In order to keep our sanity in today’s hectic world, it’s a good idea to change pace with a peaceful place or activity.
When my aunt Martha died, everyone in our family worried that Uncle Joe would succumb to his sorrow. He shut up his house in town and for an entire month lived in his cabin deep in the forest by a beautiful lake.
Then one day while Uncle Joe and I were fishing, he began to talk. “I’m moving back to town,” he said, “and taking up where I left off. Here in the quiet and seclusion of my retreat I’ve found new meaning for the years that lie ahead. I’ve found the necessary strength to face life alone without my wife.”
How true this principle is for all of us. When troubles and sorrows weigh us down and we do not seek sanctuary, we often become escapists, dodging anxieties by hopping like sparrows trying to cross the road. We do not realize that we have the power to rise above the danger coming at us from all sides.
We don’t need to go to a lake, hidden in a deep forest, as my uncle did, nor do we need to retreat to some distant island to find our refuge. Sanctuary may be as close as our own backyard. Some individuals have come nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.
Renewal in a garden and a workshop
An elderly gentleman who lives down the street from me spends most of his summer months working in his garden, cultivating vegetables and caring for dozens of beautiful rose bushes. One day he said to me, “You may think I’m crazy for doing this. I can afford to buy all the vegetables we need, and my wife usually buys flowers from the florist. But when I come into my garden and see the pretty flowers and smell their fragrance, and then see how well my vegetables are growing—I just feel good all over. It makes me stop and appreciate all the wonderful things God is doing for me. While I’m in my garden, I’m taking a breather from my worries and cares. I can go back into the house with a renewed spirit.”
Sometimes we can reach sanctuary by setting aside a few minutes every day to do something entirely different from the ordinary. I have a friend who is a salesman. After a busy day of traveling and meeting people, he goes down into his basement workshop, where he tinkers with old clocks that he has bought at auctions. “When you’re working with such small parts as a clock contains,” he explains, “you can’t be thinking about other things. You certainly forget all about the troubles of the day.”
Renewal through service
Some people find renewal in the act of serving. The next time you are hounded by fear or stymied by despair, try visiting patients at your local hospital. If you can’t visit with the sick, then leave a bouquet of flowers. You can always visit with elderly people who live in your neighborhood; they appreciate company and small gifts.
Your church and school probably have committees that are begging for someone to give them a helping hand. Every community has need for blood donors, people who will solicit funds for worthy causes, and people who are willing to help in nursing homes. When we focus on serving others, we gain perspective on our own personal worries and troubles that weigh us down. When we reach out to others, we not only assist them but benefit ourselves as well.
Henry David Thoreau found a place of renewal at Walden Pond. Abraham Lincoln found sanctuary in taking long walks. David, the shepherd king, found sanctuary in playing his harp and singing psalms.
Jesus often found sanctuary and renewal when He went into the countryside to pray.1 And on that last evening before His trial and crucifixion, Jesus found sanctuary in a garden. “They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I pray.’ ”2
One woman I know whose job is to handle complaints in a large department store was asked how she remained composed after listening to complaints all day. “Well,” she explained, “every evening after I get home from work I take a shower, and as the water pours over my head I pretend it is washing away all the ugly things that were said to me during the day. After I step out of the shower, I feel like a different person.”
Refuge for the soul
Sometimes, however, we need to cleanse more than our minds; we need to cleanse our souls as well. This is the time to discover the strength and beauty that are found in God’s sanctuary. There come times to all of us when, in our desperate need, we find no holy ground in nature or human sanctuary. What do we do then?
Do exactly as Moses commanded the frightened Israelites who thought they were trapped between approaching Egyptians and the Red Sea: “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.”3
We seldom know instantly the wise solution to our personal emergencies. “If only I could know what to do!” is the cry we hear so often. No matter how little you know, or even how little faith you think you have, the next time you need sanctuary, stop feverish activity and do what those who have found sanctuary do: Be still and wait upon the Lord.
As a baby finds sanctuary in the protection of its mother’s arms, so we too can find sanctuary in the arms of a loving Father who has promised: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”4
Marion F. Ash writes from Newton, Illinois.