My two boys attend pre-school at a church down the way from our house. P is in the oldest class, and goes through the carpool line. C is in the youngest class, and has to be walked in.
It’s a bit of a hassle, but it has its rewards. I drop P off first, and while I circle the building to park and walk in, he navigates from the portico to his classroom all by himself (such a big boy!), with his slightly-too-long tote bag dragging the ground beside him. If I time it just right, I can catch sight of him through the classroom door as I walk down the hall to C’s class. I can see P hanging up his bag, hugging his teacher, or writing his name at the check-in table (no easy task at his age).
One day last week, I walked in with C after dropping off P, and the principal stationed in the hallway just by P’s class ran up to me, alarmed. She said P had stopped, five steps short of his classroom, and burst into tears. He was inconsolable. The other principal pulled him into the science room to help him calm down and determine what was the matter. The principal asked me, did I have any ideas? Not really. I dropped off C and came back upstairs. They said P had calmed down and was just fine…no explanation.
After school, I asked P about it. “Oh, yeah!” he chuckled. “The door was shut, so I thought I was late. But it was the wrong door.”
The classroom just next door to P’s class is not being used this year. It is empty. The door is kept shut. Pierce thought he had arrived at his class, but instead of a bright room filled with friends greeting him, he found a closed door to an empty room. He saw himself shut out, alone in the hall, nose to nose with wood grain, and assumed he must have done something wrong. I’m too late. What sweet 4-yr-old heart could endure such guilt and such unexpected exclusion without breaking down into sobs?
Like sensitive pre-schoolers, we all navigate life looking for warmth and acceptance. For home, friends, belonging. A place to hang up our oversized bags, where we can painstakingly and ploddingly write our names, declare our identities. To say, “Here I am!” and hear in response, “So glad you are!” We look for an open door to walk through, to enter a room where we’ll find God, and be found by God.
This same child-like sensitivity can make us tend towards self-protection. We build walls all around us, inserting doors where we subject others to inspections, and reserve the right to exclude anyone who could threaten us. Fr. Gregory Boyle SJ says, “It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our own image.”
We spend our lives building walls and guarding doors, so we assume God does the same thing. But God is the one knocking. “Behold,” Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock.” The transactional requirements we develop, enforced through cracked doors, can become as convoluted as playground games, so we assume God’s requirements are the same. But Jesus continues, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter.”
Simple. God knocks. All we have to do is be open.
We navigate life, colliding with walls, bumping into doors, being told that if only we met certain requirements, we would be let in. We start to believe that the warmth and acceptance we seek, the home and belonging we need, have to be earned. And if we don’t have them, we must have done something wrong. Or we ourselves must be wrong. Hopelessly flawed, unacceptable. “It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be part of God’s DNA.” Fr. Boyle reminds us. “God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment.”
Like P learned, when we walk up to a door and find it closed, it’s the wrong door. We learn, more slowly and ploddingly than learning to write our names, that God is Love, the perfect Love that casts out fear, not sensitive souls. No need to sob alone in the shadow. The right door is the one that’s always open.