When I was in third grade, and my house had burned down, I received a nice surprise when I moved into my new one: a room full of shiny, brand-new toys purchased by my parents, my family, and the church.
I can’t tell you how excited I was. You think you’re excited about your new smartphone? That new promotion? A shiny car? No. You were not a tenth of excited as I was to walk into a room full of toys. After that horrible tragedy and after my family losing so much, a lot of people worked together to give me a child’s dream come true.
I think of that moment often when I hear talk about “open doors” and God “opening doors.” In my mind I always picture that “open door” as I saw it long ago: swinging open slowly to reveal a remarkable room of toys. And, in a way, don’t we all? When we say that we want God to open a door, what we’re implying is that what waits behind the door is everything that we want or we need.
And that’s why it’s so frustrating when the door stays closed.
I’ve faced a lot of closed doors in my life. I’ve watched a lot of people I love face a lot of clothes doors. And the response to a closed door is often one of the following:
a) Insistence. The door is supposed to open, you think. But it doesn’t. You jiggle the knob. Nothing. You tell God that maybe He should go get the key. He doesn’t. You kick the door. You throw your shoulder into the door. And eventually – as you say to God, “look, I mean, I know You intend to open this door, I’m just gonna, you know, help out” – you show up in front of the door with a blowtorch and a crowbar and a hammer. One way or the other, regardless of the damage, you’re getting through.
b) Resignation. “Oh,” you say, scuffing your foot against the floor. “Not gonna open, huh?” Sigh. “I should’ve known better.” Your shoulders sag. You think about a day, a month, a life of endlessly closed doors. An eternal hallway. But it’s okay. As you wander down the hallway like Eeyore, you remind yourself that Jesus suffered, so you probably have to, too.
c) Adaptability. Door doesn’t open? Well, that’s cool. God doesn’t open every door! And, hey, this is a long hallway. You figure you’ll just keep on walkin’, hands lifted in praise, and eventually there’ll be another door. Or a window. Something. And that one’ll open. God makes a way!
What all of these responses have in common than this: more than anything, they prize and prioritize what waits – or what will eventually wait – behind the all-important door.
I thought of this recently when I faced my own closed door, via a rejection slip from a publisher I’d actually forgotten I submitted to ages ago. Somehow, even though I’d forgotten and mentally given it up for dead, the rejection felt like a stomach punch. My eyes automatically welled up with tears. Closed door.
And I felt the sharpest frustration with myself. Because I know believers who face closed doors – who have faced a whole lifetime of closed doors! – and they can somehow smile and say, “It is well with my soul.” No resignation for them. No insistence. And they don’t really rely on the hope of another door opening, eventually. They’re just…okay, somehow.
How? I wondered aloud to God. How do I move from Point A to Point B? When do I get to the “it is well with my soul” part?
Then my mind turned to a Bible verse: 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the admonition to give thanks in all circumstances. I hadn’t read the verse recently, so I assumed that God had guided my mind to it. I sighed. Fine. And then, with more than a little resentment: What precisely do I have to be thankful for in this particular instance?
And the response hit me, clear as day, in a way that it only does when I am certain God is speaking: “That we’re talking!”
Here’s the thing: if life is a hallway, and God is walking with us through it, a lifetime of closed doors means more time spent with Him. Because if we’re honest? A lot of times we want what’s behind those closed doors more than we want God. And if we’re painfully honest? A lot of times we’re using God to get to what’s behind those closed doors.
I don’t say this lightly. Closed doors are painful. Closed doors can be way more than a rejection from a publishing company. Behind a closed door might be the child or the marriage you want but can’t have. The financial security you desperately desire. The person you need in your life…or the person you need out of it. The answer to the question that haunts you. The fix for the health problem. All the toys we dream about.
The problem is that once those doors open, after a token thank-you and a little bit of praise we often fly to whatever it is that we’ve shaped our identity around: whatever it is that we think makes us complete, better, more whole. When the door opens, we often don’t take God in with us. Say what you will about the closed doors, but – at least in my case – they mean I spend a lot more time hanging out in the hallway, chatting with God. Growing. Realizing that a lot of the time I don’t need what I think I do. And, sometimes, recognizing exactly what it is that I prioritize more than God and my relationship with Him.
It’s easy to forget that God is the sum goal of the Christian life. More of God! An abundance of God’s presence, His love, His gifts. The relationship with God is the priority…or it should be. Often, it’s not. Often, we view God as a life companion, as the Unlocker of Doors That Lead To The Good Stuff, without realizing that He is the good stuff.
The only closed door that ever mattered was blown wide open and its curtain ripped in two when Jesus yielded up His spirit. Other closed doors might frustrate us, might puzzle us, might even wound us, but they cannot – or should not – provoke an unquenchable longing in us. Nothing behind one of our “closed doors” is so precious, so meaningful, or so vital that we should prioritize it over God.
So the next time you meet a closed door, don’t hang out there and decide to pry it open if necessary. Don’t miserably resign yourself up a lifetime of unopened doors. And try not to placate yourself with the realization that some door is going to open somewhere.
Instead, take a moment.
Unclench the fists.
Breathe through the seething frustration and resentment.
Get your tears and your sadness out.
Recognize that while what is behind the door might be important, it’s not the most important thing…or shouldn’t be. If it is, that’s telling.
And then thank God for all the closed doors that might threaten the most precious relationship you have: the open door that no one will ever be able to shut.