Pastor Jim Melvin
I don’t know about you, but I’m suffering from “Wall Fatigue.” I’m frustrated and angry about our nation’s
leaders being unable to engage in a civil discussion about whether or not we
should build a border wall between us and Mexico. I’m certainly tired of hearing about their
antics every time I turn on the news. But that’s not the kind of wall I want to talk
I want to talk about the personal walls that many of us erect to
separate ourselves from the people in our lives to whom we should feel closest –
our friends, our families, our coworkers and our neighbors. For many of us, these walls are evidence of
our inability to talk openly, honestly, and civilly with one another about our
fears and anxiety in these uncertain times.
When tough issues or potential conflicts arise, it’s easier and safer to
erect a barrier.
Those of us in the construction industry make our living putting up
walls. That’s pretty much what
construction is about. We put up walls
to protect ourselves against the Wisconsin winter. We put up walls to protect our property and
our stuff from thieves. And I find it reasonable
that we build walls to provide ourselves some degree of privacy, even interior
walls to carve out our own private space in our homes. But, in the words Robert
Frost in his poem “The Mending Wall,” “Something there is that doesn’t love a
wall – that wants it down.”
People are made to be in relationships.
I would go as far as to say that we are less than fully human when we
totally set ourselves apart from other people.
In the creation story in Genesis God says, “It’s not good that the man
should be alone.” Some of us are
extroverts who never tire of talking up every stranger we meet at a party. Some of us are introverts who would much rather
sit home and watch TV or read a book.
Some of us come from big noisy families.
Some of us don’t. But we all need
other people in our lives. Hermits aren’t
natural. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall – that wants it down.
I challenge all of us to take stock of the walls we have built around
us. Some of them are necessary and
protective. But in other places we need
to do some remodeling. Look for the non-loadbearing
walls in your life to which you should apply a well-aimed sledgehammer or wrecking
bar. In your family you may find you are
separated from parents or brothers and sisters over issues or wrongs you don’t
even remember anymore. Maybe a misunderstanding
or argument needs to be addressed between you and a friend or coworker. Wherever you find a wall, ask why and if it
needs to be there. If it doesn’t – tear it
Let me suggest a few tools for you to use in your remodel, the sledgehammers
and wrecking bars or personal walls. The
first one is compassion. Try to relate to the pain and suffering of the person
on the other side of the wall. Use your
imagination to walk a mile in their shoes.
It is easy to assume that other people’s lives are hunky dory. There’s that sister and brother-in-law that
you resent because they’re always jetting off on a fancy vacation while you and
your family struggle to pull off a long weekend at Noah’s Ark. So, you rarely see each other. You avoid unnecessary contact or conversation.
You only get together at weddings and
funerals, and even the grudgingly. Practicing a little compassion may show that they
travel mainly to escape the lonely existence in sterile house they found themselves
living in because they were too busy building their careers to start a
family. True, it was their choice, but a
little compassion reveals that they have pain in their lives.
Another tool in your remodeling work chest is forgiveness. We have all been wronged at one time or
another, sometimes badly. But holding on
to grievances guarantees that they will be the gifts that keep on giving, pain. I’ve heard hanging on to anger described as
taking poison and expecting it to kill the other person. To forgive means choosing to let go of the
offense and giving up your right to justice.
Reestablishing a relationship is worth far more than winning an argument
or getting your due. Let forgiveness
flow from you as though like a never-ending stream. When Jesus asked was asked by Peter if he
should forgive seven times, Jesus answers, “Not seven times; but seven times
seventy.” Some people require a lot of
To compassion and forgiveness, add the most powerful tool of all,
love. You want to be in the same room
with the people you love. And love is an
act that is always there for you to choose.
Love, which involves compassion and forgiveness, puts another person’s welfare
ahead of our own. Put that way it might
seem like love is for suckers. It isn’t. St. Francis stated it best, “It is in giving
that we receive; it is pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that
we are born to eternal life.” Loving is
its own reward because it takes walls down like a wrecking ball.
The great symbolic act of the end of the Cold War occurred when Ronald
Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and shouted, “Mr. Gorbachev,
tear down that wall.” The Soviet leader
listened. With the wall torn down,
Berlin came back to life after 27 years of painful division. Tear down your walls; you don’ know what new
life and new joy is waiting on the other side.
Let me circle back to that border wall.
For some reason which I cannot fully explain, the political conflicts in
America are affecting our personal relationships. Toxic politics are causing a building boom in
personal walls. I know of many instances
where people have become alienated from friends and families over party affiliations
and political agendas. Our personal
walls are going up in response to a seemingly insurmountable national and
international issue. Is it naïve to consider
that tearing down our personal walls may be a first and necessary step in
finding a political solution to this and other issues? It’s worth considering.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a
wall – that wants it torn down.”
Amen to that.