Learning to Love All the Guardrails

Back when we lived in Colorado, we’d occasionally find ourselves on a narrow mountain pass with hairpin turns, no guardrail, and a thousand-foot drop off the edge. Once we saw a car that had missed a turn, slid off the edge, and was miraculously saved from a nose-dive by the presence of a huge boulder.

“Why are there no guardrails?” we once asked a native. “Because of the snowplows,” was the answer. Guardrails would prevent them from pushing the snow off the cliffs in the winter. I didn’t love those choices. As much as I appreciated snowplowed roads, I still longed for guardrails.

I try to remember that longing when I’m not happy with the calorie restrictions my calorie counting my app has calculated for me. If I were consistent, I’d be grateful for that guardrail. And I am — sort of, sometimes.

But I must battle that ambivalence. I believe that Jesus’s warning regarding our eternal destiny also helps believers make wise lifestyle choices: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14). To be clear, my calorie intake isn’t a salvation issue. But it is helpful to remember that happiness and freedom, paradoxically, are found on the narrow road.

Wait! Haven’t we been told ten thousand times that freedom is about no restrictions? Yes, but that’s the refrain coming from the wide way. And our deceptive hearts find that message oh, so appealing.

It reminds me of a story that Phillip Keller tells in his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. In Keller’s flock there was one particularly restless, discontented ewe. He named her Mrs. Gadabout because she was an incorrigible fence-crawler; she habitually was looking for a spot to escape the green pastures provided for her, only to end up in danger, or feeding on inferior pasturage. Rescuing her was trouble enough, but when she started teaching her lambs the same tricks, and leading others through the same holes, Keller decided there was only one solution. “[O]ne morning I took the killing knife in hand and butchered her. Her career of fence crawling was cut short.”

There’s a reason God calls us his flock, the sheep of his pasture. When I think about how often I’ve challenged the boundary lines God has lovingly set for me, it makes me tremble a little. While I’m grateful for God’s new mercies every morning, I also want that mercy to bring me to true and lasting repentance.

Remember Mrs. Gadabout I say to my wandering heart. And remember the car that nearly plunged into oblivion. Don’t resent the guardrails. Love them! And thank the Lord who put them there.

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