Letting Others In

ImageI’ve recently been thinking about boundaries and fences and walls. I’ve thought about healthy boundaries that I’ve created to shape my relationships and to protect me from the bad behavior of others. I’ve thought about relationships that were changed by my “lines in the sand.”  I’ve thought about people who didn’t honor my boundaries because they didn’t respect me. And I’ve thought about “fences and walls” that are probably bigger and stronger than they need to be – and that even interfere with relationships I cherish. With all of those things in mind, I decided to visit a fort.

Fort Ligonier is located in the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania – about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. The fort was originally built in 1758, and was designed to serve as a supply depot for British-American soldiers who were determined to capture Fort Duquesne during the French and Indian War. George Washington spent time at the fort. Today, we also know that General John Forbes named this place “Fort Ligonier” in honor of his superior, Sir John Ligonier.

The “fences and walls” at Fort Ligonier are impressive! The Fort’s boundaries are made of wood and they are topped with long, wooden spikes. Visitors will also notice some holes in the walls. But, at each of those little holes, there is a cannon that is ready to “fire back” at folks who try to attack. The Fort is secure. People who lived at Fort Ligonier were safely protected from those who wanted to hurt them. And that’s good – at least when you’re trying to defend yourself in the midst of battle. But “walls and fences” aren’t very helpful when you need food, are they?  The great, wooden walls could even separate you from other soldiers who are trying to defend you! And that’s why there are gates at Fort Ligonier. Gates can be closed when times are bad and they can be opened in good times. Gates are holes we create in the midst of “boundaries”; so that, we have choices. Gates can be tightly locked to defend us from attacks and inappropriate behaviors. Gates can, also, be unlocked – or even opened – when we want relationships to grow. And the best part about “gates” is that we control them. We can choose to be “selectively vulnerable” even after we’ve been hurt by others. And that’s good to know – because it reminds us that, even after we’ve been hurt, we don’t have to be alone.

God tells us, in the story of Creation, that it’s not good for us to be alone. I’ve often told people that I know far more “good people” than “bad people.” I enjoy close friendships.  I’ve watched people stand beside me in difficult times. I’ve celebrated times of great joy with others as I’ve baptized newborns, participated in weddings, worked with children, and enjoyed holidays with my friends and family. Oh, yes! I’ve met some “clunkers.” I’ve been poked in the eye.  My toes have been crunched. I, just like you, have been hurt.  But, I’m not ready to close the gates forever. I’m not willing to withdraw from others so completely that I find myself “alone” in the midst of caring people. That’s not God’s plan! That’s not how God wants me to live.  And, guess what? That’s not how God wants you to live, either. Our lives can be tremendously enriched by others. We are created to be people who are connected to each other. Gates can be opened and closed.  And even when we’re deeply hurt by the “bad people” in our world, we need to remember that the world is filled with “good people,” too.

We all need healthy boundaries. We all need to be able to build strong houses that protect us from the Big Bad Wolf. And, when we find ourselves in a difficult relationship, those boundaries and fences and walls need to be strong because we need to be protected.  But, we also need to remember the importance of gates. We can’t built a fort that “seals-out” the rest of the world simply because we’ve been hurt by other people in the past.

Fort Ligonier served a wonderful purpose. But, Fort Ligonier’s walls contained gates that could be opened and closed at the appropriate time. Do you have “solid walls” or “walls with gates”? How do you actively protect yourself from “bad people” in the world – while remaining open to relationships that God wants you to share with “good people”?


About Wayne Gillespie

The Reverend Wayne Gillespie has served as an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for nearly 25 years. He firmly believes, as a pastor, that our primary calling in life, as Christians, is "to know Christ and the power of the resurrection." Pastor Wayne also believes that, as we come to know Christ more deeply, we can experience a higher level of intimacy and connection with God, and greatly improved relationships with those who share our lives. Pastor Wayne's blog about Christian Spirituality and Prayer can be found at: http://theprayerchair.org He, also, has started a blog about relationships and healing which can be found at: https://wgillespie.wordpress.com/
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6 Responses to Letting Others In

  1. Sometimes it is hard to leave the gates open but I find that each time I close them it is harder to open them again. And the “gates” don’t just keep others out, they keep you locked inside in fear. Thank you for this reminder that God does not want us to live our lives locked in fear but with the knowledge that we are not alone and God’s loving arms wrapped around us will see us through.

    • Chris – You’re certainly right when you say that each time we close the gates it can be harder to open them. When other people hurt us, it’s very easy for us to generalize what has happened in a way that makes us think that everyone will hurt us. I think that it’s important for us to see that we don’t have to leave the gate open for everyone – or closed to everyone. One of the neat things about being “in control” of the gate is that we can open it to some people and close it to others.

  2. Marty says:

    Nice thoughts. I have been working on letting go of things. It is said it takes few desires to be happy, I whole heatedly agree. When my judging things curtailed, life opened up. I learned to let things exist as they are without my labeling them.

    It seemed easier for external things. It improved my relationship with people because Imhad not judged them or their behavior, so my usual bias was gone.

    Now, not judging myself was much closer to home. more difficult to stop thinking and take a look under the hood. We are brutal to ourselves. We are all perfect and share this journey together. It is a journey and not a destinations.

    We are meant to be present to experience it totally. Awareness makes it easier to set realistic boundaries and let thought and emotions flow in through us. We all have every emotion so why are we embarrassed to express them. All of us have expressed our emotions. Follow the breath next time a thought with strong emotion arrives.

    Focus and slow the mind to follow the breath then observe the emotion, it will linger a short time and fade. notice how every emotion is at our ready. We are so much larger than a fleeting emotion or thought. Just be here to experience life.

    Nice blog


    • Marty – We can, indeed, be brutally harsh with ourselves. Many people are their own worst critic. That’s why it’s so important for us to take the bull by the horns and establish healthy boundaries when we are in relationships with unhealthy people. As a child, I was taught to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I’ve come to see that that’s just not true. The harsh words of other people really CAN hurt us – especially when we accept them as “truth,” internalize them, and then repeat them back to ourselves.

  3. livvy1234 says:

    I am a work in progress over a period of 30 years – still working on relationships, healthy boundaries. A devastating enmeshment brought me down and I am still working on it. Never enmesh family members in business.

  4. Creating healthy boundaries is an important part of forming lasting relationships. Please continue to move forward with hope in your heart. Moving past a time of devastation takes a very long time. It sounds like you’re moving in the right direction.

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