Remember that feeling of getting behind the wheel of your car for the first time? Everything is so clean and crisp. The upholstery is spotless and the paintwork is flawless. You promise yourself that this time you’ll drive it carefully, maintain it on schedule and keep it looking pretty.

A few months later and, hey, what happened? Fingerprints all over the exterior complement that slight ding on the rear bumper you got while parallel parking. The kids have decorated the seat cushions with indelible ink. There’s a permanent collection of parking slips festooning the inside of your windscreen and a litter of chip packets and empty coke cans clog the floor on the passenger side. Your once new car is a pigsty!

What about that time you moved? Remember how you promised yourself that you would keep the floorboards polished and the filters clear; how long did that last? That perfectly trimmed backyard is now a jungle, and the wallpaper in the dining room has marks at the exact height of the back of your chairs. Why is it that the real estate agent managed to detail the place to perfection, while the one who actually cares and pays for the place is less careful? You really didn’t mean to neglect your own home, but the pressures of life overwhelmed you and you’ve fallen behind on the maintenance.

And we make the same mistakes in our relationships. When you first met your spouse you were on your best behavior; your manners sparkled and you were attentive to every nuance of conversation. You cared about your clothing and strove to anticipate your loved one’s every last desire. During the halcyon days of courtship and those first, blissful months of marriage, everything seemed possible. Nothing was too much trouble and your dedication was rewarded with devotion.

But you began to take each other for granted. You’ve slipped up on your diet and no longer care so much about your ensemble. It’s easier to just throw yesterday’s clothes on the floor than dutifully walk them to the laundry basket. You still pretend to make meaningful conversation, but in reality you’ve just mastered the art of looking like you’re listening. Sure, you still love each other, but the promises and resolutions of those first months are fading by the day.

Build a Guard Rail

We’ll read this week, "When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof (Deuteronomy 22:8)." While nominally a public safety instruction, ensuring that people don’t unwittingly take a tumble from the top floor of your building, Biblical commentators learn an important life-lesson from the subtext of this verse.

Too often we build the house and assume that the “and they lived happily ever after” will just automatically happen. We start off all confident and sunny-side-up, but don’t erect any precautions for the inevitable stumbles and spills. We just assume that because we want things to work out, they will, without any ongoing care or further attention needed.

But life isn’t like that. If you don’t maintain, you profane. Before getting into the car for the first time you should have already booked it in for its first service. Before signing the contract on the house you should already have a gardener and cleaning crew on retainer, and it makes sense to first go for pre-marital counselling before walking down the aisle together.

A fence of prevention is worth a pound of falls. Even as we embark on life’s adventure we should be mindful of the possible mishaps that lie ahead. We put up a guard rail not because we fear failure, but in expectation of accomplishment.

Never be afraid to embark on a new venture or to start afresh, because if you set the requisite safeguards in place from the beginning, there is every chance that you’ll have much success to boast of in the end.