Through Locked Doors
Picture a medieval city, with a castle or tower in the middle, and walls around it for defence. Maybe you’ve seen the remains of the city walls in Norwich? Or walked around the walls in York? Strong, defensive walls, thick, with watch towers at regular intervals, arrow slits and occasional gates to let people in and out. In the centre, picture a tower, again defended by walls.
Are we like that city? We all have defences, necessarily so, as not everyone is trustworthy, and the majority of those who are can also make mistakes. When we think about defences, we need to bear in mind that while they can be unhelpful, they can also be life-saving, and in some cases should only be explored in a professional context.
Back to that city. What are the walls like? Do they have gates to allow entry, or are the barriers up and ‘no entrance’ all around? Are the walls not complete, having fallen down to allow entry to the city, but not the tower? Or are there no defences at all?
Look at the tower. What are the defences like there? Who is inside? Is it just us, or are guests allowed? Are there doors, and are they open, closed or for limited admittance only? There is no right or wrong answer. Every person has their own history and their own differing need for defences.
Look deeper. Where is God? Outside the city, patiently encamped while waiting to be admitted? Inside the city walls, but allowed nowhere near the tower? Admitted to the tower, to the very centre of our self?
Again there are no right or wrong answers; God longs to come as close to us as we are willing and able, but will not force us, and understands completely why we may need to keep our Lord in the outer areas. Are we keeping God away from the tower because we do not like ourselves? Or think we are stupid, wimpish, horrible? Maybe because we are worried, anxious or stressed? Because we are hurting or scared? Because we have an overly good opinion of ourselves?
God knows all of these things, knows our needs, our hurts, our anxieties, what we think of ourselves. Our Lord can also come through locked doors (see John 20:19-20) and doesn’t need us to relax our defences before joining us in our central tower. All it needs is a willingness, an invitation. If you think you’re stupid, you may well keep God out to avoid that being seen; it is already known (as is how true it is – or isn’t). But maybe that is a reason for keeping God in the outer city? Our view of our self, however negative or positive, can become part of us, and while we may resent it, letting God in close to it may be more challenging. So we leave our Lord in the outer city, not at our heart. We may feel we have to change this before letting God closer; yet this is our issue not God’s (see George Herbert’s poem Love bade me Welcome); it can also be a defensive mechanism for avoiding seeing how truly loved we are – and having to act on it!
Whatever your defences are like, rather than trying to change them, maybe try inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell at your heart; not trying to change the horribleness, the stupidity, the anxiety or how wonderful you may think you are, just allowing the Spirit in to dwell there. It may change nothing, it may change something, it may more likely be a long process of getting to know yourself with the Spirit’s eyes, of finding more truly and deeply how loved you are, and Who God truly is, as far as we ever can. It is not about changing, it is about our relationship with God – who knows us, yearns for us to draw closer, yet completely understands that this may take a long time.
Allowing the Spirit into the deep heart of our self is not about who we are, but who God is, of finding the depth, the length, the strength of our Lord’s love. Maybe that’s why we can prefer to keep God in the outer city.