When I was a little girl, I loved to build forts. Toss me a couple of pillows and a handful of blankets and I would recreate the Taj Mahal in my bedroom. Send me outside to play for any amount of time and you would find me up a tree with my little brother trying to turn the twigs we had gathered into the most epic tree fort your eyes had ever seen. Once, I even tried to talk my dad into letting me have free access to the lumber and building supplies we had in our garage, as I was fully convinced that I could build my own playhouse in the backyard if he would just give me a hammer and a few days off from school. (Yeah, that one didn’t happen.)
As fun as fort building was, I didn’t always do it for recreational purposes. Sometimes, building a fort was my way of building walls of protection around myself. I was an insecure child. My home life wasn’t perfect. (It was far from terrible, I promise, but things weren’t always great.) Sometimes I felt completely overwhelmed by what was going on around me and inside of me; and when the environment I was in did not feel safe, I had to find a way to create an environment that did.
When those moments came, when I found myself feeling sad, angry, or frightened, I would clear out the floor of my closet, set up a little nest of blankets and pillows, bring in a lamp and a book, and read until I fell asleep.
My closet fort was my safe place. In it, I could hide from the world. With those doors closed, nothing could hurt me, scare me, or make me feel bad. The outside world could not touch me. I was safe.
A few weeks ago, I shared this old coping mechanism with my therapist, Bethany, after she shared an image she had of me, as a little girl, crawling into my closet for a safe place to cry. We were both a bit blown away by the accuracy of this image.
Later, in a different session, I was sharing with her how unsupportive M had been when it came to my struggle with depression, and how difficult it was for me to so often hear, “It’s all in your head. I don’t understand why you can’t just get over it.” (I know M tried. It just wasn’t something he was fully capable of understanding, so I can’t blame him for his insensitivity.)
I told Bethany that, in the aftermath of our breakup, I realized how greatly his words and attitude had hurt me, and I knew that the right man would be able to understand what I had been through and show me compassion as I occasionally continue to struggle. She responded to my revelation with, “You need someone who will crawl into your closet with you.”
Wow. Yes. Exactly that.
I need someone who will crawl into my fear, my anger, and my sadness without reproach and without looking back. I need someone who is willing to hold me while I shake, rage, and cry. Someone to sit quietly by and simply be with me. He doesn’t need to solve my problems, he just needs to be there to support me through them.
Honestly, I am still that little girl, curled up and crying on her closet floor. A cancelled wedding and a broken heart will do that to you. While I may not have literally crawled into my closet the day I received that phone call, I certainly began to build a figurative closet of protection around my heart. It had been broken and needed to be guarded, so I did that by closing my heart off to the outside world.
As I was driving to work Wednesday morning, struggling with some thoughts and recollections I thought I had dealt with months ago, something struck me.
I need God in my closet.
While I may not be ready to let anyone else in, I need Him there. I need God to join me in my fear, in my anger, and in my sadness. Only He is trustworthy enough to see it all. Only He is gracious enough to sit with me in silence with no judgment. Only He is able to be exactly everything I need when the world around me forces me to withdraw into my safe place.
Only He can be trusted to never, ever, ever break my heart.
I need God in my safe place so I can once more trust in Him to be my safe place.
Maybe then I can begin again to open my heart to the rest of the world.