Good Fences

When I was young, I remember someone telling me that good fences make good neighbours. I didn’t really get it at the time as I thought that people should just be able to get along and do their thing.

When we got married, we lived in a low income neighbourhood, where the man next door thought that his role as my neighbour was to threaten me for looking at his son in our driveway. He actually came to the door and shook his fist at me! In our next (rental) home, our neighbours yelled and fought and told their teenage daughter that she couldn’t live with her boyfriend in the house, so the young couple pitched a tent in our shared backyard. My under 12s had lots of questions that summer.

Thirteen years after getting married, we were finally able to buy our own home and guess what! It came with fences on two sides. We got along great with the neighbours on both sides. The neighbours on the open side took to throwing their garbage over the property line into the woods at the back of our yard. Their dog jumped into our pool and joined us for BBQs. Needless to say, we have had several moments of frustration with those neighbours.

The thing about fences is that they set healthy and respectful boundaries. We actually have a gate in one of the fences so we have easy access for socialization with those neighbours and we always enjoy each other but it is totally acceptable for the gate to be closed.

After my surgery last winter, I had to rest for a couple of months. Even now, two months later, I am still tired and catch myself trying to do things that are beyond what I am able to do. I have a lot of trouble saying no, and so my husband and daughters have been building fences (setting boundaries) for me. Instead of carry all 16 grocery bags in at once, I need to ask for help. Instead of working until I am in tears and cannot stand any longer, I need to rest and take breaks. Everything is taking longer, including the time it takes me to become angry and resentful. When I try to do it all on my own, it is just too much. When I allow others to determine my worth by how much I do for their agenda, it is too much. When I search for my value in my accomplishments instead of at the foot of the cross, it is not only too much to expect from me, but it is also foolish.

Have you ever sat down at your computer and tried to use a program only to discover that it isn’t working properly? It happened to me this morning, and the only thing that worked to fix the problem was to shut it down and restart the computer. That’s something that good boundaries do; they help you to not have so many tabs open that bit by bit they all begin to shut down and nothing works as it is supposed to.

I heard a song for the first time this morning, called, Dream Small, by Josh Wilson. The refrain reads, “Dream Small, don’t buy the lie that you’ve got to do it all – just let Jesus use you where you are”.

Post my surgery, one of the best fences that has been established in my life is the one that gives me the freedom to grow in Christ without trying to be all kinds of things that I was not created to be.

Looking back on the parable of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), Jesus told Martha that she was worried about too many things and that Mary was the example as she made her priority sitting at Jesus’ feet. I don’t believe that means that Mary didn’t do anything, but rather, she waited on the leading of the Lord and was willing to rest in Him rather than glorifying being busy and trying to find her value in works instead of in Jesus.

Luke 10:27

And He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.”

The world tells us that busy is what makes us important, but understanding that it is God’s will for me to love and serve Him with my whole heart means that I am not striving to look like the world and I am able to say no to the things that would draw me away from my relationship with Him and that would hinder me from living with a Christ-like attitude.

Romans 12:2

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

There are fences along the sides of the highway to keep people safe from the danger of going over into an area that could hurt them. There are fences around swimming pools to protect people from the danger of participating in something without proper guidance or supervision. There are walls around our homes, to protect us from the elements and people who would steal from us.

As a society, we view all of these fences as positive. Why then, do we struggle so much with setting fences (boundaries) on our time and energy?

A boundary is a dividing line and it is a tool facilitating control. Throughout Scripture, we see God setting property boundaries (Deuteronomy 19:14-16) and relationship boundaries (2 Corinthians 6:14 – do not yoke light with darkness). The Bible tells us to set boundaries with the things of the world (James 4:4) and boundaries protect us from things that would separate us from God (Genesis 2:16-3:7).

God tells us time and again that boundaries are for our good. For me, it took major surgery for me to truly take to heart that healthy boundaries actually allow me to do more better, because I am being obedient instead of just busy.

1 Samuel 15:22-24

Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

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