Recently Mike and I decided to sublet our property. He got the rental housing ready, gave it a fresh coat of paint, and advertised occupancy.
Within 48 hours a young couple had checked it out, and the next day we were delighted to see them moving in. We stood on our sun porch, camera clicking like proud parents as we watched them furnish their nest. To some, our new tenants’ home is a simple birdhouse, a nest where they can nurture their young, but we intend it as something more: a sanctuary. A place of protection against predators and a shelter from storms.
I love the word ‘sanctuary’ in all its connotations and instinctively seek it wherever I go. When Mike and I were first married I had a stressful corporate job in downtown Boston. Even when nature wasn’t calling I would sometimes escape to the restroom, latch the door and slump against it for a few precious minutes, praying for peace and patience.
Yesterday I returned from a reunion with longtime friends. Our gathering place was a time-share on a South Carolina beach, and we fell asleep to the rolling thunder of the waves beneath the windows. Early in the mornings before speaking to one another, women slipped quietly out to the balcony to face the rising sun and start the day in God’s presence. Sanctuary.
Sundays are my favorite day of the week. Some might think that’s a no-brainer in a pastor’s household, but not all ministers’ families feel that way. I recall one time when visiting missionaries were staying with us and I asked the wife if she wanted to attend both services at church with me since her husband was speaking. She looked at me as if I was crazy.
Maybe multiple church services on the same day aren’t everyone’s beverage of choice. For me, the first morning service at my church fills my cup and the second tops it off. At the end of a week overly crowded with commitments, corporate worship allows recalibration. With the focus off self, we see God instead. Our hands and hearts move heavenward. We process finite experiences in the presence of an infinite God.
You don’t have to enter a church to find sanctuary. Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles and a passel of others, threw her apron over her head when she needed quiet with her Creator. Ruth Bell Graham raised five children alone when Billy was traveling, and she kept her Bible open on the table so she could “snatch” passages to feel her soul while she was feeding her own kids. Jonathan Edwards, student of the natural world as well as theology, often went out on horseback to find sanctuary. When he returned home, his wife Sarah would carefully unpin the sermon notes he had scribbled and stuck to his greatcoat.
The discount airline that took me to Myrtle Beach this weekend had fewer amenities than any carrier I’ve ever flown. Passengers had to pay $3 for water, $10-40 for seat assignments and $60 or more to place a carryon bag in the overhead bins. I was given a cramped middle seat. Yet as my seatmates slept, their elbows touching mine, I savored 100 minutes of solitude with God. A sanctuary in the sky.
Our chickadee-tenants seem to appreciate their new church-home. “Baptist birds!” Mike declared cheerfully. “Or maybe they’ve been church-hopping for a while and decided to settle where they knew they were welcome.”
No matter – their tiny one-foot-square apartment is a sanctuary to them.
And whether your world is marvelously wide at present or as confined as the middle seat on a discount airliner, you can find sanctuary too.
Right here. Right now.
“Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT