Admittedly, it was an ambitious bucket-list excursion.
Two years into my chronic, progressive disease we took a whirlwind trip overseas. I had never been outside the Western hemisphere. So, despite my limited capability and life-altering fatigue, we decided I was finally doing well enough to take on the challenge.
One spot we landed was Rome, and specifically, the Vatican.
We marveled at the grandeur of the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Room, and the Vatican museums. At one point inside St. Peter’s Basilica, we decided to split up. My husband and daughter wanted to climb the 491 stairs to the top of the Dome, and knowing I couldn’t, we set a meeting place and time to reconvene.
After admiring the artwork and architecture, I rounded a corner. Having entered early that morning, I was surprised at how the place had filled up. I joined a crowded line walking one direction, hoping to find the meeting place we had set. Before I realized what was happening, I was outside the building in the Piazza courtyard, along with what looked like hundreds of thousands of other people.
I immediately knew I needed to find a way inside to meet my family. But there was no getting back. My husband did not have international cell service on his phone. Only I did. How would they ever find me? They’ll think something horrible happened to me or that I had a medical emergency when I’m not at my designated place on time.
I sent my husband a text message, sure that he would never receive it on the other side of that massive closed door.
DOORS CLOSE IN MANY WAYS
Some doors close softly, almost unnoticed. The job quietly goes to someone else, busyness slips us past the youth needed to chase our dreams.
Others slam shut:
The building collapses.
The ventilator is switched off.
The moving van’s ramp slides away.
The lot is sold.
Your ex remarries.
The unexpected hysterectomy.
The unbelievable amputation.
We’ve all known doors that can never be reopened in this life, like casket lids and case files. We can pry or pound or plead, but the deadbolt turns with a solid thud.
Whether our plans fade away or are snatched in an instant, there is always a sound we can’t get used to, inaudible but powerful. The din of a door closing. It often comes on the heels of hours, even years, of work and prayer and hope.
And following both the slam and the soft close, there is almost without exception, an even worse sound. God’s silence.Whether our plans fade away or are snatched in an instant, there is always a sound we can’t get used to, inaudible but powerful. The din of a door closing. And following that there is almost without exception, an even worse sound. God’s silence.Click To Tweet
WHEN GOD SAYS NO
After a dozen attempts to convince the guards to let me back in, they just quit talking to me. Tears, begging, explanations, nothing rocked the Vatican police. They silently gestured over to the entrance line, by then at least a four-hour wait. I panicked on one side of the huge doors while the only people I knew on the continent were on the other. With no way of reaching them, I did what any grown, reasonable person would do—I texted 27 more times in a row. And after no response, I sat down alone in the blazing sun on St. Peter’s Square and cried.
When doors close, not only does our caring God seem mute, we feel exiled, separated from the familiar. Just like the Israelites felt for 40 years in the desert. We feel cut off from our comfort zone or divided from our dreams.
And it’s particularly isolating when others have the door opened that you wanted open to you. Why did God say ‘no’ just to me?
When you’re living the life you didn’t want, it’s not easy to accept the mystery of God’s providence. We question His plan, His power. Even His presence.
The threshold of life’s closed doors is where faith is tested.The threshold of life’s closed doors is where faith is tested.Click To Tweet
With my unresolved heart failure, I’ve felt on the locked-out side of the door. I have repeatedly asked God to heal me and show His power, after all those who have stormed the gates of Heaven on my behalf. He would get so much Glory.
Like reasoning with the Vatican police:
It seemed an easy, quick fix.
I could see a clear way.
I could reason it out.
I had admirable, unselfish motives.
I wanted something good.
No one else would be harmed.
The Grantor would have looked merciful to allow it.
No amount of pleading or persuasion changed anything.
The soundless headshake said no. You can’t go back.
On the lonely side of an immovable door, I’ve learned something about God’s silence. As human beings, we’re not ready to understand closed doors. As John Piper says,
Not until we walk through the open door and look back can we realize the necessity of all the other doors being closed.
For some of us and some doors, that look-back won’t happen this side of Eternity.
In our lifetime God rarely, if ever, explains an impassable entry.In our lifetime God rarely, if ever, explains an impassable entry.Click To Tweet
DOORS ALWAYS CLOSE FOR A REASON
The pages of the bible are not lacking in closed doors that seemed so unexplained, and so permanent when they first swung shut:
The gates of Paradise are locked.
