The Withdrawing Room
I have found a new sanctuary for myself… in the most unlikely of places.
Unbelievably, the place that offers me some peace and quiet from my chaotic world both externally and within, is located in the heart of a kindergarten, with children ranging from two to five, running around, playing all around it.
It was about a month ago when I stumbled upon it.
This place is the chapel at Marymount Kindergarten. And it is at this chapel that God’s magic unravelled in my life once again.
This year marks my 10th birthday as a Catholic but for almost 10 months now, I have been away from Landings, the ministry that helps reconnect away Catholics back to Church, also the ministry that has been my spiritual home for the last six years.
The time away has not done me well, but this post is not about that. This post is about the beginning of my return to my spiritual home.
It has been an awful time away, being disconnected with my Lord. Mass is filled with distractions with the children with us; my prayer life hasn’t been sustainable, mostly filled with words but not heartfelt prayers. Dedicated time to the Lord is a joke – what little time I have for myself is spent reading or idling. Confused and tired at the end of each day, I fail everyday to muster enough will to nurture my relationship with Jesus.
But since I realised the chapel at Matt’s school is open to the public, I have started to meet with my Lord there everyday. And it’s turned my life around.
The first day I stepped into the chapel, I found myself sinking into the kneeler and mustering just these words: “I’m here, Lord. But I don’t know how to pray anymore. So let me just pray the way I did when I started at Novena all those years ago.” I prayed the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” (well, this one I learnt when I became a Catholic), and then all I could say was, “Thank you for this place. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
10 minutes was all I spent in that chapel everyday then.
Since then, I arrive earlier at his school everyday just so I can spend some time in the chapel. Slowly, wonders started to happen. From praying, I started to listen again. From having a constant thousand and one things to run through in my mind, I started to be able to be quiet again – even if it was just for 10 minutes. Slowly, I began to stretch the time I have in the chapel, and then I relearnt to just… be.
Now, I’m able to make time to pray my one little decade of the rosary, talk to Jesus, read the bible… and listen. And it has been magical. It paved the way home for me. Back into a connection with my Lord, back into the ministry I thought I had left behind… It is no coincidence that things fell into place, and I like to testify to that.
Two Mondays ago, I dared to breathe a prayer I used to utter: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening…”
Almost immediately, in the following two days, my life was turned around once more. But more on that later.
For now, I’ll like to share what keeps me going. Here’s something I picked up during a six-week Book Club I had the privilege of sharing with some SAHM friends. We read “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” and this is what spoke directly to me then, and still keeps me going to that blessed chapel.
In the book, author Joanna Weaver referenced Robert Boyd Munger’s “My Heart Christ’s Home” and here it goes:
“Without question one of the most remarkable Christian doctrines is that Jesus Christ Himself through the presence of the Holy Spirit will actually enter a heart, settle down and be at home there,” Munger says. “[Jesus] came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship.”
Munger goes on to tell how he showed Christ around the house of his heart, inviting Him to “settle down here and be perfectly at home,” welcoming Him room by room. Together they visited the library of his mind – “a very small room with very thick walls”. They peered into the dining room of his appetites and desires. They spent a little time in the workshop where his talents and skills were kept, and the rumpus room of “certain associations and friendships, activities and amusements”. They even poked their heads into the hall closet filled with dead, rotting things he had managed to hoard.
As Munger described each room, they reflected my heart as well. But it was in his depiction of the drawing room that would forever change the way I viewed my time with the Lord.
We walked into the drawing room. This room was rather intimate and comfortable. I liked it. It had a fireplace, overstuffed chairs, a bookcase, sofa, and a quiet atmosphere.
He also seemed pleased with it. He said, “This is indeed a delightful room. Let us come here often. It is secluded and quiet and we can have fellowship together.”
Well, naturally, as a young Christian I was thrilled. I could not think of anything I would rather do than have a few minutes apart with Christ in intimate comradeship.
He promised, “I will be here every morning early. Meet with Me here and we will start the day together.” So, morning after morning, I would come downstairs to the drawing room and He would take a book of the Bible… open it and then we would read together. He would tell me of its riches and unfold to me its truths… They were wonderful hours together. In fact, we called the drawing room the “withdrawing room”. It was a period when we had our quiet time together.
But little by little, under the pressure of many responsibilities, this time began to be shortened… I began to miss a day now and then… I would miss it two days in a row and often more.
I remember one morning when I was in a hurry… As I passed the drawing room, the door was ajar. Looking in I saw a fire in the fireplace and the Lord sitting there… “Blessed Master, forgive me. Have You been here all these mornings?”
“Yes,” He said, “I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you.” Then I was even more ashamed. He had been faithful in spite of my faithlessness. I asked His forgiveness and He readily forgave me…
He said, “The trouble with you is this: You have been thinking of the quiet time, of the Bible study and prayer time, as a factor in your own spiritual progress, but you have forgotten that this hour means something to Me also.”
What an amazing thought – that Christ wants to spend quality time with me. That he looks forward to our time together and misses me when I don’t show up.
And here, this passage, affirms me everyday as I step into the chapel, sink into my kneelers and say, “I’m here, Lord. I made it.”
PS: I need to add here that, this is my sanctuary because it works for me. It fits into my schedule that has to be met – I mean, I can’t not pick up my son from school, right? Going for morning Mass would have been another failure for me, simply because it’s not sustainable for me. Nightly prayers would just end with me copping out every now and then again. I wish for all of you, my dear friends, that you have your own space for prayer, in a chapel, at Mass, in a dimly lit corner of your room… it doesn’t matter. Jesus is waiting for you, just as He waited for me.