Tearing Down the Walls Between Us

By Phil Davis on October 20, 2017

I’m building a fence at our new house in Prague. Or rather, my neighbor and I are building a fence together.

We need a fence to keep our dog off the neighbor’s property, and I wanted to build it myself—something that I could point to and say, “I built that.” But as I started to dig the holes and place the first posts, my neighbor walked over, shaking his head as he approached.

I was ready for his criticism when I saw him coming. In my basic Czech, I tried explaining I was doing it myself, I’m not a professional, it’s a temporary fence. But after he critiqued my fence-building efforts, he offered to help (for a small fee).  

I wanted to immediately say no, but I told him I’d think about it for a few days (just to be polite). As I thought about it, I realized his help could be a good thing: we could get to know each other a little more, I could practice my Czech, the fence would be much better, and I wouldn’t have to worry about his ongoing criticism. Selfishly, I still wanted to do it myself, but I swallowed my self-reliance and eventually told him we could do it together.

I shared this story at our first community dinner at Faith Community Church last month, confessing my tendency towards self-reliance. During the discussion about the idea of community, a new woman in our church spoke up and told me that my story reminded her of Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall.” The poem is about two neighbors who repair a stone wall between their property every spring, after the winter’s ice and frozen ground have caused some sections to collapse.

I read the poem the next day and have thought about it a lot since. During the wall-repairing process, the narrator in the poem wonders:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.

But his neighbor just keeps saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

My own fence-building is almost complete, and I’m now starting to feel some regret. What irony! I’m building a relationship with my neighbor through an activity that will result in a tangible separation between us. I’m putting up a literal boundary that will prevent more than my dog from entering his world.

The fence project and the poem have made me wonder what other kinds of walls I have put up in my 12 years in Prague. I’m sure I’ve unwittingly created barriers around myself, walls of self-protection and self-sufficiency. Some are cultural, but I imagine that most of them go beyond just culture and language.

Lately I’ve been wondering: What am I “walling in” or “walling out”? Am I “walling in” myself, preventing people from really getting to know me and who I am? Protecting myself from risk or being uncomfortable? Am I “walling out” people who are difficult to deal with? Creating cultural or spiritual boundaries that are intimidating to others? Shutting out possibilities for others to know the gospel?

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” I believe I know what that something is: the gospel of Jesus Christ, which tears down walls to help people become inter-dependent children of God who learn to live in community with each other.

God, help me see what walls I’ve constructed in my life, help me repent, and give me the wisdom to mend relationships by tearing down those walls.

Phil Davis

About Phil Davis

Phil Davis is pastor of Faith Community Church in Prague, Czech Republic, and team leader of one of the Serge teams there. He and his family have lived in Prague for twelve years.