Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Yesterday evening, after work, I dug around in the depths of our hall closet (where I keep the clothes that I rarely wear), pulled out my overalls and my favorite flannel shirt, threw them on, along with my favorite, sweat-stained straw hat, and went out to build a fence.

Yeah, the fence on the south end of the property was in a terrible state of disrepair, and Shawna was worried that the livestock would begin to disappear, so...

Ok-stop that! You're laughing at me!

Ok, ok! The truth is, I don't have a pair of overalls (or a flannel shirt, for that matter-cringe), nor a sweat-stained ANYTHING, let alone a straw hat! And the south end of the property is a 10'x25' section of backyard-on our 7,000 square foot city lot. Oh, and the livestock? Our two dogs: Rowy (a 2 year old chocolate Lab), and Chloe (an insanely hyper 1 year old Dachshund, who has a strange affinity for laser pointers and watch reflections).

But-I DID go out and work! I know, I know-those of you who actually know me have a VERY hard time believing it. To be honest, Shawna didn't believe it either. In fact, when she pulled up to the house, she sat in the car for some time; I kept right on working. A few moments later, my cellphone rang. It was Shawna.

"PJ: where are you," she asked, "because there's a tall guy working out behind our house, building a fence. He's built kind of like you, pretty good looking, but I don't know who he is. I don't want to get out of my car! Should I call the police?"

"It IS me, Shawna!" I said.

"PJ-I'm serious! This guy's working; why is he in our yard? Did you hire him?"

I convinced her, and she ran in to grab the camera so that she could show all our friends and family that her husband does, in fact, occasionally do physical labor. She forgot that she sold the stinking camera at the yard sale this weekend, so you're gonna have to trust us on this one (by the way: whomever bought our kitchen table, if you're reading this, I'll pay you $20 more than the amount you bought it for if you'll bring it back; I'm getting so tired of eating on the floor. Thanks a lot shegazelle!).

But, as I worked there in the yard, building the fence, I started thinking about fences, and why we build them, and I have to say, sometimes a fence is just a lazy man's substitute for discipline.

Hear me out: part of the reason we're building the fence is so that our kids have a place to play. Fair enough, except that the act of building the fence doesn't actually create space for the kids to play. It creates a space that we feel comfortable allowing them to occupy, without having to worry about their running out in the street. An admirable purpose, as a parent, to be sure; but consider this:

Imagine with me, if you will, for just a moment, that we build this fence, and allow Lex and Gentry to go out back every day and play to their hearts content. Imagine this goes on for a year...two years...five years...ten. At some point, they're tall enough and curious enough to reach the gate latch, and begin to try to get the gate open. They, naturally, want to explore-to see what's on the other side.

But Shawna catches them in the act, and calls me at work, and asks me to run to Home Depot on the way home, and pick up a padlock. I do, and we lock the gate, keep the keys in our pockets. A few more years go by, and always, in the back in Lex and Gentry's mind, is this thought that good or bad-the other side of that fence must be something to behold. I can't wait 'til I'm tall and strong enough to climb over.

And so it goes. Don't get me wrong: It's natural to want to explore the other side, to see what marvels (or dangers) might exist there. But I have to ask myself: have I, in fact, done my children a disservice? Because at some point, we'll let our guard down, and they'll get over, around or under the fence. And make their way, in fascination, out to the street, to stare at the large objects on wheels that go speeding by.

You see, I don't think you can build a fence tall enough, or wide enough, or deep enough, to keep my children out of the road indefinitely. There is a desire, built into each of us, to explore, to understand (not necessarily to be stupid-and don't get me wrong, running out into the street is flat stupid-but to really comprehend).

Proverbs 2:11 says this: "Discretions shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee."

You see, in my mind, the fence is a temporary measure that is effective for only a short period of time (at least when it comes to protecting Lex and Gentry). In the long-term, the only thing that's going to keep them-protect them, is true understanding.

And so you ask, why are kids/young people today so prone to veer off as they hit young-adulthood? This, in my mind, is a key contributing factor: because we, as parents, have, for too long, allowed fences to do the parenting for us.


Anonymous said...

I had someone (who was raised in church) tell me that if they had not left the church as a teen, got hooked on drugs, sold drugs, smoked, drank etc. they don't think they would be living for God today because until then they really didn't see any value in church.
How does this fit with this post?
Well, I was raised in the church, never smoked, drank, did drugs or any of the sort. Never had a desire for those things. Right I know, I was just a good kid right? NO! I think alot of times we as parents tend to use the Church as a fence. Take our children to church to learn about Jesus. But, a christian upbringing can't come just by taking them to church and saying "look right here, this is the life you have to live", "this is what you do or what you don't do". It's a life that has to be lived day in and day out by us so that at a young age our kids can witness the positive effects,of living right, and having a walk with God. Therfore the values will be grasped by the children and a desire with be birthed. Hope I'm not way OFF! Anyways. Great post. Love ya guys

PJ said...

You're dead on Nan, dead on!

That's precisely my point, actually: there's a place for church-don't get me wrong. But it DOESN'T take the place of parenting. If you allow it to, it just becomes another fence!

Great comment!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. That “natural” sense to go beyond the fence and explore the good or bad, to me eerily sounds like Adam and Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit. It is not just happening to “kids now days” I think it has been happening sense Genesis. It is not something you can stop but you can only minimize by teaching about the bad things on the other side of the fence in contrast to the good things this side of the fence.