The whale’s jaws are clamped.
The fiery furnace door is latched.
Lazarus’s grave is sealed.
The lion’s den entrance is fastened.
The stone to the Savior’s tomb is placed.
On this side of history, these closed doors reveal purposes of protection, or redirection, or even affection. Biblical barred gates deepened man’s connection to Him. It’s easier to see now that certain doors had to remain closed to accomplish His plan.On this side of history, closed doors reveal purposes of protection, or redirection, or even affection. Biblical barred gates deepened man’s connection to Him. It’s easier to see now that certain doors had to remain closed to accomplish His plan.Click To Tweet
And to get us ready for it.
Our good God is notorious for preparing His children for the task ahead while we wait behind closed doors…or while we reluctantly walk through different ones.
LIMITED IN LOVE
Sometimes God closes a door to mercifully intervene and limit our choice.
One of my greatest handicaps has always been having too many choices. From the 120-Crayola-box to college majors to Netflix, I can become paralyzed by possibilities. Sometimes if doors don’t close, we have too many unknowns, too many options, too many distractions.
A closed door can help us focus.
A fellow heart failure patient shared this piece of wisdom and it feels applicable to closed doors:
Not all storms come to destroy your life. Some storms come to clear your path.
I suspect that usually the closed door clears the way for something more important for us to do, or for a greater plan to begin unfolding. Walk on down the hall. There’s a better door ahead. Without the benefit of a full explanation, we have to keep going to get to the perfect door. And bypass all the less-than-perfect closed ones.
Closed doors can actually be more gracious than open ones.Closed doors can actually be more gracious than open ones.Click To Tweet
Thomas Carlisle, 19th century essayist, wrote:
When the oak tree is felled, the whole forest echoes with it. But 100 acorns are planted silently by some unnoticed breeze.
I have felt the planting of those unwelcome acorns after doors were bolted and plans were toppled.
From my journal:
I can now appreciate how much of a life hinges on uncontrollable outcomes. I know I’m not alone: cancer, MS, Alzheimer’s, all progress in leaps as the test result is opened.
“Holding steady,” the doctor said. Good news. Still, I was sad. The little bit of my optimistic daddy planted deep inside me hoped for a turnaround. Even though my cardiologist warned me years ago the door to improvement would remain closed.
As the doctor closed the door and left, my husband and I looked at each other and we both knew it. The good news is, she is no longer seeking life-saving measures for me. The bad news is, she is no longer seeking life-saving measures for me. I have moved from the emergent exam room to the chronic waiting room. With no more cutting-edge treatments on the horizon, I am left to cope as best I can, for as long as I can. In the middle of the thousands of patients and medical professionals at Cleveland Clinic that day, it felt like a lonely place to be.
NEVER REALLY ALONE
After that Vatican door wouldn’t reopen, something else did. Up until that time, I had not been truly alone in my new diagnosis, without a way to contact my husband or loved ones. I was terrified I couldn’t survive in that space. But I did. And after that, I was able to take bigger steps of independence, despite still having serious heart failure.
Nearly an hour after my series of frantic texts, my husband responded. They would be right out. They had a fantastic time. They never even knew I was locked out.
As is the case with God and closed doors, my husband got my messages and responded in due time. But it looked pretty dire on my side of the sealed entry. And that huge door never did open for me like I thought it should have.
Five and a half years ago, a much different door closed for me: the door to good health. It won’t be reopening. At the same time, another entrance unlocked. With heart failure, there are many things I can no longer do, like standing and teaching college courses for hours at a time. But I found I can sit at a desk and type nearly the entire day. So, I finally started writing—something I never allowed myself the luxury to do in a healthier life.
And that’s exactly what our Great Planner provides—another door. Even when we can’t see it yet in our dark hallway. Even when we can see it and it’s still not open, it will be, at precisely the perfect time. He has not abandoned us.That’s exactly what our Great Planner provides—another door. Even when we can’t see it yet in our dark hallway. Even when we can see it and it’s still not open, it will be, at precisely the perfect time. He has not abandoned us.Click To Tweet
To be honest, most of the closed doors in my life are still a mystery. And I fully expect them to remain that way.
But I take comfort in this: He promises that one day closed doors will not exist (Rev 3:8), as Jesus swings wide Eternity’s gate,
Enter into the joy of your master.
I don’t know if it can qualify as a bucket-list item, but I’m sure looking forward to that.