Mending Fences

What is it that defines property lines, provides security for kids, and gives privacy for parents? Fences, of course. The one in our backyard happens to be made of wood and, much of the time, is barely standing. It’s been slowly falling due to age, weather, and incessant pounding by our two dogs: Sherman, a 100-pound German Shepherd and his pal Desoto, a 130-pound Rottweiler. Consequently, we’ve been slowly repairing this wobbly, wooden fence, which requires about 12,000 nails. Okay, maybe not that many . . . but a lot.

Repairing our fence has become a family project. However, our 15-year-old son has decided his responsibility is to dictate and direct our activities. Any question as to his reign is pronounced “unfair.” Because he loudly protests and asserts his “rights,” we, his parents, believe he may need more practice—more work in order to learn that leading begins by serving with humility and honor.

Considering that our fence was once again in disarray, he was chosen to fix it. He seized the box of nails and a sledge hammer. Our parting words were: “Smashing the nails causes them to bend, snap, and twist . . . drive them carefully.”

As commander in chief, he clobbered the nails, twisting and bending them with every blow. Later that day, we evaluated his work, counting 15 straight nails. Finding such work unacceptable, we said what any leader would say: “Remove all the bent nails before continuing the work you were asked to do.” He removed 40 mangled nails the first day; the next day, it was 30, then 27, then 10, until finally the work was completed with straight and firmly set nails. Together we studied his work, affirming his attitude change as well as assessing the damage he had done—he’d left splintered wood and many holes.

This scenario isn’t limited to 15-year-old boys or to families. The church body bears the marks of similar pounding. Our words are like nails. Tragically, church members often cause the greatest damage. Pastors are splintered by angry letters. Families are smashed by harsh judgment. Teenagers wither under the heat of illicit gossip. And souls already splintered by addictions, mental illness, depression, divorce, or disabilities receive the hardest blows. Ninety-eight percent of our disabled population gets pounded by people who presume to know it all, who believe they must give their unsolicited opinions, and who believe it is their job to control rather than serve one another.

Church families, let’s serve one another, mending and restoring our splintered souls!

Not sure how? I have found that three of the best tools for restoring one another are:

  1. Affirm your pastor. Remember, for every criticism, he needs five affirmations. FIVE! Be an agent of change. Affirm his use of time, his study, and his commitment to truth. Affirm his desire to lead and shepherd the church. Affirm the boundaries he has set up in his life, his consistency in his spiritual walk. And affirm his conviction to maintaining his marriage.
  2. Accept the vulnerabilities of others. Its takes courage and personal strength to admit our struggles. Show compassion, speak with kindness, say little, and listen much.
  3. Ask these questions of yourself before saying anything: Do I live in that person’s home? Am I assuming to know his or her pain? Are my words and actions critical or opinionated? Have I offered to give my time to support his or her need? What good will come if I speak? Have I lived in that marriage? Have I received information through gossip? Have I dealt with my own personal struggles? Am I allowing myself to be transformed by the Word of God, or am I more interested in trying to change someone else?

Remember: affirm, accept, and ask! If you do, you’ll be like the wise person in Ecclesiastes.

The words of the wise prod us to live well.
They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together.
They are given by God, the one Shepherd. (Ecclesiastes 12:11 MSG)

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Colleen Swindoll serves as director of Special Needs Ministries at Insight for Living. From the personal challenges of raising a child with disabilities (her third child, Jonathan), Colleen desires to offer help and hope through writing and counseling to those facing disabling and despairing trials.