One of the best books I have read in a long, long time is Frederick Buechner’s Secrets in the Dark, which is a collection of some of his sermons. Every essay in this book is worth the price of the book, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed reading the whole thing. One of the essays in particular struck a deep chord in me: “A Room Called Remember.” In this essay, Buechner discusses the idea of “rooms” as a metaphor for the places where our deep longings, hopes, fears, loves and memories are stored.
Buechner writes that there, “is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember.”
Charles Dickens, discussing the idea of lives and rooms, wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, “A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”
This idea of our lives as rooms constructed over the course of a lifetime got me to thinking about the ways in which we construct our lives; that is, the types of rooms we build, what we fill those rooms with, and how we enter them at various points of our lives. If we think of our lives as a home, then I think the following metaphors can help us as we seek to craft a life well-lived.
In any home, you, of course, start with the foundation. This is what the home must be built upon. As Jesus said, only the foolish man builds his house on the sand, yet, tragically, too many people fail to do the arduous, intentional work of laying a proper foundation. We want the exterior of our home to be glitzy and glamorous, full of the accoutrements that “ooh” and “ahh” our neighbors; if, however, the time is not spent doing the work to create a foundation of character, wisdom, and integrity, even the most luxuriously decorated life can fall prey to unsuspecting sinkholes.
If one spends the time to develop a foundation built upon a long obedience in the direction of wisdom and virtue, then one can turn attention to the rooms in one’s life. There is a great line in one of my favorite poems (“I Love You,” by Roy Croft) that says, “I love you, because you are helping me to make of the lumber of my life, not a tavern, but a temple.”
Think about that: are the rooms in your life taverns? Are they filled with regret, envy, despair, sorrow, addiction or anger? Are they dark rooms with secrets locked tightly away in impregnable safes? Are the windows boarded up, the carpets stained, the furnishings as withered and yellowed as Old Miss Havisham’s room? Are they dank and musty, with the air of things half-dead? Are they haunted with ghosts of relationships past, hurts long-gone, slights from years ago?
Or are the rooms in your life temples? Are they places where the windows are thrown open wide, where the warm breeze of healing and forgiveness blows, bringing with it the fresh, spring air of new life? Is it welcoming, with the aroma of ginger and cinnamon wafting from some unseen kitchen? Is there a sense of “home-coming” when one enters? Do peace and shalom feel palpable? Is the library full of worn books, dog-eared with multiple years of use? Do the rooms possess a sense of the sacred, a sense of worship, a sense of holy and wholly-lived lives?
This idea struck me with the full force of a thunder-clap the other evening. Every night, in my home, we do the same routine with our two boys: after bath time, we read books in the living room, then sing songs in the bedroom, have prayers, tell stories, then tuck in for the evening. On this particular night, I was late coming home and walked in as the songs were being sung in my three-year-old’s bedroom. Instead of walking into the room immediately, I stood outside the door and, unknown to my family in the bedroom, listened to the chorus of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” “Jesus Loves Me” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” As I stood outside the door, it hit me that there, in that room, was all that mattered. It was, to again quote Buechner, the place where life was most alive for me. In that small space, lit dimly by a nightlight, with the sound of waves lapping from the sound machine providing background to the off-pitched tunes of childhood, was my life entire. That room was church and temple, life and love; a room sacred and holy–the tavern of my life at last turned temple.