They say that when you put an invisible fence up, the kind that shocks the dog when their collar gets too close, the dog learns where the boundaries are, and soon enough you don’t even have to have the fence on, the dog doesn’t have to be wearing the collar. The dog has learned his place. He will stay in the yard. No one can see it, maybe the fence isn’t even there anymore. But the dog knows his boundaries, he knows how to stay where he won’t get hurt.
In elementary school, in the span of a couple of weeks, we wrangled the same pair of dogs into our garage three different times. The first time my mom called the electric fencing company who got ahold of their clients. The owners called us up and came to get their dogs. The next two times the owners phone number was written on the inside of the collars so it was a much faster ordeal. The invisible fencing people explained to my mom that the fencing will work the majority of the time, but not when a dog’s natural instincts kick in. If a dog, especially a hunting breed, catches wind of a rabbit or squirrel, the dog will leap through the invisible fence. Their instinct to chase is much greater than the learned behavior of avoiding a shock. In an instant they are on the other side of the boundary, ready to be lost into this great big world.
I have been reading some depressing studies lately, about later teens and early twenties and their propensity to leave the church. They go to college and before freshman or sophomore year is over they are questioning whether they want to be in the church at all. But here is the hopeful thing, they still identify with Jesus. They still love God.
I’m wondering if the we haven’t put electric fences around the hearts of our kids. In our desire to keep our kids safe and close to home, I wonder if we haven’t constructed boundaries around when and where and how to interact with God, and then shocked our kids a little bit every time they came too close to breaking free. I wonder if the standard church nursery, to pre-school, to sunday school, to teen room church experience isn’t fencing in our kids. I know we don’t do it intentionally. I know because I am guilty of it myself. I know that we do it so our kids will stay safe, so they won’t run out into the street, so they won’t get hurt.
I’m wondering if, in their late teens in early twenties the instinct to chase the Wild and Free God doesn’t come on them so strongly that in a moment they find themselves on the other side of the fence. They are excited but completely ill-equipped to run around in this world. Isn’t there a better way? Doesn’t there have to be?
I am involved in a project that may hold the answer to these wonderings. It is a book called Wild Goslings: Engaging With Kids in the Mystery of God. It is an alternative to the fencing, a deconstruction of the boundaries that go against our instincts. It is an invitation for us to learn, as we teach our children the Master’s voice in whatever way He speaks to them. Because if they know the Master’s voice they can never be lost, they will always find their way home.
I am starting to believe that we are born hearing the Master’s voice, engaging with the mysteries of God. I am starting to believe that the anxiety I have been feeling lately about the calling I have heard so clearly, has to do with my own invisible fence, my instinct to bust through as I chase a wild and free God.