Can you picture two young black American girls playing and having the time of their lives with a German white elderly couple? A sweet friendship formed because of the innocence and curiosity of two little girls and the kindness extended by the Wagners. We called them our Oma and Opa, they were our German grandparents away from home. Whenever my sister and I would play in our backyard in Germany, we would end up on our neighbors’ side of the fence. We would play with them and show them our newest toys. The best part of our visits was eating with them. It would just be my sister and I enjoying the Wagner’s full, undivided attention despite our lack of German. Their love spoke volumes over the language barrier. And all it took was crossing over one fence to the other. Just as simple as that.
Real Life Fences / Personal Fences
Depending on where you live, your neighbor either looks like you or may be the opposite of you in culture and possibly language. For me, growing up, ninety-nine percent of the time my neighbors looked different than me, and at times spoke different languages. As a military kid, I moved around a lot and had the privilege to travel and experience places that some have not had the opportunity to do. And with every move, I witnessed my parents forming friendships and extending hospitality to our neighbors no matter their background, color, or language. I found it amazing (and still do to this day) that when we would be stationed outside the United States, my parents would take time to listen and learn from those around them. This included them stepping out of their comfort zones and “over the fence” to learn languages other than English (i.e. German and French). And they had my siblings and I do the same by immersing us in the schools and the community that surrounded us. I am thankful for my parents’ example of how to overcome the physical, mental, and sometimes awkward “fences” in life. And yes, some of you may not have physical fences to divide your yard from your neighbor(s), but I want to go beyond the backyard to reality. The reality is, we all have fences in some way built on our perception and preconceived judgments on how people should or should not act, whether they live next door to you or not. These “fences” prevent us from getting to know those around us that God has purposely placed in our paths and wants us to love unconditionally.
Stepping Over Our Fences
But, it must all begin with a humbled heart and a willingness to go beyond what we may perceive or even fear. How can you let down your fences in order to pursue and love the diverse community around your family? Here are three steps to stepping over our fences and some ideas to help you take your kids with you.
1. Make Scripture a Reality
“’And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” Mark 12:30-31 (NLT).
It is pretty much impossible to fulfill verse 31 of this passage without first striving to live out verse 30. Both go hand in hand. We need to understand how to love God entirely, in order to fully know how to love others. It sounds so simple. But this is the very thing we complicate the most. Often, we as Christians are given heavy tasks that may seem uncomfortable or even impossible. We should humbly take them on by not just listening to God’s Word, but by doing what it says. Otherwise, you and I are only fooling ourselves. How do you go about involving your kids in this? You could start a conversation like this:
Say: In our world right now, and in the past, some people believe that people who speak, look, or act differently should be treated differently than others. Is that true, or right? Let’s take a look to see what God says in His Word, the Bible, about how we should treat each other.
Do: Read Mark 12:30-31. Then get them thinking by asking questions like these: What do those verses say about how to love God? How do we love God with our all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? What do you think that looks like? Can we love others like we love God? How? Who is your neighbor? Is it just someone who lives next to you or could it be anyone? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? How can you love your neighbor as yourself?”
Respond: Pray together asking God to help you love your neighbors as yourself. Brainstorm a way to step over your fences and put some of what you’ve discussed into practice.
2. Humbly Examine Your Fences
Do you have fences in your heart? Test them and see how they measure up to Scripture. Ask yourself, “Am I basing my beliefs/prejudices on assumptions, fear, or experiences?” Examining one’s heart reveals the truths we think and believe. Often these biases and assumptions we form have evolved from differences. How do you view and treat people who are different from you? Ask God to show you any fences you may have in your heart.
A neat way to help little ones understand the importance of valuing the diversity in God’s creation is by watching the Delightful Differences video on YouTube.com/kidsenjoyingjesus. It’s a really great way to show and explain God’s intentions in making us different and the beauty to be seen in those differences.
Another great resource that emphasizes the importance of treasuring the splendor of God’s creation is Trillia Newbell’s children’s book, “God’s Very Good Idea.”
3. Bringing Down Your Fences
Lastly, pray for God’s wisdom in how to bring down your fences. It may start as a simple hello and smile as you pass someone. Then, gradually engaging in genuine (not forced) conversations. Progressing to inviting diverse fellowship into your life and home. One way my husband and I go about doing this is by creating time to invite people in. We genuinely seek out and surround ourselves with those whom God has placed in front of us to love, no matter their race, status, or language. There is a West African Proverb I heard once that I love. It says, “If you’ll sit at my table and eat with me, you’ll know who I am.”
Bringing down your fences impacts your kids too!
- The fellowships and bonds that form in our home transcend to our children and give them an example of how to love on and cherish time with those around them.
- Intentionally scheduling diverse playdates can help form their view of how God sees His creation as well.
- Guarding our hearts on how or what we say about others plays a big role in our children’s lives as well. Do we tear down or build up? Do we use our tongue and time wisely?
- For even more specific activities to help you convey some of these these concepts to kids in your home or church, check out this article: “Talking to Kids About Kindness”.
How has your family or church intentionally stepped over fences to discover and love your neighbors? Have you been blessed by someone who stepped over fences to love you? Please share your ideas in the comments so we can learn from each other!
I often wonder why Oma and Opa loved on my family in the way they did. I wonder what mental fences they brought down to unconditionally love on us so effortlessly, to the point of sharing their time, home and meals with two beautiful young girls who looked and spoke differently than them. But I do know I will never forget those precious moments we shared. The playing, the laughter, the eating and sharing in each other’s lives without worrying about convenience or comfort. Just the enjoyment of being in one another’s company, hand in hand. And it all started with crossing over a fence.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.