Boot Prints: When Is It OK to Let Others Tramp into Your Life?

posted in: Woman to Woman Newsletter | 0

By Maggie Rowe

     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, perhaps, 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 boot prints 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?

     After retiring from full-time pastoral ministry nearly five years ago, Mike and I filled two interim pastoral positions at an English-speaking church in Stavanger, Norway, not far from where my paternal grandparents grew up. While living in this beautiful country in 2019 and again last year, we discovered a principle that has influenced our ongoing ministry here at home, too.

     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 60 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 if 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 our 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.

     Sharing doesn’t come naturally. (Ask any parent of a toddler.) Humans are self-protective 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. 

     Yet 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 salacious news and tell-all posts generate more media clicks than significant stories of international concern, “sharing” can become gratuitous if 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 or abusive to us 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 life’s 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 admire laws like Allemannsretten — the Norwegian right to roam — but I’m ever more thankful for those mentors in my life who have shared their wisdom, their resources, and their very lives with me.

     May we do likewise.

Maggie Wallem Rowe is a writer, speaker, and dramatist who spent 25 years in ministry in New England. The author of This Life We Share and Life is Sweet, Y’all, Maggie now writes from Peace Ridge, her home with her pastor-husband Mike nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Maggie is listed in the New England Speaker’s Directory and will also be teaching in April at reNEW, the retreat for New England writers and speakers. Reach out to Maggie through her online home,, or email her at