A few weeks ago I was on a mini road trip back from a wedding, and my friend asked, “what’s your favorite place and why?” What seems like a normal question actually launched me into some real processing of my past year. As we talked through places that have meant a lot to us, I realized how many memories I have that are defined by spaces. Specific spaces where I spent important moments in my life. I told them about the bench on a mountain in Canada where I sat with a high school friend for hours, and the Nile river in Uganda, where I symbolically (and actually) conquered a lot of fears. I thought about the fire pit in my parent’s backyard where many important conversations have taken place and how I always enjoy finding myself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I told them how much I love bridges because they are a picture of connection.
This year, my first year as a resident director, taught me a lot of things. And I’m finally getting around to processing them (welcome to the next few weeks of the blog). The first thing is this very idea, the power of spaces. My job deals with very tangible, specific spaces. I oversee people’s living spaces for a whole school year. Their health — physical, mental, relational, spiritual — in many ways is dependent on the health of these spaces.
I saw the way people could bring healing and JOY into any room they walked into. I also saw the opposite. Rooms where someone brought negativity felt heavier and darker. I know that maybe sounds sort of new-age-ish and weird, but it’s true. We change the spaces we are in. And the things that have happened there, the history of a space, can linger and affect us too.
This whole concept is something that we often aren’t very intentional about. But I can walk through the buildings that I oversee and feel the prayers of my team for their spaces. For it to be a place of rest, a place of family, a place of growth. We could also feel the heaviness of conflict, of tension, of secrecy. The things we hide in our lives affect our spaces too.
When I moved into my new apartment, I wanted it to be a place of peace with a feeling of home. I spent a lot of time praying for that and I believe it has worked. In the midst of a challenging year, it became a safe harbor for me and friends. It has been a space of JOY, hope, reconciliation, comfort, and celebration.
I just returned from two weeks in Poland. In my host home, we were always being offered tea. We sat out on the deck, at the kitchen table, on the couch, and every time were offered tea. Their home was beautiful and will forever be a space that represents rest and hospitality to me. I bought a teapot to bring home with me to remind me to welcome people into my spaces the way they did for me.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, our team in Poland was given the amazing opportunity to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau, some of the biggest and most well-known death camps from World War II. It is haunting to walk through these spaces, knowing the horrors that happened within their walls. It is weird, because we walked through the empty buildings and watched the sunset over the trees and one can start to feel like they are normal places.
But then we walked through the actual gas chambers where people met their death after being tricked into thinking they were being given a shower, and saw the piles of actual hair from the prisoners, their actual suitcases, glasses, and other belongings that were taken from them as they arrived. These displays help us remember that these were real people, imprisoned by hate, and killed for no understandable reason. These spaces forever are marked by evil, a permanent reminder of the potential for hate and violence in the human heart. Spaces are powerful.
This changes the way I view living. It changes the amount of power I believe I have. Because just as much as someone else can affect a space, so can I. It begs the question, what do I want to bring into a space?
It is sort of another angle on the questions, who do I want to be? What do I want to be known for? And gives us a tangible way to think about it. If someone described the influence I have on the spaces I am in, what would they say? I have a tendency to believe personally that I don’t actually matter all that much, which would mean that I don’t influence the spaces I am in. But when I am rooted in who I am, aware and living out of my worthiness, I understand that I do actually influence the rooms that I walk into. I start to see that I can either bring JOY, empathy, and connection, or I bring insecurity, jealousy, or bitterness.
Making a home is similar to making a life. You choose where to put things, who to invite in, what your priorities are. We lock the door or let people in. We paint the walls; we decorate. We decide on focal points. What will people notice first when they walk into our homes — or our lives? I don’t know about you, but these sort of questions help me recenter and remember who I want to be. They help me let go of petty jealousy or old insecurities. They help me focus in on what I want to be about.
It is all sort of the beauty of the Old Testament concept of the Holy Place. We have the ability now to always be in the Lord’s Presence, which means any of our spaces can be holy ground. But they had a physical representation, the understanding that a space holds power and can be influenced by who is there and what they are about. What matters to us is obvious by what we see in our spaces. Let’s create spaces of beauty, of wonder, of creativity, of hope.