I’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”?