Something Scary's Knocking at the Door
Several years ago, at the Advent Retreat of Silence, Sibyl Towner and I began the tradition of tucking women (those who requested it) into bed. At some point, we realized many women had never been tucked in at night by a godly mother. Now some women had survived a really bad year and simply needed this gift of comfort. Some think being tucked into bed sounds like a really snuggly, yummy, comforting thing to do on a cold December night. But many others became Christians later in life and were not raised in a Christian family. The bedtime ritual of nighttime prayers was an unfamiliar unknown to these.
Once, Sibyl and I prayed for a woman who knew she would die of cancer that following year and was struggling to accept the loss of her own life. That was a powerful moment for us all. We’ve held women with tears coursing down their cheeks. We’ve laughed and prayed with others.
Generally, I’m really tired by the time I hit the bed that first night of the 24-hour Retreat of Silence. Usually, 12 to 16 women request this kind of bedtime blessing. By Dec. 3 of this year, those of us on the retreat committee had spent months of intense planning and designing and printing, and most of the day has involved gathering and hauling and packing and setting up—all to be ready to receive some 50 women who are eager to meet with God.
Tired as I am, I am always glad that Sibyl and I knock on these doors, tuck these gals under the covers and ask, “How is it that we can pray for you?” This seemingly inconsequential act puts us, the retreat leaders, instantly in touch again with the real needs, desires and disappointments of flesh-and-blood women; ministry is no longer an abstract act.
As an illustration, this year at the retreat a letter came from one of the women who was working out the impact of the bedtime visitation. Because of the circumstances, I found it particularly eloquent. With her permission, I am sharing a portion of it with you. Susan Kamin writes:
I’ve been on a healing journey for mother loss since I was 44 years old. I’m 56 now. God gives me a little at a time. At 44 I uncovered the family secret that my mother took her own life when I was an infant. Prior to that, I had little knowledge of her, no mention was made of her by my family. … I was raised by my father, he didn’t remarry, and he passed away when I was 24. I’ve lived for 30 plus years unparented and with no siblings. I’m married to a wonderful man; we have had two pregnancy losses. I realize I’m in a tiny minority of women who did not have a mother and did not become a mother. I’m surrounded by mothers wherever I go, but mother is a foreign concept to me.
So when it was announced last night you were offering a “godly mother knock on the door,” I was confronted with the fear of the unknown. I’ve never been offered such a thing. Just the very thought of “mother coming” gripped my heart. I would have been less afraid if you had said that Moses himself was going to knock on the door. I feel I know Moses. I know about his life, words he spoke, what he did, his character, his challenges. My mother, Bess, I don’t know. I was always introduced to folk as “Steve’s daughter,” never “this is Bess’ daughter.”
Last night I was given a gift from my generous Heavenly Father delivered through you, a moment to connect with Bess, if only in thought. It’s the closest I can get to her. God has proven to me my whole life the truth of Isaiah 49:15. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast? And have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you. No, my dear one, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”
So thank you for coming and knocking. Of course, the moment I opened the door and saw the both of you standing there, the fear instantly vanished. I treasure the opportunity God gave me to prepare, for a little space in time, for the coming of godly mother surrogates who would enter in, be my paracletes, one on either side, and pray for me.
Stories like these are the reason that, at bedtime at each Advent Retreat of Silence, Sibyl Towner and I go knocking on the doors.
It occurs to me that in this coming year, 2009, many of us will be facing things we have not experienced before. We are not sure where the road ahead of us leads. We don’t know about this concept of foreclosure, bankruptcy, job loss, divorce, want and deprivation. There doesn’t seem to be anything benign (like the word “Mother”) in any of this. I suggest the word “Mother” only seems benign because most of you have had a mother—a good mother, a consistently adequate mother—and many of you are mothers, trying to be good mothers, consistently adequate mothers. You have a context.
But when the darkness comes—when fearful things knock on the door, make noises under the bed, shuffle in the closet, or scratch outside against the window—we are terrified at the unknown.
This is not to say that bad things don’t happen; they do—a child can grow up without a mother. We can lose jobs, homes, spouses, dreams, plans and possessions. What we cannot lose is the Presence of the One who is always with us. “I will not forget you. No, my dear one, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”
My son-in-law was among those laid off at his job (with only two weeks’ severance), so this reality is very close to me in these economic hard times. The first responses of my adult kids were positive—they saw opportunities ahead. But last weekend, some of the reality of it all began to sink in; things were a little ragged around the edges. Both my daughter and son-in-law have been working all year toward their certificates in executive coaching, and Melissa’s own coach, a leader in the Coaching Training Institute, reminded Melissa that when she was tired and stressed, her default place was to begin thinking, There is not enough. Sound familiar? That’s a place I used to go during my younger years (from age 20 to age 50). Not enough time, not enough strength, not enough money, not enough help.
The coaching my daughter received was to choose instead, in the middle of a hard time, to go to that place of abundance, to say and to mean, There is more than enough. The work of each human, desiring to grow and be healthy, who is facing a scary unknown is to chose to operate out of the place of abundance. It is exactly like the experience of my friend at the Advent retreat. There is a knocking at the door. (Who or what is there? What does it look like? What will it do to me?) The promise has been made of a loving nighttime prayer, an embrace, and warmth. (But what is that? What if I’m not liked? What if I fail in my part of being tucked into bed? What if the person knocking looks in and says, “Nope. Don’t want to tuck you into bed”?)
Abundance cautions, “Wait—wait—don’t go there into fear and terror and doubt. Don’t hide under the covers. Open the door. You don’t know what good gifts will be on the other side. Choose to believe that there is warmth and love and laughter. Some Mother-surrogate may be standing on the other side.”
The place of abundance (Executive Coaching lingo) that Christians choose is to go to the place where God is Present—in other words, we choose to understand that it is He who is the Mother knocking at our door when it is night, when the dark is gathering. God is the One who will hold us in His arms when we are afraid, when we have nightmares, when we cry out in our sleep.
Susan Hands, my coworker, just came into the office this morning, right this moment, right at this place in the writing of this Soulish Food. She gave me a gift bag with a Starbucks “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” coffee tumbler (“Sometimes less is more/ Like when you stop using disposable cups/ And you send less waste to landfills./ You show A LITTLE MORE LOVE for the planet…”). The bag also contained a recyclable coffee cup for David, a Christmas tin of Swiss Cocoa, and a plaque that reads,
Life isn't about waiting for
Listen. The New Year is coming. All the forecasters are predicting stormy weather. Something unknown is knocking at the door. Decide now, decide right now: Are you going to hide in the tornado shelter until this next terrible year passes? Or are you going to stand in that place of abundance and dance in the wind and the rain? How are you going to receive the unknowns of 2009?
New 2009 Listening Group Cycle
"The work of each human, desiring to grow and be healthy, who is facing a scary unknown is to chose to operate out of the place of abundance."
New 2009 Listening Group Schedules
Starting the second week of February, three Listening Groups will be available in West Chicago at the following times:
* Wednesdays, at 12:30 p.m.
An additional Listening Group will meet in Kildeer, starting in the last week of January; date/time negotiable.
Another Listening Group will meet monthly in Elgin; date/time negotiable.
Listening Group Leader's Training
Hungry Souls will hold a Listening Group Leader's Training on February 7, 2009, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Training will be at the Mainses' home in West Chicago.
To sign up for a Listening Group, or if you are interested in participating in the Leader's Training, contact: