Walls is still a big issue here in El Paso, mainly because elements of it can be seen along our border with Mexico. A wall serves two purposes — protecting those within the walls and keeping others out. What is interesting to me is that many who profess to be Christian support the building of such a wall, thereby ignoring much of the Bible’s guidance to be kind and welcoming to strangers.
In our individualistic culture, good walls appear to make good neighbors just as Robert Frost said. We treasure our privacy. A wall serves an age-old desire to own land and to have autonomy. A wall serves to define property and in some sense identity.
Not all walls are bad, as seen with this picture
In 1972, the Susquehanna River flooded many Pennsylvania towns. In the town of Sunbury many homes were actually below water level with a wall keeping the river from flooding those homes. Residents there nervously watched the river rise, trusting in their wall. The wall held!
Similarly, we all develop inner walls intending to protect ourselves and to keep others out. Is this good or bad? Depends on whom or what you are trying to keep out. What is important to note is that these inner walls are at times fear-based, mainly trying to protect me from being hurt.
Like physical walls, our inner walls are not all bad. Some people are not to be trusted. Others simply have their own aims in mind with little concern for our feelings or even safety. This is where having the inner equivalent of the Sunbury Wall can be helpful. We cannot afford to be flooded by others’ desires to use or manipulate.
But if we desire true intimacy, we have to at some point be able to lower that wall and let someone in. That can be scary. If I allow someone to see me at my worst or to share with them my areas of pain, can I trust them to honor that decision to lower my wall and not to misuse or betray that vulnerability? Sadly, many persons conduct relationships with walls. There is minimal openness, minimal sharing of wounds. People who have lived together for year end up as strangers.
Inner walls do protect us and that is as it should be. But if I am unwilling or unable to lower those walls with someone with whom I want to be close, I run the risk of ending up like the singer of “I Am A Rock, I An An Island”: “A rock feels no pain/And an island never cries”
Ironically, I may try to build a wall against the God of my understanding. I make my prayer life automatic. I do not present my hurts and my angers. Much like Adam and Eve, I believe I can hide from God. I may at least think that I can fool God. But if I truly believe that the Kingdom of God is within, then there is no place to hide.
Finally I may actually build a wall against myself, trying to keep out painful memories, personal failures, unfulfilled dreams. All this hurts too much and so I build a wall, trying to convince myself that such issues do not bother me. I deny my feelings of hurt or anger. I avoid the room marked Resentments trying to convince myself that I have forgiven when in fact I haven’t. I’m afraid to let down that inner wall, fearing that those walled-off thoughts and memories will overwhelm and destroy me. Thus, I expend much time and energy shoring up that wall.
Walls do serve a purpose. How much you need them in your life is up to you.
REFLECTION: How have walls showed up in your life and spiritual world?
It is true that a rock feels no pain, but a rock feels no joy either. Pain can be frightfully bad and it can even be deadly, but the answer is not to build a fortress to keep everyone and everything out. The key is discernment. We who have been abused need to take our time with relationships and make sure that the other person is a safe person. We can’t afford to have our leg broken in the same place twice. Love is always a risk. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But it is better yet to love and win, which is why we need to be reasonably sure about the person with whom we are taking the risk.