On my first night at Olive Street, I took full advantage of the closet. Earlier that day, my new housemates had given me the tour of the little blue, shotgun style house in Evansville, Indiana, and the tour had included the closet. The girls had prayed over it, and the entire house, before moving in. On the wall of each side of the opening of the closet – which had no door and opened up to the space that was given to me as a bed “room” – Katie had placed her oil coated hands for anointing.
“Look here,” they had pointed, with clever smiles and proud excitement, to the handprints that her hands had left. “See the hole in the middle of the palm print?!”
They didn’t say it, but I understood why they were pointing that out. They were excited because it had looked like Christ’s nail-pierced hands, and they had specifically prayed and anointed this closet to be a prayer closet – a place to meet and talk with Jesus Christ.
On the opposite side of the opening of the closet was a small window. Then, on each side of the closet was where my housemates had hung their clothes. And finally, in the center of the closet, and pushed back against the window wall, was a small, very flimsy, foam couch. At around 10 PM or so of that first night, after we all had gone to our rooms, since my pursuit of Christ was what I had moved to Evansville for, I went into that closet and kneeled in front of that flimsy couch and put my head down as if Christ’s lap was there. Immediately, my pent-up tears began to flow. I had never had a dad who encouraged me to lay my head down on his lap and just cry. I am certain now – experience gives me speculation – that most people didn’t, and don’t, have a dad like that. But, I learned that night that Christ is a dad like that.
As the tears flowed down my cheeks, so also flowed out of my soul all the toxic pressures and mindsets that had accumulated inside of me in my 20 years of life. This moment was different from all of the other times I had sat in a lonely place and talked to God, because I had absolutely no agenda except to meet Jesus Christ. I wanted to know him for real. I wanted to know his reality. I wanted just actually him, and who he really is, aside from what I had heard or known about him from other people. And, I had the sense that he was really there.
Really, I didn’t know how to talk to God, though. Based on my religious and church-going upbringing, I thought I did, and so, I began to condemn myself, say I’m sorry and not worthy, and had thoughts about how bad I was. But then the Holy Spirit took over, and instinctively (instinctively?), I began to hush my thoughts and repeat the name of Jesus Christ to myself over and over again. As I repeated his name, I imagined him dying on the cross. It wasn’t a very meaningful thought to me. It was just what I knew most of all about him – that he died on a cross for my sins – and so that was the easiest thought for me to have when I repeated his name. (I want to think, also, that my housemates’ earlier excitement about the handprints had subliminally made an impression on me.)
A couple years ago I wrote a poem that captures the soul-work that happened in me in that closet that night. I affectionately gave it the title it bears because it is the foundational moment of my life in which I learned to focus my affections on Christ. It was the moment that I learned to worship him – to give him all my attention and emotion and meditation – which is key to living a life free from sin and misaligned affections:
I Found Freedom in the Closet Jesus. Jesus Christ. Jesus. I repeat his name over and over again in my mind. Condemnation arises and I fight it with the name of Jesus. Jesus. Jesus Christ. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus Christ, hanging on a cross, bloody and clinging to the joy. I repeat the image over and over again in my mind. Flashes of my stupidity arise and I fight it with Jesus on a cross. Jesus Christ, hanging on a cross, bloody, suffering, clinging and fighting for the joy of me. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, hanging on a cross, hurting and fighting for the joy. I repeat it over and over and over again in my mind. He is all I want. He is all I need. I fight it. I repeat it over and over again in my mind. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, hanging on a cross and hanging on until his last breath, because of the joy. Jesus Christ. Jesus, hanging on a cross, breathes his last breath. I repeat it and my mind stills. Jesus Christ hanging limp on a cross. And I sleep. I have found the one my soul needs – he is all I need – and I sleep. Jesus Christ. Jesus. After three days, he breathes in joy. After three hours I awake to thunder. I awake to the thunder of his gentle voice and his joy.
Accepting and worshiping Jesus Christ is key to living an abundant life. Accepting and worshiping Jesus Christ is key to being able to do the works and have the affections that God originally intended for us to do and have. As I focus on Christ as he is presented in the Bible, as I talk with him because he is real and alive, as I ask him for the Holy Spirit to fill me because that is what he told us to do in the Bible, and as I do what the Holy Spirit leads me to do, I begin to have, and continually have, the affections he created us to have. I begin to do, and continually do, the things he created us to do.
My affections and works may happen immediately and without human assistance, or they may happen over time and with counseling and teaching. However it happens, though, the beginning of it all is simply setting aside time and attention to be alone with Jesus Christ.