The first time I saw the state of Idaho was in 1975. I went with my fiancé to meet my future in-laws. I was awestruck by its natural beauty. Beyond that beauty, there was one thing that really stuck out: there were no fences. Everywhere I looked, one yard ran into another—without barriers. No fences were necessary because neighbors took care of each other. They didn’t want to keep themselves separate; they wanted to enjoy each other’s company. Fences would have impeded that.
During our 43 and a half years of marriage, we’ve made an annual trip to Idaho to see loved ones. Our youngest daughter and her husband live there now, so we continue the trek. There are fences now. Little by little through the years, fences appeared. I remember one particular fence that went up with a gate between two yards so that the children had easy access to their friends.
Idaho is still beautiful and, frankly, one of my favorite places. It isn’t quite the same as it was when I first saw it, though. I miss the wide, open spaces right in the middle of the towns. I miss the feeling of togetherness and community. Some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, I met in Idaho. Now that there are fences, however, that sense of neighborhood community isn’t quite the same.
Why do we put up fences? We tell ourselves it is because we like our privacy. We like to keep our personal property safe and secure. We want to protect our children. There are lots of reasons we put up fences.
There are other fences we build. We build imaginary fences around ourselves—you know, to protect our self-esteem. We build fences to protect us from having to confide in our neighbors. Some fences keep us from being compared to others. Some help us to be alone in our misery. Other fences protect us from having to explain our quirkiness or to be scrutinized by others.
Fences can be a good thing when we need a private moment. Too many fences, though, can stifle a sense of community, keep us in the dark, and prevent us from living up to our full potential. Fences are built to keep people out. How can we develop relationships and love for others through a fence? How can missionary work progress through a fence? How can we spiritually progress without the help of others? How can we minister?
If it seems impossible to rip out your fence, consider cutting down a portion and building an unlocked gate. That will allow you to keep a portion of your privacy and still be accessible to others. That’s the first step. The next step is to voluntarily walk through the gate on a regular basis and meet those on the other side. Learn to love your neighbor, one day at a time. Baby steps. We are all progressing by baby steps—and that’s okay as long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other. We will eventually get there.
Ponder about the fences in your life and how you can remove them. Pray about it. Be humble. Let Heavenly Father work through you to achieve His purposes. It’s all voluntary. He will not force you to do it. That is not His nature. You must be willing to break down the fence on your own.
Those of us who are introverts have trouble ripping out our fences. I’ve found that with every board ripped from my personal fence comes a blessing. Isn’t that the way it always works? As we progress spiritually, there are always unexpected blessings.
I hope during this current worldwide pandemic that we are not increasing the number of our fences. The longer we are shut in, the easier it gets to be lazy in our relationships. Please take a few moments out of your day to ponder how to enrich your relationships. Do you have boards that need to be removed from your fence? Don’t anchor your personal fence in cement. Whatever fences you own, make them easy to dismantle. As you remove each board, let it stand as a testimony of your willingness to love and serve others.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.