On Being a Sanctuary

sanc·tu·ar·y

/ˈsaNGk(t)SHəˌwerē/

noun

  1. a place of refuge or safety.

The other day I was in my room doing something exciting like sorting laundry, when I heard my five-year-old’s footsteps coming up the staircase. At the top of the stairs I heard him stop, and then, after a few minutes, start running full-speed until he appeared in my doorway and launched himself at me, arms open.

“I runned to you!” he said breathlessly, wrapping his arms around me tightly. I could feel his little heart beating beneath his sweater. “I runned to you because I had to pass a thing that was scary!”

“I runned to you because I had to pass a thing that was scary!”

After a hug and a few moments to calm down, I learned that the scary thing in question was the hall bathroom, which had attained the Scary Triumvirate of having 1) the door open, 2) the lights off, and 3) the fan on. I could picture my little guy, stopped in his tracks from having to face that awful specter of noise and darkness, and then running full-steam past it.

Running to me.

When my five children were all under the age of ten, our church held a series of parenting classes which I dutifully attended every Friday night for weeks and tried not to fall asleep. I don’t remember any of the things I was supposed to have learned, save one. In a presentation on attachment theory, the facilitator introduced us to the concept of a “secure base” by saying that if we were to take a toddler and the toddler’s mother to a playground, and paint the bottom of the toddler’s shoes blue, after half an hour or so the ground would be covered by a big blue painted flower with the mother at the center.

I loved this image. I loved it because it was beautiful, and because it was true—at the playground with my own children, I could see this theory in action: they run and play and explore their world, and then they return to me, their secure base.

Now as the parent of not one but two teenagers, (how does this keep happening?) I think the theory also holds true for older children, albeit in different ways. My 13-year-old son recently asked me to take him to the store so he could spend the rest of his Christmas money on candy. After pausing for a minute to revel in the fact that my 13-year-old still had Christmas money in February, I said I’d take him. “You can pop in and get your candy,” I told him. “I’ll wait outside.”

“What?!” he immediately said. (Although to my ears, it sounded more like “Wut?!”) “I can’t buy candy by myself,” he said. “I might have to talk to the cashier. I can’t do that!”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because I can’t!” he said.

After some back-and-forth on this predicament and some deciding, on my part, that I really didn’t want to make it A Thing, I decided to drop it.

“Fine,” I told him. “I’ll come in and buy the candy for you.”

“Oh, I can buy it myself if you’re there,” my son said.

“Why?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Because you’re there,” he said.

And in my mind, I saw a painted blue flower, encompassing the candy aisle and coming back to me.

On the way home from church once my ten-year-old son asked me about my favorite part of the service. I thought for a minute…the music, the liturgy, the faintest scent of incense…which part was my favorite? And then I knew.

“My favorite part of church is watching people greet someone they love. The way their faces light up, the way you can sometimes see their whole body relax. I love that we can have that profound an effect on each other,” I said.

“Huh,” my son responded. “My favorite part is the donuts.”

To his point, the donuts are pretty good…but I stand by my favorite part. The way that we can be, even into adulthood, secure bases for those we love. Painted blue flowers everywhere.

…we can be, even into adulthood, secure bases for those we love. Painted blue flowers everywhere.

I have a prayer that I love, attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

I love this prayer because it highlights how we, messy and imperfect people, are called into the holy work of being the hands and feet of Christ. We are called to be sanctuaries for each other. We are called to be the secure base at the center of the flower. And at that sanctuary center of the flower, we get to participate in the work of being the body of Christ.

Elrena Evans

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