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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Bootprints: When is it OK to Let Others Tramp into Your Life?

How would you feel if total strangers wandered through your backyard, enjoying the view and picking blooms and berries while they were at it? A little wary, maybe, given property rights and obvious boundary lines. Not to mention all manner of stranger danger.

But what about people who come tramping into your life leaving their muddy bootprints all over your business? Don’t they understand you have enough to deal with already? Why should you give them access to the door of your heart?

Yesterday was a rare sunny afternoon here in Stavanger. Mike and I impulsively decided to take a quick hike along Hafrsfjord not far from our apartment, zigzagging through residential streets to reach the water’s edge.

Normally we’d be hesitant to cut through homeowners’ backyards, but Norway has some of the most generous laws in the world when it comes to the public’s right of access to nature. Allemannsretten – “All Man’s Right” – was voted into law over sixty years ago, entitling anyone in Norway to walk in the forests and mountains or enjoy the coastal waterways regardless of who owns the land. You can even camp freely on uncultivated land as long as you keep 150 meters from the nearest home or cabin.

Fences have been erected to keep cattle and sheep corralled, but we discovered numerous stiles dotted along the neighborhood’s edge that allowed us access to fjordside paths through gates, around stacked stones, or over ladders. We may have been hiking through private land, but Norwegians believe that no one owns the outdoors. Those awe-inspiring views are meant to be shared.

Hiking this week with the help of a neighborhood stile

Sharing doesn’t come naturally. (Ask any parent of a toddler.) We are self-centered from birth, big kids as well as little, preferring to keep our toys to ourselves. We prize independence and applaud personal strength and self-autonomy. We put up fences to keep our dirt firmly differentiated from our neighbor’s.

Sometimes we are so self-protective that we miss receiving the wider embrace of the world. When we don’t venture beyond the fences we’ve erected, we’re oblivious to the very best views – the ones shared in community with others.

In their instructions to the early Church, the apostles were impassioned about the importance of sharing.

“Use your money to do good,” Timothy taught. “Be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others” (1 Tim. 6:18).
“Don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God” (Heb. 13:16).

Does this mean that our lives are to be an open book, nothing hidden, all freely shared?

That’s not what the apostles had in mind. In our contemporary culture where confessionals and tell-all posts generate more clicks than news stories of national concern, “sharing” can become gratuitous when our desire for transparency violates the privacy of others whose stories are not ours to share.

And sometimes we need to be firm about establishing personal boundaries that those who’ve been duplicitous in the past may not, must not cross.

Life isn’t always a communal hike in the woods. Occasionally by choice or circumstance it becomes a solo journey. We have the right to roam alone or with companions.

But our God-given resources – time, finances, experiential knowledge, spiritual wisdom – are meant to be shared.

Who is it today who needs access to that which you can provide? Can you give them a stile – an opening for safe passage over or through a barrier they’re facing? Not a handout, no, but perhaps a hand up as they ascend the ladder you’ve leaned against your fence.

"We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too" 1 Thess. 2:8.

I’m grateful for Allemannsretten – the Norwegian right to roam – but I’m ever more thankful for those here and at home who have shared their wisdom, their resources, and their very lives with us.

May we do likewise.

A girl went to Norway
To ramble and roam;
A journey that took her
An ocean from home.
She walked and she wandered on land not her own –
Thru fields and thru forests, paths known and unknown.
O’er fences she climbed with the help of a stile,
The path opening before her mile after mile.
God’s world is a wonder; it’s wild and it’s free
When others share access with you and with me.
- Maggie W. Rowe, 2019

Mike captured this beautiful sunset in Balestrand only because we were able to access the fjord through someone's yard.

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