The Other Side of the Fence
As a teen, one of the authors whose work I read most avidly was Frank Peretti. His novels were revered in churches during the 1990s because they drew attention to the supernatural battles which raged all around us in the unseen spiritual realm. One scene in "Piercing the Darkness" made a lasting impression on me, and it involved a character explaining to another why God placed limitations upon his people... it was about the need for a fence to keep us safe inside our yard. It was a metaphor I never forgot because it felt so comforting at the time - but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and considering what the fence means to me now.
The main thing the fence has come to symbolise is all the fear I used to feel. I was so afraid of the other side of the fence with all the evils and dangers which lurked beyond it that I kept well away. I stuck to the proscribed limitations that defined the fence: No sex before marriage, always put others before yourself, don’t dabble in the occult, only think good and beautiful thoughts... Do all of these things “right” and you’ll be safe.
Doing the "right thing" isn't always the right thing
But I did everything “right” and I wasn’t always safe. And some of the things I thought were dangerous turned out not to be. In the end I realised that the fence only existed to keep me contained and well under control.
It literally kept me small. The fence kept me conforming to what was expected of good Christian woman. This meant suppressing my voice, my appetite, my needs and my dreams. It meant subservience, service and sacrificial giving. To be honest, the fence stopped people like me from asking too many questions. Chief among my questions? Why does God bother to shape individuals with unique strengths and abilities only to ask them to lay it all down at the foot of the cross and become just like Jesus?
Protection or dividing line?
The fence was also responsible for creating an “us versus them” mentality. If we were inside the fence then we were chosen and more special. We behaved as we should and we bonded over those behaviours. We were in the “right” and “they” were in the “wrong”. Ironically, it was also our job to make “them” want to come over to “our” side of the fence... But why? At the time, I thought it was to see them saved, but now I think it was more to do with wanting vindication for all of the choices we made to stay inside the fence.
Staying inside the fence was meant to result in blessings. The whole idea of adhering to the rules was to be rewarded - and yet my observations showed that rewards and punishments, blessings and curses, good and bad luck are a lot more random and impact people on both sides of the fence. It was a particularly hard lesson to learn that my compliance didn’t result in the rewards I’d hoped for - a fruitful womb, a forever marriage and a secure home.
So, when my life took a few unexpected turns, I admit I started inching toward the fence. And what did I find?
I found people like me living on the other side. They weren’t evil or lost or even longing for something more. Some of them even knew God quite intimately through other spiritual avenues - a discovery which transformed my faith. They knew the same God but theirs was dressed in clothing I’d been taught not to recognise.
I found some of the things I’d been taught to fear were simply symbols of a different kind of wisdom and understanding. There were practices that had been demonised and condemned which actually honoured God’s creation or offered a new perspective - one that could be accepted or passed over as we learnt to rely on our own God-given insights, intuition and understanding.
I learned relationships could take many more forms than the pattern ordained by our modern interpretations of ancient biblical texts, which meant those fences had more to do with man-made structures designed to keep people in their place. Those flawed fences were used to control the lives and loves of those whose individual differences made it almost impossible for them to stay inside the boundaries of the yard. Sadly, those fences wreaked havoc on those who wanted to belong but were kept on the other side because they loved the wrong person or were born into the wrong body. Quite literally, Peretti’s fence which was supposed to represent a loving, protective parent actually represented a hateful, discriminatory kind of one.
Jumping the fence
And so I’ve found myself in the position of deconstructing fences and finding more freedom. The fences kept me away from people who had so much to show and teach me. They kept me believing I was better because I was on “the inside.” Jumping these fences has brought me into contact with those I can love freely and openly despite the fact they don’t conform. Sadly, some of those still restricted to living inside the same small yard become more and more close-minded.
I’d never suggest burning the fence altogether, but take a good look over it, ask questions about why the fence exists and explore what goes on beyond the confines of the yard. Exit via the gate if you’d like, because you get a choice over which side of the fence suits you and I promise you, God’s love can be found on both sides of it.
Catherine is a teacher, life coach and single mother of four. She loves trying to keep all of those balls in the air but fails spectacularly at times. Perfectionism and people-pleasing seemed to be written into her DNA but she's slowly releasing expectations imposed by others and settling into a more generous view of a loving God at the same time. Catherine's goal is to experience life in lots of different places and to use every wrong turn as an opportunity for learning. She resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
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