I’m a closet Christian

Photo: Samuel McGarrigle, Unsplash.

Where do you go to set your soul down? 

I find myself both craving and creating safe spaces these days. For myself as well as for others. In my private home and in my professional work.

I’m coming to realize this had its beginning way back in my late elementary/early teen years. Growing up as the middle child, I shared a room with one of my sisters. As the daughter of an alcoholic father in a sometimes angry household, I occasionally needed sheltered space just for me. A space, though I couldn’t have articulated it at that time, to set my soul down in safety. 

My only feasible option during those years was a tiny closet tucked under our basement stairs. It was dark and airless, but private. That is, unless someone was doing laundry right outside the door. 

Serving also as my mother’s pantry, this closet had shelves lining one wall stocked with Campbell’s tomato soup, Spam, Tang, Kool-Aid packets, Cheez-whiz and Pop-tarts. All the goodness of the 1970s was right within my reach. 

After claiming this sliver of a space as my room, I went to work decorating the descending steps with red, silver and blue stick-on stars, under which I laid myself down. 

Fast forward 40 years to the home of my own making. As I was healing from childhood hurts and grown-up griefs, I found myself once again craving a closet. While I hadn’t yet linked it to the one of my youth, I’ve since detected a theme. 

This time, the closet of my choosing was a small storage room off our master bedroom which was, unfortunately, packed to the hilt with 25 years of accumulated goods. 

Hubby and I cleared the clutter, painted, hung artwork and filled it with my favorite things. I sensed this little room sigh as it was unburdened and opened up. I bet it never knew it could become such a holy haven! I even bought glow-in-the-dark stars (a grade above the red, silver and blue ones of my youth) to hang on the ceiling. 

It was a room made only for me. My family dubbed it the S.S. Jenny. The S’s were to stand for sacred space, as this was where I’d meet with God. But to me, they also stood for safe space, where I would pour out my soul to the same. This room became the container into which I could set my tired soul down. It holds me still.

Once this room was created, my grief poured out. Like one long exhale after a lifetime of holding my breath. I found I needed a room to hold me so I could let go. So I could unravel. So I could pour out. Nothing to hold together there, not even myself.

It’s now six years later. As I finish my spiritual-direction training, I’m feeling the stirrings yet again and have begun work on room No. 3. 

Not quite a closet, this is a small area at the top of our stairs that our builder of almost 30 years ago didn’t quite know what to do with. At the time, we put pocket doors on it and asked him to line one wall with shelves so we could use it as a little home office. But it never quite lived up to its potential, and we eventually closed the doors to hide all it held. 

With renewed vision, Hubby and I once again cleaned it out and painted the walls. We’re building a little book-nook bench and filling it with pillows and throws to cushion our stay. Instead of holding the canned goods of my youth, the shelves will soon burgeon with books that feed my soul. And the ceiling? You guessed it. The ceiling will shine forth with my signature stars. 

The psalmist wrote, “God is a safe place to hide” (Psalm 46:1, Message). To which I would add, “and to set our souls down.” Is this what Jesus was alluding to when he instructed his followers to go into a closet to pray?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” (Matthew 6:6, Message).

Part of my work as a spiritual director is to create (and be) such a space for others. A safe space to set their souls down and sift through what’s there. Who or what is that for you? 

What are you holding, dear reader? What or who are the spaces that hold you? Where do you go to sigh it out and set it all down?

“God’s a safe-house for the battered, a sanctuary during bad times. The moment you arrive, you relax; you’re never sorry you knocked” (Psalm 9:9-10, Message). 

Jenny Gehman

Jenny Gehman is a writer and retreat speaker in Millersville, PA. Jenny writes a weekly devotional, Little Life Words, at Read More

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