I am sitting at the desk in my hotel room in Okemos one last night. The chair doesn’t always adjust, so I sit on a couple of pillows. It’s 10 p.m., and I’m answering a few last emails before shutting down my computer and calling it a day.
It’s the eve of my final cabinet meeting at the Michigan Area Office, and I’m comfortably ensconced in my home away from home at the Holiday Inn Express. I’ve stayed in the same hallway for the past 6 years, an estimated 70 nights. I’ve come to love my room, plain as it is: a simple wooden desk, very loud heating and cooling unit, brown carpet, nondescript paintings, stuffed chair in which I’ve never once sat, a coffee maker I’ve never once used, and a TV I’ve only turned on one time when the Tennessee women’s basketball team was playing in the Final Four.
The room has been a retreat for me: quiet, holy, and Spirit-filled. I’m usually only in my room later in the evening, after 10 hours or so of meetings. From this room I have tried to be a faithful servant of God.
- I’ve made dozens of calls to clergy about new appointments, pacing back and forth or typing notes on my computer
- I’ve shed tears of joy when clergy rejoice in their appointment and tears of sadness when they are devastated by an impending move
- I’ve knelt at my bed and prayed for wisdom, courage, and help
- I’ve asked God to give me the right words when conversing with clergy and laity who are distressed or even angry about a particular issue
- I’ve tossed and turned for hours, endlessly replaying late night conversations
- I’ve read many scriptures from the Gideon Bible when my own Bible was left overnight at the Bishop’s office
- From this room I’ve kept in touch with my children, who live in other parts of the country
- I’ve checked in with Gary after a long day and called my colleagues in neighboring rooms when I needed to vent
- In this room I received an early morning phone call from my brother that my mother had died during the night
- From this room I’ve run hundreds of miles early in the morning, mostly outside but sometimes on the outdated treadmill in the tiny hotel exercise room
- I was driven back to this room one March morning by a complete stranger after slipping on the ice while running, shattering my elbow, and going into shock
- I’ve read USA Today in bed many mornings and eaten at my desk, eschewing the tired breakfast buffet in favor of red grapes and yogurt
There is nothing special about the room at all, yet it has been a haven for me, a place of work and rest, elation and depression, conversation and quiet, peace and anxiety, faith and doubt. God called me to this room for a season.
On this night I think about the many rooms that Jesus entered during his years of ministry. Jesus said that when we pray, we ought to retreat to our room where no one can see us. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in her room. He brought back to life Jairus’ daughter in her room, saying, “Little girl, get up!” Jesus healed a paralytic when his determined friends let him down through a roof. When dining with a group of Pharisees, Jesus denounced their hypocrisy with his “woe” statements.
Visiting Mary and Martha’s house, Jesus explained that there is “need of only one thing” when Martha complained that she was stuck with all the work. Then, when Lazarus died, he entered that same room and said, “Your brother will rise again.” Zacchaeus’ life was transformed when Jesus came to his house for dinner. Likewise, Jesus forgave the woman who anointed his head with oil, at the same time gently chiding those who criticized her very presence in the room.
Jesus sent out the 12 disciples to witness to the kingdom of God by staying in the homes of others. He praised a woman who diligently searched for a lost coin in her room. When Jesus went up on a high mountain with Peter, James, and John, he lamented that Peter wanted to build 3 huts so that everyone could stay on the mountain top. “No,” Jesus replied, “Life is lived most fully in the valleys of life.” In one of the most beloved passages in scripture, Jesus said in John14, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
Jesus asked his disciples to go to an upper room on the night before he died. There Jesus shared a last supper with his disciples, washed their feet, instituted the sacrament of holy communion, and mentioned his betrayer. And after his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, asking his disciples to wait in what tradition says was that same upper room in Jerusalem. From that room the Holy Spirit of God’s presence and power would be unleashed on them and on our world.
Healing, witness, forgiveness, truth-telling, grace, sacrament, prayer, waiting, new birth, miracles, prayer, doubt, repentance, lessons about greatness, and hope can all be found in the rooms that God places along our life’s journey. Where is the room that God beckons you to enter right now? Is there room in your heart for Jesus to enter with you?
Filled with a serenity that escapes me at times, I follow my nighttime routine of moving the blanket on the other double bed over to my bed so that I stay warm. I lay my head on the soft pillow, not the firm pillow, read a story from Sports Illustrated and go to sleep. Hoping for sweet dreams and a peaceful last night, it becomes a restless night instead. I get up several times, then am rudely awakened at 5:30 a.m. by a TV blaring in the neighboring room.
Before rising I lie still, resting in God in the room of who I am. Naked, exposed, and vulnerable, I begin to share the mind of Christ. I recognize that the room where I found comfort was also a place where I felt safe to challenge my assumptions and goals. The room where I settled into a routine offered perspective and strength to embrace deep change. The room that was a shelter from the stormy blast has become the Holy Spirit’s launching pad into an unknown future.
God prepared this room for me. It was my home for a particular time and place, but now it’s time to move on. The truth is, my home is in God no matter where I may lay my head at night, and the call is always to remain alert and open to the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit. May I never hide behind locked doors out of fear of what God might ask of me.
Where is that room which God has prepared for you at this moment in your life’s journey? Is it a room at the Holiday Inn Express, in the homeless shelter, on the mission field, in the inner city elementary school, or in a struggling congregation? Where is God calling you right now to use your Holy Spirit gifts, those fiery tongues that set our world on fire with shalom, hope, and the common language of love? Do you even expect an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? How is God urging you to make room in your heart for all people?
I go for a last run, take my shower, eat my yogurt and grapes, glance at USA Today, and leave a note along with a generous tip, “This was my last night here after 6 years of regular stays. God bless you and all who work here for your hospitality.” With hope and anticipation I walk out the door of my room into God’s future.
Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or even you had formed the earth and the world,
From everlasting to everlasting you are God.”