The Right Kind of Walled-In
Jan 14, 2018 06:26AM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
A few years ago, Boston endured one blizzard after another until the snowblowers and shovels had nowhere else to deposit the snow. It was almost impossible to street-park in the city, and driveways in the burbs looked like Arctic dunes. Backing out of one’s driveway almost required a traffic cop, and seeing the neighbor’s yard from your car? Forget it if you are shorter than 5 foot five inches. We accumulated more than five feet of snow!
The one good part about it, amidst sore backs and snowdrifts that continually crossed pathways out all our doors, was the trail we were able to create in the backyard for our Shih Tzus. Only one foot off the ground, at best, they could not break free and take off across our yet-unfenced yard. For about three weeks, they had a fence of snow that they did not even attempt to climb. It may as well have been Shih Tzu Everest.
During that time, I remember posting a photo of myself next to our driveway's towering guardrail of white. With shovel in hand, it was even more clear to our Midwest relatives how hard Boston was hit by Jack Frost. And while my husband was understandably overworked preventing ice dams by scraping, salt-bombing, and warming the roof, I was secretly enjoying the pent-up feeling.
The human-sized height of the snow made me feel so safe, so protected, so walled-in. I love when school and other activities are cancelled and nobody can get to our house. As awful as that sounds, for an introvert, it is a little bit of paradise to have a few days off from the world at large. Even the governor of Massachusetts had my back that year with that whole State of Emergency thing.
But even for an introvert, cabin fever gets old after a while, doesn’t it? The few people roaming inside the walls start to get stale in their tolerance of each other, and we need sun, people, and interaction.
The same dynamic is true when we go into self-protective mode, when we erect towers around ourselves, forts of self-enclosure, tall gates of steel with a lock. Initially it helps us cope through hurt, fear, and a myriad of other emotions, but eventually, we find ourselves alone, grumpy, isolated, and stiff.
See, I know all about this. I’ve done this several times. And in those seasons of devastation or depression, I was appropriate to draw the blinds for a time. But not forever. Eventually, I had to let the sunlight back in—and people. Because that is how we genuinely thrive.
Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
If we neglect to meet with others in Christian fellowship, it is impossible to “build one another up.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11, 16, 17, ESV
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing.
I know many people who would argue that they can do that on Facebook, and while I’m a huge fan of social media, I would say there are limits to that. Face-to-face communication is key. We have to be present together as the Body of Christ to fellowship fully. An email or private message here and there connects us in a modern way that can be in-the-moment and refreshing when we are on-the-go, but true growth is found in the regular gathering, the accountability, the sharing of our lives in the safe space under the wing of Christ.
Psalm 36:7-9, ESV
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.
Notice what the psalmist says here? The children take refuge. Children. Plural. We are not an island unto ourselves.
They feast on the abundance of Christ and drink from His river of life together.
And being together with Him, or in His presence, is where we fully recognize that fountain of life He offers. In the Light of Christ, we see light.
The psalmist writes this as an experience of fellowship. The “children of mankind” are together enjoying the benefits of Christ.
The gates are not meant to be shut. We must leave both the gates to fellowship and the gates to our hearts open so that what?
Psalm 24:7, ESV
Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
So that the King of glory may come in!
When we wall ourselves in for more than just a brief reprieve or season of reflection, we create obstacles for others and for ourselves. We cut ourselves off from the very vehicle God may use to bless us!
Our only fortress should be God. And it is not in God's nature to shut His children out.
Isaiah 33:15-16, ESV
He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure (emphasis mine).
Psalm 46:11, ESV
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Seals.
What is ironic is that, to some extent, we must tear walls down in order to fellowship in the presence of one another, but in so doing, in the presence of Christ, we break down more walls:
- Relationship wreckage
- Critical spirit
And how do we do this? Can you find a specific fruit of the Spirit in this verse that would counteract each wall listed above?
Galatians 5:22-23, ESV
But the fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
self-control; against such things there is no law.
What are the walls you have erected in your life? What are the reasons you started piling on the bricks?
I find that the only way to tear down the unhealthy walls in my life is to invite Christ in and to meet the person(s) I have walled-off face-to-face. (It doesn’t hurt to bring in a dose of humility either.)
There are walls that simply can’t be taken down safely any other way, and the reality is that
Christ should be our only fortress.
I am the Queen of Boundaries. Ask anyone who knows me. So I am preaching to myself here when I state that we don’t need any other protection* than what God offers us under His wing.
And under His wing, with Him as our fortress, the gates remain open for Him to do His amazing work in our lives and relationships. In this way we stand firm in a position to encourage one another in safety from the vantage point of His covering.
[*My only disclaimer here is that sometimes God asks us to build walls for our own safety. He did this in the Old Testament to keep His people safe from their enemies. This article was about people who share our belief in Christ, but if you are in an unsafe/abusive relationship of any kind where Christ is not honored, God will show you how to navigate that. Walls would then be appropriate with the help of godly counsel.]
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.