Mending fences - something we don't do much anymore because we live in gated communities complete with their tall brick or block walls. For most of us with "fences" in our yards, they are erected more for a sense of privacy than as a functional "tool" to assist us with our herds, flocks, or the like. As I ventured through the back country of Tennessee this last week, something caught my attention about those folks who had fences. They actually served the purpose of keeping something in and also keeping something out! The cattle were out to pasture, but within confines. The horses could run the paddock, but within confines. This is what fences do, isn't it - they confine something. Two things occur - the living things inside remain safely in the protective barrier, receiving the care they need, and the things which do not belong stay on the outside of those fences. Broken down fences don't provide for protection, nor do they provide for care.
In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. (Ephesians 4:1-3 MSG)
Paul is writing to the Ephesian church and comes to a place of explaining a little about how they should be treating both their own spiritual walk and their relationships with each other. In this letter, Paul does a great deal to lay out the importance of being "built up" in the faith, and the critical nature of keeping unity in the process - not allowing differences to keep them apart, or to drive a wedge in their relationships. This is good stuff! What we don't recognize sometimes about fences is their protective benefits! Keeping us "INSIDE" the barriers allows us to focus on each other, taking care of each other's needs, and then ensures us access to the stuff we need to grow strong and healthy.
As I observed the cows in the pasture, safe within the fenced green meadow, I observed them doing some things you don't get to see too often when you are a city girl. I observed them caring for the young. The little ones were able to frolic freely, but they were under the observant eyes of the "moms" in the pasture. This is probably quite an important process in their development because the ability to learn comes in exploration - but it is under watchful eyes! I think we might do well to take note of this "practice" as we consider how it is we best grow. We are given a little space, still safe within the confines of the fence, but also under the watchful eyes of loving and caring authority. All momma cow had to do was let out a little "moo" and the calves came immediately to her side. Good reminder for us - even within the boundaries there are times when we need to heed the warnings of those God places there alongside.
Back to those fences - they are as varied as can be as you move from one farm to another. Some used barbed wire and fence posts, others the traditional split-rail fencing, and still others the more modern and painted wooden rail fencing. Most were natural in color, some painted bright white, gleaming brightly against the lush green of the meadows. The more "natural" ones, like the split rail or the barbed wire, blended into the environment and were not as "prominent" in your field of view. The brightly painted ones let you know without question what the boundaries were, whereas the barbed wire might actually give me a little prick before I realized how close I was to it.
You know, if we think about it, there are different fences at different times in our lives, aren't there? Sometimes the fences are easily recognized, at others they are cleverly concealed in the landscape around us. Either way, the serve the same purpose. Now, what does all this have to do with Paul's letter to the Ephesians (or to us)? Paul gives three words of "commission" to the members of the church: 1) Get up and get moving; 2) Meet each other's needs; and 3) Be attentive to the "broken" places in your relationships. Most of the relationships we have been given are like "fencing" material in our lives. The good ones help to build a wall of protection - giving us a safe-zone to be ourselves within the confines of the safety of those relationships. The broken-down ones afford opportunity for us to look elsewhere for our protection and security, but wandering may present some unnecessary obstacles to our safety!
Get up and get moving - the first commission. Even the cows within the pasture fence moved - they had places to be and other cows to see. There were fresh clover patches to explore and wildflowers galore. They'd miss it all if they just looked at the fence and said, "What's the use?" To put it mildly, there are some of us who tend to see a fence as confining, so we don't even explore what is "within" the fence! Don't get me wrong - the fence is not the problem - it is the way we view the fence that is the problem! Move where you are - begin to see the possibilities of where you are at this moment. The fenced in area of your life is really filled with potential, but you must get up and move if you are to explore the vastness of its "confines".
Meet each other's needs - the second commission. As the cows began to nudge each other along, they tended to go toward the same general area of the pasture. Huge, wide open spaces awaited them at the beginning of each day, but someone took the lead. The others followed, because they trusted the lead. I think we all need to be leaders at times. It wasn't that calves who did the leading, though. So, this speaks to us of the mature helping those less mature to make the right choices in life. I think this is paramount to our safe growth as a family of believers. Indeed, as the day went on, the ones who took the first steps to move the herd along may have changed a little. It really doesn't matter who takes us to the green fields of clover or the pools of refreshing water at the end of the hot day. It matters that we lead when called to lead, follow when it is clear we are to follow, and to remember we are to look out for each other.
Being attentive to the broken-down places in our lives is a little trickier. Paul calls us for to be alert at noticing difference and then setting out quickly to mend the fences. I think this brings us to the important point of constantly monitoring the condition of our relationships. Broken-down fences need mending - and quickly. If you are a rancher, you probably understand this better than I do, but it appeared to me those farmers are attentive to their fence-lines! Not so much to make the property look nice, but to ensure those under their watchful eye were cared for well. The fences were mended quickly. We'd do well to consider the times when we observe the fragility of our "fences" in relationships and then focus on "building up" those fragile places so the work of "mending the fence" doesn't grow into some insurmountable project! Just sayin!