A certain fascinating social phenomenon occurred in American history. Understand, I wasn’t living back then, but from what I read, this actually happened. It occurred when “Go west, young man!” was the challenge of America . . . when squatter’s rights seemed the most advantageous way to pry families loose and dare them to brave the elements via the covered wagon.
Out they came, exchanging the crowded, soot-choked industrial cities back East for the open plains, clear skies, and fertile, albeit rugged, farmland of the West.
Predictably, those early settlers built their cabins or sod huts smack dab in the middle of their homestead, acres (often miles) from the nearest family. Strong, sturdy fences marked property lines as pride of ownership became the badge of courage. Words like independence and private property were common table talk as the young were taught how to fight for survival.
But as time passed all that began to change. As it was put to the test, isolationism proved to be a far cry from ideal. When photographers returned from those lonely houses, they showed pictures of wild-eyed women, stooped, gaunt, prematurely old men, and haunted-looking children. Life was hard making it on their own, especially through bitter winters, fighting off disease, starvation, and angry savages with bows and arrows.
More and more settlers learned that they had a better chance of making it if they would build their houses near each other, in the corner of their property rather than in the center. Four families could survive much easier if they loosened their grip on independence, built a gate in their fence, and relinquished their overstated emphasis on privacy. Enduring winter’s blast or a lengthy illness wasn’t nearly so frightful if you had three other families within walking distance. It proved to be much more fun coming together instead of living lonely, separate, touch-me-not lives of isolation.
From all this emerged a proverb:
“Shared joy is a double joy, shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”
Seasons of the year became more colorful, more hopeful. Farming, harvesting, canning, and slaughtering became group projects. Weddings and worship, gains and losses, births and deaths became shared experiences as mere existence was exchanged for real living . . . entering into each other’s joys as well as sorrows, neighbors becoming friends (then relatives!) . . . sharers in the many-faceted jewel called “living.”
Those old settlers learned what we seem to have forgotten today: pulling closer together is better than existing so far apart. Sharing is still to be preferred to staying aloof. The risks and periodic hassles notwithstanding, four in a corner are better than one in the middle. I’m confident that’s the whole point of Ecclesiastes 4:9–10, 12 (MSG):
It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.
Share the work, share the wealth.
And if one falls down, the other helps,
But if there’s no one to help, tough! . . .
By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
A lot of us Western folk come from pioneering stock. The myth of “rugged individualism” dies a hard and bitter death. Our credo says:
“I can handle it.”
“I’ll tough it out somehow.”
“I don’t need to lean on anyone.”
“I’ll just hole up and lick my wounds; no one really cares anyway.”
That may be good Western mythology, but it’s rotten biblical theology. Chase the phrase “one another” through the last half of your New Testament and you’ll see what I mean. We really do need each other. More profoundly, more desperately than we even begin to realize. As a matter of fact, we were given to one another by the Lord of the Body—because each one of us has a unique something to contribute—a piece of the divine puzzle no one else on earth can supply (see Ephesians 4).
Where is your sod hut? Out in the middle of some lonely, windswept acres? How long has it been since you’ve had some significant, openhearted, fences-down interaction with folks in a local Body? Too long? Maybe it’s time you moved your hut to the corner of your field. Maybe it’s time you installed a gate in that high, forbidding fence. It could make a big difference in your life.
For some of you, it may even mean survival.
Excerpt taken from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. For additional information and resources visit us at www.insight.org.