When I was a little girl, my parents would often have to go out to my grandfather’s farm and help fix fences when the cattle had pushed, leaned or otherwise broken through. Grandpa’s farm ran alongside a busy country road so it was especially dangerous for cars and cows alike if the fence was broken there. His farm also bordered another farm. His neighbor was none too pleased if Grandpa’s cattle came tromping or chomping on his crops. Keeping fences mended kept everyone happier and safer! I realize now what an important practice this was for a farm.
Interestingly when I googled ‘mending fences’ I found the description was all about mending relationships. There was no mention of any wood or barbed wire fences around a piece of property that needed repairing! However, upon researching the origins of ‘mending fences’ I found that another saying ‘good fences make good neighbors’. This is thought to be the genesis of ‘mending fences.’
Recently I attending a training about boundaries in our lives and relationships. Just like on farms, people need good fences or boundaries to be healthy and have healthy relationships. If we look to scripture we see that boundaries have been in place since the very beginning.
NRS Job 38:1-11 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements– surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
God set boundaries for creation and for people as we read in Genesis: “And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen. 2:16-17 NRS)
If we are honest, we know that we have more in common with those cows on my grandpa’s farm that we might like to think. They were always reaching outside the fence trying to grab some grass or leaves that they thought would be a more tasty morsel than the 50 acres they roamed! Just like Adam and Eve, we are tempted to go places and try things that we have been told aren’t good for us and will bring about death in one way or another.
Breaking boundaries can come in so many different ways: drifting away from good health by not caring for ourselves or eating a good diet, not exercising or getting enough sleep; straying beyond the bounds of our marriage; by not keeping a good fence on our mouths or our posts on social media and falling into the temptation to gossip, slander or say/write hurtful malicious comments; wandering from God by not reading and studying the Bible regularly, not joining in worship or not being in a small group that will encourage and help us grow in our faith; or when our work begins to crowd out our family, our friendships, our faith or our personal time. These ‘fences’ need some attention if we want to live the abundant life God offers us.
God has given us boundaries for our good health and a good life. God showed us what good boundaries looked like in Jesus. I encourage you to read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John and look for Jesus’ boundaries. You will find that he often took time away to be alone with God, time away to talk to and teach his disciples, time to eat and time to sleep even in the midst of a storm as well as spending time ministering to and teaching people about the good news that God’s Kingdom has come to earth.
You may also notice that Jesus didn’t do all the ministering: he allowed people to minister to him – Mary who poured the special perfume on him, the woman who anointed his feet with her tears, the women who followed him and cared for him and he delegated ministry to his disciples. Jesus also tried to help those who had lost their boundaries: the woman caught in adultery, Martha who was distracted by many things, and even Peter who denied Jesus when he was arrested.
I invite us each to ‘walk our fences‘ looking at the areas of our lives and see if there are places that need to be restored or mended. Jesus can help us set healthy boundaries in all areas of our lives so we can live the abundant life we are promised in him every day.