When my children were very young, we actually had a Dutch door that opened from our eat-in kitchen to the outdoors. I loved it. In nice weather, I could close the bottom to keep the kids in (or out!) and open the top to let in the light and fresh air. But when the weather was too hot or too cold, I latched the two parts of the door together, and kept it shut. When it got blizzardy outdoors, and the harsh north wind blew, and the steps iced up, I might stop using that door altogether.
I still have an image in my mind of a first generation plugged-in multi-tasker, leaning out the top of that door. My friend, Brenda, was wallpapering my kitchen one February and stopped for a break to call another friend, Audrey. I can still envision Brenda, leaning out the top of the door, smoking a cigarette, with the phone cord stretched all the way across the room while she chatted with Audrey. That was years ago; long before the days of cell phones.
So I'm working with this idea of a Dutch door in my relationships with my adult children, who range in age from twenty-seven to thirty-six. Of course, they're at the ages now where they enjoy telling me all the stuff they got away with in high school. Evidently, I was a pretty good parent until 9:00 p.m. They have a lot more fun with this than I do!
Over time, we've negotiated the boundaries in our relationships, and come to terms with our separateness as well as our togetherness. By now, we seem to have established a balance that works. It hasn't been a smooth or easy process.
For the past few weeks, I've been praying with this photograph (the Dutch door you see above), through the spiritual practice of visio divina, a method of praying with art or other media. One thing I've noticed is that, from the vantage point of someone outside the door, I am unable to see in. Which leads me to ponder what is on the inside, or what I want on the inside. That's an important step, since it's what's on the inside that concerns me, personally. Hey, is anybody home? What's going on in there? Do you like it in there? Is it a place where you enjoy spending time? Do you have what you want and need?
Also, the boundary is clear between what lies inside and what lies outside that door. I have the sense that, while the top is slightly ajar, the purpose is for the person who resides on the inside. The open top half of the door is not designed to give another person full access. So it becomes not about what of my own life I share with someone else or allow them to see, but about how much of another person's life (my adult child's, for example) I will allow in. How much will I allow in to impact my sense of self, my sense of well-being, my priorities? In a way, it turns some of my ideas about boundaries upside down.
A further aspect of this for me has to do with the bottom portion of the door. The part that stays securely in place. The part that keeps me in. When that remains intact, I do not have to follow my own inner compulsion to "help" by fixing, solving, or attempting to alter circumstances. I experience more inner freedom, something we each must have. (As someone astutely pointed out, I do not have to go to every battle I'm invited to.)
When I exercise my own inner freedom, I open the top portion of the door at will--as widely or narrowly as I want--and from that space I can still make myself available to love and to serve others.