A Fence

There’s a poem by Robert Frost called ‘Mending Walls’ about rebuilding a wall that is between his and his neighbour’s property. In it is the classic line, repeated twice, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’. I remember studying Frost for my English Lit exam and loving Frost. His turn of phrase and ideas delight me still. The poem is about his consideration of whether walls are actually useful everywhere, if there aren’t places where perhaps they could do away with them. His neighbour isn’t interested in changing the way things are. His dad did it so he will. I am sure you know people like that, people who are set in their ways and unwilling to consider a different way.

That’s not what I am aiming at today directly, although being set in our ways probably comes into it. I am thinking about why the walls went up in the first place: at the fences built by taking offence. That’s what we do isn’t it? Someone upsets me so I build a little wall around myself so they can’t do it again. Then another offends me so either I build that first fence higher, reinforce it a bit or I build a fresh fence around it. Eventually, because I am going to meet people who annoy or offend or make me mad, I become surrounded by thick, sharp, high walls made of whatever material I think is best suited to keeping me safe. And that’s the point I think – I want to be safe. Safe from hurt feelings, safe from becoming angry, safe from being rejected, safe from being told I’m wrong (when I know I am right) just safe, comfortable, secure.

And maybe I am safe but I’m also isolated. I might be safe but I’m also nursing bitterness and unforgiveness. I might be safe but am I where God wants us? I was thinking about this and had the image of a caterpillar wrapping itself in a cocoon, to be safe and undergo the metamorphosis, the change that will make it into a butterfly. But too often the wrapping up of myself that I do becomes a shroud, it just makes me ready to be buried.

There’re two sides to this – times when I am rightfully offended and times when it’s my pride. My reaction to either has to be the same. First I turn to God.

The Eternal is my rock, my fortress, and my salvation;
    He is my True God, the stronghold in which I hide,
    my strong shield, the horn that calls forth help, and my tall-walled tower.

Psalm 18:2

 I don’t need to build a wall around myself He is that wall, I can trust Him to protect and preserve and do all necessary to keep me safe. Not necessarily the physical me because I see around me people who trust God and are tortured, persecuted or killed. But He will always preserve the spiritual, the real me, the part of me that will last for eternity. As for my next reaction, once I am secure in Him I can forgive, I can love, I can look beyond my hurt to see theirs, to see more clearly the situation. Then I can pray into it, minister His love into it. I can be like Jesus.

But on this humbled ground, a tiny shoot, hopeful and promising,
    will sprout from Jesse’s stump;
A branch will emerge from his roots to bear fruit.
And on this child from David’s line, the Spirit of the Eternal One will alight and rest.
By the Spirit of wisdom and discernment
    He will shine like the dew.
By the Spirit of counsel and strength
    He will judge fairly and act courageously.
By the Spirit of knowledge and reverence of the Eternal One,
    He will take pleasure in honoring the Eternal.
He will determine fairness and equity;
    He will consider more than what meets the eye,
And weigh in more than what he’s told.

So that even those who can’t afford a good defense
    will nevertheless get a fair and equitable judgment.
With just a word, He will end wickedness and abolish oppression.
    With nothing more than the breath of His mouth, He will destroy evil.
He will clothe himself with righteousness and truth;
    the impulse to right wrongs will be in his blood.

Isaiah 11:1-5

It was verse 5 specifically I was looking at but I had to quote the whole thing because it is so beautiful. But clothed in righteousness and truth – isn’t that better than surrounded by barbed wire and broken glass? Impulsive to right wrongs (with God’s truth not my self-righteous arrogance) rather than impulsive to become angry.

I am with Frost: there is a place for fences, for walls – they do an awesome job of holding the house up or keeping the garden soil in place; but in my life, separating me from my friends, family, people in church, from other people? Nope siree bob.

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