When I was little, my family and I had to drive through one small village in Germany in order to reach the other small village where we lived. Along the winding road through the first village was a row of rough-hewn doors carved into the side of a rounded hill. When we would pass these doors—which seemingly led to nowhere—at night, I would feel a surge of fear. What was behind those doors? Were there ghosts dwelling there? Is that where the living dead would come out as I’d see in the (truly terrifying) movie, “The Night of the Living Dead?”
I made up various stories in my young mind about these doors. Where they led. What their purpose was. What was kept in their lairs. All of my reasons were spooky and hair-raising, be assured.
Turns out, they were root cellars.
A little boring perhaps, but practical in reality.
Inside those cellars, items were stored for another season. Possibly some things were forgotten. Maybe neglected equipment. Perhaps a lost pair of gardening boots. I imagined that the farmers in charge of those cellars were simultaneously pleased and dismayed each time they surveyed the contents behind those dark doors.
Still, it seems to me, as I put my over-active imagination to rest, those cellars provided usefulness to the farmer. They provided a place for storage that otherwise wouldn’t have been available. When the time came, whatever season it was, the farmer would descend, and ascend, bringing up whatever he needed to the surface. Useful, outdated, rusty, neglected. All of it was cataloged. All of it noted.
The image of an old and dark cellar is prevalent in my mind as the last eight weeks inside my house has surfaced a wide assortment of emotions, tools, and experiences.
A quarantined life isn’t something I planned, nor did any other person on the globe currently. It is a trial by fire situation. I recently joked to a friend that I am the grumpy person in a trial as I don’t often react in the most shining way. “I don’t want to grow!” I lamented to her.
In the Biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Book of Daniel, Chapter 3), the three friends refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s god and subsequently get thrown into a fiery furnace. The Son of God joins them. They escape the fire. The king recognizes the One and Only God.
But if I had been in the fire with those guys, I know I would have been the worst and the most vocal about it. “Really, Shadrach? You just had to spout off to the king? Come on, Abednego, couldn’t you have used your diplomacy to smooth things over? No, you didn’t, and now we are stuck here. And I’m HOT. And this was my FAVORITE robe, and now it’s BURNT.”
What I’m saying is that while sometimes tough circumstances lead humans to rise in glory and sacrifice, for other humans, trials uncover traits that are neither noble nor valiant. This time has driven me to consider the items inside my old, dirty cellar. One by one, they are getting dragged out into the light of day, exposed for their true essence.
Like it or not. Here they come.
Anger has arisen its wild head. Anger with “Why is this happening to us? Why is this sickness ravaging our world and wreaking havoc on good people?” Anger at not wanting to teach my kid on an iPad. Anger at myself for getting snippy with the people I love the most. Anger at the lack of self-control I experience. Anger at injustice for the least of these in my community and my nation.
And then, sadness marches up from the darkness. Hello, she says, I’m here for you. You know me, I help you cry and cry. until you have nothing left. I lend you the feelings of despair and hopelessness. I lead you to believe that nothing will ever change. Things will never improve. Do you want another cookie with your tears?
Shame parades its flag over me. Shame over the my fumbling to balance work and motherhood. Shame about rough spots in marriage, of uncertain finances, and a faulty body image. Shame is screaming in my ears, “You are never enough. Look, this time of hardship is only proving it.”
Next to the surface: unforgiveness. I realize that I am holding onto old hurts, past wrongs, and grudges against people that need to go. I certainly didn’t want to see this one, but behold, here she is—drug up the broken stairs from the deepest parts of my heart.
Craving for approval looms large. I almost can’t fit it up the stairs to meet the light. My longing for someone else to stamp a seal on my God-given callings wrecks me. It is an illuminating realization to see that my worth has been wrapped up in the idea of how much I can put out into the world and how much will someone else praise me.
Out into the daylight, all of these emotions and experiences are laid bare. There is time now to consider them. I have long mornings of reading and writing as I no longer have a commute to my job. There are the quiet evenings at home with my boys. I don’t think I had slowed down in my life for long enough to let the deepest parts of myself rise within me prior to this season.
But now, they are here. I am evaluating what to do with them. I’m opening up my heart and mind and soul for the work of the Divine light to change me, to burn away the outer cover-ups (yes, even if it was my favorite robe), and to mold me into a more whole-hearted human.
Let me be clear too, this time away from a regular routine, social gatherings, and even my church, has not only surfaced the busted trappings of my life. It has also revealed some very good and useful items as well:
- Contemplation during the morning hours, getting to know my inner being with God
- Sitting with my emotions and feeling them in all their wildness
- Teaching my son to read, realizing that I do have some skills as a teacher
- Playing games with friends via a silly app called Ticket to Ride and knowing I can maintain connections with the people that I care for
- Hanging out with our neighbors via yelling across the street or sitting on our front lawn while they sit on theirs
- Realizing how good I have it and knowing in my core that I am called to give and to serve to the best of my capacity – yes and beyond my capacity
- Rediscovering a love for playing music and dancing with my son
- Keeping a deep, abiding passion for Jesus Christ and Him Crucified and developing a crazy love response to His teachings
- The ability to rest
- Capacity to love myself and my family
- Cultivating peace in a storm
- Dreaming up big dreams
These are all valuable pieces inside my cellar. They are the well-worn bits, reliable and sturdy, which I have taken for granted during the busier seasons. I love each one. But the most revealing idea to me in this time of isolation has been that the other stuff needs attention too. Maybe I don’t want to let them have the limelight all the time. Maybe they aren’t the greatest communicators of truth. Some of them will get kicked to the curb. But they all exist for a reason. They all deserve a place.
Each element—good or bad or neutral—plays an important role in creating my complete self. This wild and wonderful and unpredictable person called me. The one who needs grace. The one who has things to say. The one who wants to love and be loved. As Jen Hatmaker so eloquently phrases in her latest book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, “We need you, not for what you do but who you are. Do the work and show up for your life.”
Around my state of Colorado, stay at home orders are getting lifted, but there is still much uncertainty. We don’t yet know what new routines look like. We can’t see around the curve. But we are somewhat resuming the run-of-the-mill life again. Businesses are reopening. People can gather in small groups. Calendars suddenly have appointments.
While a quarantined life may be in the past, what was uncovered during its enforcement still lives inside me. The work still needs to be done. Whether it is the work of tempering anger, freeing unforgiveness, starting a new project, or nurturing a big dream, the heavy lifting must be done. As Charles Kingsley said, “Have thy tools ready, God will find thee work.”
I’m sharpening the tools – even the rusty ones have a purpose.
I’m reminded of Jesus emerging from His 40 days in the wilderness. This wilderness experience happened just before He started His powerful ministry. Was He changed inside out? Did His true values come out? Was He shaken from His encounter with Satan, with pride & ego, and with questions about His calling? Maybe He was. But He moved forward with grace and hope, knowing Who He was and what His purpose was in the world. If anything, He left the time alone with greater resolve. He wasn’t afraid of any evil threatening Him. The Divine in Him was greater than any Evil. The work of His Father remained paramount. He stayed ready.
My time spent in this dusty root cellar shall not be wasted. As I emerge from its damp and dusty surroundings, I hope I stand in the sunlight, letting it flood my entire being from soul and heart to body and mind. There is work to do. Another season is upon me. I need every tool I can find.
Whole-hearted living awaits.
My robe’s a little burnt but that’s okay.
The cellar’s contents are teaching me and molding me.
I’m big enough to hold them as I move forward.
Grateful. Whole. Ready.