September 30, 2015


Let me be the first to admit it: fences can be useful.

Two decades ago, while traveling in Etosha National Park in Namibia, we were very grateful for a huge fence. In fact, in a reversal of fortunes, people stayed enclosed behind fences at night while the wild game roamed the desert landscape freely. We heard lions roar close by, yet we slept snugly in our sleeping bags, secure in the knowledge that a robust chain-link fence stood between a hungry lion or irate elephant and us.

But fences can also be disturbing and painful.

While growing up in West Germany, my family and I visited our relatives in East Germany a few times. The elaborately secured border region between the two Germanys was full of fences—some visible, some invisible and often more dangerous (think landmines). The hours spent waiting for unfriendly East German border guards and the sense of being in no-man’s land and utterly defenseless was burned in my mind forever.

“Fear is the highest fence”
—Dudley Nichols

I still remember the utter shock and disbelief I felt when I saw TV images of the Berlin wall coming down. People climbing on fences and cement walls and pushing together to pull down concrete blocks or chain-link fences topped with barbed wire will be associated with 1989 forever.

Unfortunately, fences are a sad reality in our lives. More often than not, however, these barriers begin their existence in our own hearts and minds. The abusive parent is building a fence in the mind of the abused child that excludes self-worth, love, and acceptance. The thoughtless comment of a teacher may live on for decades in the heart of an insecure student and may lead to an invisible fence. The overly focused young adult may feel driven to work even harder in order to reach the elusive goal of better, farther, bigger, and more in a world that puts enormous value on doing rather than being.

Most fences that originate in our hearts begin in small and seemingly insignificant ways: A misunderstood response; an assumed position on an issue; a forgotten greeting while walking by absentmindedly; a rash remark. They grow in height and dangerous effectiveness the longer we surrender to their separating power. The rash remark becomes the center of our thoughts before we fall asleep at night; the forgotten greeting gets parsed from A to Z; the assumed position on an issue—mostly contrasting our own thinking—is taken apart piece by piece and counterarguments get proposed. All this happens unbeknownst to others—and, suddenly, the fence is so high that we cannot see the other person anymore.

Jesus’ take on fences in our hearts and minds is unequivocal. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The specific context of this powerful statement involved a discussion between Jewish leadership and the Messiah from Nazareth. They couldn’t handle His claims; they didn’t like Him and His statements made them cringe. Most of these leaders had built a Berlin wall in their hearts between themselves and the Savior of the world. He simply could not get through—yet He tried again and again, because He wants to set us free. Let’s allow Jesus to tear down the invisible fences separating us today.

The fences between believers—and between believers and the Lord—are many, complex, and longstanding. But now would be a good time—no, an excellent time—to allow Jesus to take down the divides that fear and suspicion have built.

Right now, we need a season of trust and reconciliation to remove these obstructions—before they become a Wall.