A bath product commercial from many years ago featured a slogan that became a fixture of North American pop culture. The commercial opens with a woman surrounded by chaos in her home. We can see her tension mounting until she utters the famous words, “Calgon, take me away!” The next scene shows her relaxing in a bath surrounded by quiet. The idea is that peace and restoration is only a bath product away.
The slogan came to mind more than a few times during our years in Chad. Our home was “Grand Central Station,” with people coming and going at all hours. There were days when I felt closed in, not only by the physical walls surrounding our yard, but also by the busyness of our lives. I often longed for some (for any!) physical space where I could retreat in order to restore perspective.
There were two doors into our house. The front door was the center of activity. That was the door through which we met the outside world, where we welcomed visitors, interacted with merchants and beggars, and offered glasses filled with strong sweet tea to drink with friends. The front door signaled—by its openness—that we were available to anyone who came by.
The second door, directly opposite and through the kitchen, led to a small backyard where we threw out dishwater, hung laundry to dry, and set up beds when it was too hot to sleep inside. Rarely did anyone walk around the outside of the house to the back door to find us.
One day in a desperate desire for relief from the demands of life at the front door, I exited the house through the back door, sat down on a rough wooden stool, leaned against the house, and closed my eyes. When I opened them again and looked straight ahead, I saw only a cement wall, but when I looked up, I saw the sky.
There were birds flying overhead. I followed their unhurried movements on the warm currents of air and wished that I could sprout wings and fly with them, away from the demands waiting on the other side of the house. After a few moments of quiet, my tangled thoughts unraveled, and I talked with God. I told Him what I was feeling, from the frustration of being little more than a pocketbook for constant requests for money to the weariness of handling a stream of visitors—and, to top it off, there was guilt. I was a global worker. Global workers are loving and patient, and I was, most decidedly, not.
As I talked with God about how I felt, was real with Him and held nothing back, the frustrations relaxed their clenching grip. Repentance pushed away the bad attitudes. Grace nudged away the guilt. The Father held His weary daughter. For that moment, I flew with the birds in the wide, open spaces, borne up by unseen currents of air, unhurried in their progress, and free. Then I was able to return to the other door with renewed strength (Isaiah 40:31).
What changed me? Sitting for a few minutes alone in the backyard? Closing the door for a break from the challenges of ministry? No doubt this helped. Stepping out of chaos into calm is a tried-and-true method for maintaining sanity, and I highly recommend it. There have been times since that day when I have enjoyed a moment in the backyard, but the truth is, real change came from reconnecting with God.
Real peace and restoration come from a relationship rather than a method. From a Person rather than a place. From the real me meeting with the real God. I come to Him as I am (frustrated, worn out, and afraid I am unable to keep going), He meets me as He is (patient, listening, loving, and all that I need to keep going), and I am changed.
I do not need Calgon to take me away. Nor do I always need a specific physical place to hide from the maddening crowd, although this certainly helps. I do need to keep the door of my heart open to God. He is with me always. I can step into His presence at any time and in any place and be changed.
Question to consider: How do you “keep the door of your heart open” to God”?