Lesson 3: Go into your room
‘Go into your room.’ This order from Jesus sounded different for us at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (March 2020), when we all (or at least many of us) stayed at home more than usual. This third lesson is about the inner chamber and about the soul. We take another step on the path of learning to seek the presence of God.
3.1 Matthew 6:6
Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:6 have gained more and more meaning to me in recent years.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and
pray to your Father who is in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
These words are the heart of the sermon on the mount. For in this sermon on the mount Jesus leads the way to the innermost, the way of the heart. Living with God is a life from the inner. The first words of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:3) immediately point in that direction:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom
When Jesus talks about this ‘room’, He probably doesn’t mean a room in the physical house you live in. The word used in Greek, literally means something like a ‘storeroom’ or ‘closet’. But I think Jesus still meant most of all: your ‘inner chamber’, your inside, your heart. Somewhere in us is a place, a space, we often refer to with the word ‘heart’ or with the word ‘soul’.
Maybe ‘inner space’ is a nice wording, which does justice to what Jesus means: when you pray, withdraw yourself in your inner space.
3.2 Close the door
But when you try to enter this inner space, you soon notice it isn’t as calm and quiet in this inner space as you had wanted it to. All this noise, all these thoughts; the unrest, the chaos! I recognized this myself during the lockdown. We all came to a ‘standstill’, we often said. But many, many people probably discovered how little silence we have inside ourselves. When the world around us becomes more calm and quiet (we hear the birds singing again!), this says little about our own inner space.
Once you are inside, a lots of things come knocking on the door: thoughts, memories, plans, things people said, expectations, and other stimuli that distract you from silence and tranquillity. There seems to be so much going on in your head and heart! Don’t you agree? A noisy and crowded head and heart, always busy with something else? There is so much to worry about, so much to think about, so many plans and ideas, so many despondent thoughts too, so much fear.
3.3 Stop fighting
‘Closing the door’ essentially means: to accept that the way it is. Stop fighting it. Don’t slam the door again and again with a loud bang and a lot of self deprecation to lock out all these stimuli and distractions. That won’t work.
‘Close the door’ means to me that I admit, kindly and without judgement, that apparently there is still an open door letting in all these things that require attention.
Is that bad? No. This is how our mind is. Our mind always wants to have something to think about and to work on. Acknowledging this is the first step to the tranquillity and peace you long for so much.
There is a lot more to be said about this. Like how exactly can I do this? This will be discussed extensively in the following lessons of this course. For now it is enough (maybe you already have your hands full with this) just to listen attentively to the invitation of Jesus: ‘Go into your room’. And also: ‘Recognize that there is a lot of unrest within’. There are ways to close the door!
1. Which word appeals to you most when it comes to that inner chamber into which Jesus invites us: ‘inner space’, ‘heart’ or ‘soul’? Or perhaps you yourself have another word for it?
2. Take some time to try to be quiet, and afterwards, write down what you have thought about. What do you learn from that?
I invite you to dwell a little longer on the words of Mathew 6:6 for yourself. Hear them as a loving invitation to prayer, as a personal, to you spoken word of the Lord who knows what you need.
Listen a few times to the words of Matthew 6:6:
And/or read the words out loud (a few times). You can also write them down (a few times).
Savor the words. Savor the love. Savor the silence.
It might help to come to inner rest, when you listen calmly to a hymn that gives words to this nearing to silence and to God
Helpful for reaching this inner silence, might be the prior listening to a hymn about it, like ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’:
But when you pray,
go into your room
and shut the door
and pray to your Father
who is in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret
will reward you.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave a sermon once in 1928 entitled ‘The courage to be quiet’. In that sermon he says something beautiful about the soul (the other word you can use for your inner space). Read the quote below carefully several times. Let yourself be touched and challenged by what Bonhoeffer still has to say today.
It just sounds so strange and peculiar amid the confusion and screaming of the voices extolling themselves, this little word ‘soul’. It speaks such a gentle, quiet language that we hardly hear it anymore amid the tumult and chaos inside us. Yet it speaks a language full of the greatest responsibility and of profound seriousness: you, human being, have a soul; beware, lest you lose it, lest you awaken one day amid the frenzied bustle of life – in both work and private life – and find that inwardly you have become empty, a plaything of events, a leaf before the wind, drive to and fro and blown away – that you have lost your soul. Watch out for your soul.