interest in what I had to say about our company. He was much more interested in what I was doing that weekend. He kept putting off ordering food so that I'd have to stay, and I was scared that if I got up and left, I would give my company a bad name. So I sat, squirming, the whole time, listening to pick up line after pick up line, crude comment after crude comment, excusing myself to the bathroom twice just so I could compose myself.
Worst. idea. ever.
Needless to say, I felt violated and ashamed after that meeting. I thought to myself, How could I have prevented this from happening?
Answer: I could have built hedges.
When Dan and I got engaged, I was living with who are now some of my favorite people in the entire world, Bobby and Skeeter (check out their greeting card company here). They imparted lots of little nuggets of wisdom during my time in VA, but one of the nuggets that sticks with me to this day is the importance of hedges, or barriers with friends and acquaintances of the opposite sex, in your marriage. Now that I have over a year of marriage and a bit more "life experience" under my belt, I see how important these hedges truly are. So important, in fact, that I've decided to do a short series on hedges which I'm entitling Hedges: Building Barriers to Protect Your Marriage.
Before I get into the hedges that I've put up in my own marriage, let's take a quick look at what God has to say about protecting our marriages...
"So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
"An excellent wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life."
"Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well...
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe...
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray."
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
God wants us to protect our marriages. He wants us to protect them so that no man (or woman) will be able to separate what he has joined together as one. He wants us to protect them so that we trust our spouses and do them good and not harm. He wants us to protect them so that we won't be ensnared by our iniquities, but so that we'll instead rejoice in the love of our husband or wife. He wants us to protect them because, in doing so, we also protect the beautiful picture of the marriage between Christ and his church and give glory to him in the process.
Now here comes my disclaimer...
While I think that all Christian married couples should work to protect their marriages based on these passages and others, not every couple will go about it in the same way. The "hedges" that Dan and I have set up are good for us. They may not be good for you, and that's okay. The hedges you and your spouse put up are between you and God. Period. No judgment here:)
Now back to my story and installment #1 of my Hedges series...
After my meeting, I called my friend and mentor, Miss Lisa (who works in sales and totally understood what I had just dealt with), and she asked me what sort of boundaries I had set up.
Boundaries? I thought. I don't have any of those...
She had some great tips for me that I've since used to help build my hedges at work.
1. Try to avoid meal time meetings if you can. Coffee meetings are always best. But if for some reason you do have to meet for a meal, make sure it's breakfast or lunch. You choose the place. If you're doing a meal, make sure it's a place where you order and then sit (Panera, Corner Bakery, Chipotle, etc). That way, you get the ordering out of the way and you don't have to worry about splitting (or not splitting) the check.
2. Two's company, three's a crowd. If possible, invite another coworker or guest so you DO have a third wheel.
3. You choose the place, and you set the time. Don't just set a start time, set an end time, too. You should be able to accomplish what you need to accomplish in one hour, tops.
4. The minute the meeting takes a turn for the inappropriate, nip it in the bud. Simply say, "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm married, and that sort of talk is not appropriate. I'll have to ask you to stop, or I'll need to end our meeting." If he agrees, continue on. But the second he says something else inappropriate, get up and leave. Be proactive and let your higher up know what happened immediately after your meeting.
Honestly, I work in a field with A LOT of men, and I can't remember ever having another problem after that day. I've learned to be up front with my hedges, and I think most men respect that. There have been times when I've outright asked if someone else can join us for a lunch meeting, and I've never been turned down. In fact, it's usually appreciated. And when I've said, "I have a policy to really try to do coffee with people of the opposite sex instead of sit-down meals," they're usually pretty accomodating.
But there's more to work than just meetings, so since then, I've added a few more hedges to my list...
5. Convey my love and respect for my husband to the people I work with on a regular basis. I am very careful NEVER to speak ill of my husband while I'm working (or ever for that matter!). Not that he doesn't have his faults, but I am called to respect him, and by respecting him (in and out of the home), I am able to be a witness to those I work with.
6. Involve my husband in my work world when feasible. When I go to an event or fundraiser, Dan is often my arm candy:) When people see the husband you always talk about, I think it makes them all the more likely to respect your marriage....especially when your husband happens to be 6'8:) Plus, I think it reminds people that you really do have a life outside of work!
7. Don't give out my cell phone number or personal email address. My direct boss and a few other "higher ups" have them for emergencies, but that's it. Work is work, personal is personal. For me, there's no need to mix the two.
8. Guard my heart. This is a biggie. What does it mean to guard my heart? First of all, I don't flirt. Like I said, I work with a lot of men day in and day out. And, well, boys will be boys. If ever a conversation takes a turn in that direction, I either dismiss myself from the conversation OR invite my husband in on the conversation. "Ha...funny you should mention that. My husband was just saying..." That's usually a pretty big hint.
I also try to limit my non-professional conversations to surface level chatter. I'll talk about my weekend or a movie that I just saw, but I try not to talk about personal issues with male colleagues. For example, unless they're reading this blog, most of the men I work with would have no idea that my parents recently divorced and that I've had a tough year emotionally because of it. Proverbs 4:23 says to "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." I strive to guard my heart so I am not even tempted down a dangerous path. I don't cry to another man because I have my husband's shoulder to cry on.
9. Dress and act appropriately. If there's even a question of whether something is too revealing, it has to go through the "hubby check." I try to look feminine and classy when I go to functions. No need to be sexy for a political dinner...even when Mitt Romney is your speaker;)
I'm also very cautious of my physical actions. At events, I do firm handshakes, side hugs and the occasional air/cheek kiss (you know, the obnoxious snobby one that you see in the movies...politicians love those). I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression, even if it is just an impression.
10. Be transparent. Most importantly, I practice transparency with my husband. If anything doesn't feel right, he's the first to know about it, and that works for us.
Proverbs 5 says, "The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin." Unfortunately, we are a wicked, fallen people who need hedges in our lives to protect us from the snares of our iniquities. As earthly brides and grooms, we must put up hedges to protect ourselves from our flesh. But you know what's beautiful? Hebrews says that "the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shephed of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenenat" will "equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever." As Christians, he has given us his Holy Spirit and equipped us with everything good that we need to do his will. And on top of that, while we may stumble at times, he won't. He will always cherish us, protect us, and love us with a love beyond perfection. Praise be to God.
Stay tuned for installment #2 ... Friend Hedges.