Dealing With Difficult People 04: Never Seen a Fence Before

In my last post in dealing with difficult people, I pointed out that everyone needs to understand the power of a fence.  However, to explain what a fence is takes a long time – many people take a while to grasp this vital concept.  Here is a situation I face often that will help you see what I mean when I talk about “the fence”:

Something that sadly happens more often than it should is parents come to see me with their “child”, but their child is late teens or even early-mid twenties. They want me as the pastor to wave a magic wand over their child and fix him or her (normally a him).

Sometimes they come and their son is not even with them. And the parents tell me their story, which will be that their child has not found a steady job, has not got a career, is maybe drinking or eating too much, is certainly playing their Xbox too much.

These parents will love their son to pieces. I mean they will really love their boy. They will have tried a hundred different things to change their boy, they will have prayed, fasted, confessed, wept, loved, ministered, and so on. But he is still keeping bad friends, bad girlfriends and bad habits.

As they talk I find out that they have given their boy everything in life. He had money at school, didn’t have to get a job – he has to revise and study, that’s important – and when their boy quit college or classes, they worked hard to find him something else to do.

When I ask why isn’t their son here to see me they invariably say “He doesn’t have a problem”. And here is the fact I want you all to realize today:  their son is right, he doesn’t have a problem. And I offer to help the parents give their son some problems. They don’t understand what I am saying, so I have to explain.

“The problem is that you as mum and dad haven’t put a fence up around your life, so your son’s actions now cause you problems, but don’t cause him problems”

Henry Cloud uses the following illustration: when the neighbours never water their lawn, but they put your sprinkler system in their garden, then all the watering you do makes their garden greener, but your grass turns brown.

This is why we need a fence, so that people reap what they sow. Imagine being that couple’s son – you don’t need to get a job, you don’t need to study, you don’t need to plan for the future, shop for food. You have plenty of money, time and space to do exactly what you want. You have no problems!

Mum and dad need to build a fence so that their son has problems and they don’t! Their child is happy, they are not.

In your garden, the fences are visible, but we are talking about building invisible fences but they do the same job: they say this is your garden, this is my garden. I am responsible for mine, not yours. Your fences define what is you and not you.

This revelation gives us great freedom. It shows me what I own and what I can control, and what is not mine. Imagine I asked you to do my gardening, paid you to do it, but never told you where my garden began and ended. You would fail in your task! But that is how many people are spiritually – they never delineate what belongs to them and what does not. The fruit of the spirit is self-control, not other control, so you need to learn how to draw a line.

These fences help us keep the good in and the bad out.  They are the way to guard your heart with all diligence, and protect the treasure inside you. We keep the pearls safe and the pigs out!  God Himself has healthy fences – He is light and in Him is no darkness. God has a fence around Him that says “Darkness KEEP OUT”. To be godly we need to have fences too. God limits what He allows in His garden and we need to be the same!

The most basic fence you have is your skin.  In fact we often use skin as a picture of when someone crosses our invisible fences – “he gets under my skin”. Our time, our position in space, our emotions can all be used to set up fences to protect our hearts and our lives.

We have much to say about this, but the key is that we use consequences to set fences with those around us. How many adult children would be happier and healthier today and be living a totally different life if mum and dad has said “no more money for you until you get a job”, “you cannot live here if you smoke weed/ bring your girlfriend to stay/ get drunk” in this house? Consequences are the barbed wire that stops people climbing our fences and putting their rubbish in our garden.

Next week: backpacks, avalanches and the Good Samaritan gone wrong.



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Tree of Life Church

We are a growing network of growing churches, with services weekly in Dagenham, Guildford, Watford, Croydon, Brentwood and Dorset. We are also planting churches in Cambridge, Suffolk, West Midlands and Hemel. Find out more at, and

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