Week 24: Beyond Myself
Song for June. Listen => See Joy, Be Joy (on finding joy in all circumstances)
Please allow me to share today’s message via an extended metaphor. As I’ve emphasized these past few weeks, to lead with goodness, you must become your true self. But to become your true self requires that you welcome God into the castle of your soul.
Yes, our souls are castles, made up of three wings. The biggest wing is called Memories. In this wing we find four rooms: Cherished Experiences, Hurts, Regrets and Lessons Learned. The castle’s second wing is one big room: Fears. On the far side of the castle of the soul, there’s another one-room wing called Hopes and Dreams.
Once upon a time, a woman owned just such a castle. For many years she had tended to it on her own. She had dug wide moats; built high walls; watched daily from the guard tower with vigilant mistrust. But she was lonely. So one day, after much indecision, she decided to place at the gate a welcome mat for God. And so it was, on that very same day, a knock echoed across the courtyard. Lowering the gate, she saw that indeed it was God, standing at the edge of her soul.
She welcomed Him in, her smile timid as she beckoned. Her honored guest smiled back as He stepped inside. They crossed the courtyard and walked into the castle foyer. After taking His coat, she gave Him a short tour– showing off just her two most favored rooms (Cherished Experiences and Hopes and Dreams). God was friendly; she was talkative. It had been a long time since she had shared a soul walk with anyone. They both enjoyed their short visit, but soon it was over, and He was gone.
Weeks went by before God knocked a second time, this time asking if He could spend the night. Flustered, she blushed and deflected– it seemed such an unusual request. But in the end she said, “why of course!” and ran around to set Him up in the Hopes and Dreams room, well provisioned with prayer requests.
What a special guest He was. He asked thoughtful questions, and listened to her answers with attentive care. There was so much to talk about. At her request, He stayed on a few extra days, until one morning He asked if they might go on a tour of the entire castle. She hesitated. She thought, “isn’t that a bit invasive?” Secrets were hidden in some of those rooms.
But in the end, she decided He was so kind and gracious, so caring, that perhaps she was ready to let Him in. In a march of momentary courage, she led Him into the room of Fears. “Oh, this room is quite a mess,” she said. “Let’s move on.” Indeed, it was one big, messy room– filled with clutter and cobwebs. But God didn’t join her as she edged towards the door. She watched in confusion as He took up a broom leaning against the wall. He began to sweep up the clutter, moving it all to the center of the room– where he proceeded to dump the pile into a trash can. He then began to swat cobwebs down from the ceiling. As He finished the task, He smiled at her. It seemed to her He was aglow with warmth and light.
As they came out of that room, she faltered; courage deserted her. But God walked past, strolling companionably towards the door of the room of Hurts. “Shall we go inside?” He asked. She was frozen. But finally, hesitantly, she pulled out a key from her pocket and opened up the room. As He went inside, His movements slowed. He inspected the room with quiet care. Shattered shards lay all over the floor. He stooped down, picking up pieces of broken pottery. He began to arrange them on a table. Then He found some glue in His pocket and, piece by piece, began to put the broken vessels back together. Soon, many were back on their shelves, repaired, crack lines showing. All looked imperfectly beautiful. “These are your forgiveness vases,” God said.
And then God took her hand. “It’s time to enter into the room of Regrets,” he said. At the door to this room, she hesitated again– and so God paused too. He looked at her with wrinkled, tender eyes. “Do you know how much I love you?” He asked. She looked up, tears flowing. Unable to speak, she nodded. “Then take my hand, my child. I am with you always.” Into the room they went. It was dark and cold, filled with shadowy silhouettes. She stiffened. “There is no other way. You must face each shadow, my child,” God whispered. “You are ready now. Name it, acknowledge your part in it, then ask Me to shine My light upon it and you. Only then will these dark shadows of regret disappear.” And so she did– shadow by shadow, repentance by repentance, grace by grace. By the time she was done, the room was filled with light. She beamed. Boxes lined shelves, each named.
“Now let us take up these boxes. We need to move them to the room of Lessons Learned,” God said. And so they did, box by box. Once the job was done, God brushed the dirt off His hands. He was about to leave when he noticed a box that had been there before they had brought in the new ones. He looked inside it, and a look of concern came over His face. “This box hasn’t been packed properly. Things are in it that shouldn’t be, and other things are missing. We need to take it back to the room of Hurts, so that it can be repackaged properly.” This took some time; in fact, the task proved to be both difficult and painful for her. But eventually they were able to return the box, repackaged, to the room of Lessons Learned. With that, God smiled, turned and headed down the main hall, past the foyer, into the courtyard and towards the castle gate. “But wait,” she said. “Can’t you stay longer?” He turned, quiet for a moment. “Of course I can,” God replied. “But then you must allow me to rent from you. And if I rent, I must rent more than a room– I must rent the entire castle.” It took a moment, but then she nodded.
Time passed; she settled into this wonderful arrangement. God and she visited the rooms of her castle every day, sweeping and arranging, shining light to banish new shadows and repacking and moving boxes into their proper places. But then one day, God came to her. He said, “Thank you for your hospitality, but I can no longer be your tenant.” He began to gather His bags to leave. “But what do you mean?” she cried. “I need You! You must stay with me always!” God looked upon her with the most tender look of love. “My child, there is only one way that I will be able to remain inside this castle of your soul. The time for tenancy is over. For me to stay, you must sell me your castle. I will make you the tenant; I will be the owner and landlord.”
And this is how God came to own the castle of her soul.
On the day she handed over the title to the castle of her soul to God, she expected it would be an ending of some kind. But it wasn’t the end. Nor was it the beginning of the end. Rather, it proved to be just the end of the beginning. Since that day, God has remodeled; He’s expanded the size of the room called Hopes and Dreams. They still get together each day in that room, but the windows are larger — making it easier to look out into the world. In these daily get-togethers, God often points out the window, speaking of the world’s hunger and need.
Just today, He encouraged her to go beyond the gate; to explore new pathways of the world– to find other crumbling castles, occupied by other lonely souls– and then to knock. Just this morning, He explained it to her this way: “My child, do you love me?” he asked. She replied, “My God, you know that I love you.” With that He took her by the hand, walked with her through the castle and into the courtyard, lowered the gate and pointed out into the world. “Then feed my sheep.”
“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was hurt because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” — John 21:17
I first heard the “rooms of our soul” metaphor, and the companion notion that we are called to invite God to take ownership of the rooms of our soul, in a retreat led by pastor and Catholic priest Father Brendan McGuire. A servant leader of the highest order, Father Brendan is a gifted shepherd and heartfelt storyteller. Next week, let’s behold the beauty together.
P.S.: This poem acknowledges that to move beyond ourselves, to serve others, we must first move the stone of our false self out of the way. With God’s help, of course.
TURN OVER GENTLE
Turn over gentle now, gentle that loam
Clay covers my soul; it traps me alone
Underneath it, I’ve nursed fears on my own
So pull up my sin, Lord; help me atone
Meager my fruits are; You know how I’ve strayed
In mulch of my poverty, plant me Your way
Set me in straight, well-rooted I pray
To sun-guide me upward — to grow day by day
Then transplant me humble into the need
Remind me the cross, where Jesus did bleed
Help me cast gentle now, gentle your seed
For only by You might each plant succeed
As rainfall and sunshine fall soft from above,
May furrow by furrow I seed with Your love
Previous Week’s Letters: