Sanctuary is ‘Together’

It had been a long, stressful, and difficult day, and my heart was not in the best shape. To make matters worse, I was arriving at the Wednesday drop-in later than usual, and I dreaded entering the large, crowded atrium in the middle of dinner time. The room would be packed, every seat filled, and conversations underway. And, although I knew I belonged here, I suddenly felt like an outsider arriving for the first time, anxious and a little intimidated. I didn’t want to go in. Even though I normally felt at home and comfortable at Sanctuary, I found myself praying: “God, give me courage…”

Entering the room, I crossed quickly between busy tables, wishing to be invisible for a moment. The room buzzed with dinner activity and chatter, and I had trouble feeling at ease. I headed for the refuge of the kitchen, but before I could get very far, I heard someone yelling my name, and then saw Jake waving at me. “Over here! I saved you a seat!” Jake came to our drop-ins every week, desperate for friendship and support. He’d been struggling with anxiety, depression, and loneliness for months; it took every ounce of his focus and energy just to keep himself together and above water, let alone help others. Yet, today, he had thought of me.

And as I sank into the empty chair beside him, I immediately began putting away my own anxiousness and hurts from the day, so that I could care for Jake. But to my surprise, he had a different idea. Giving me a big heartfelt smile, he somehow sensed my need, and was completely ready to care for me.

“How are you?” he asked, handing me a plate and cutlery, and welcoming me to the table. “Would you like some lasagna?”

“Yes, thanks,” I said, feeling surprised. He leaned over and asked the next table if they would share what they had left. When they handed him the glass dish, he served some hot lasagna onto my plate.

“You want some juice?” I nodded, and he filled my glass. “Salad? A napkin?” Again, I nodded, and he quietly and gently served me, giving me a kind look every now and again. Glancing around, I took in the familiar faces of my friends around the table—they were talking, laughing and sharing stories, and I finally relaxed a little into that feeling of knowing I was ‘home’.

Later, after supper was over, Jake came with dessert, and brought me some tea. I felt so grateful for how he loved and cared for me through these seemingly small gestures. Though to be honest, my pride tempted me to swing back into the predictable pattern, where Jake was the vulnerable one, and I was the one he turned to for help. That way he could need me, and not the other way around. That seemed easier; more what I was used to. But God spoke insistently to my heart: “All you need to do right now is let yourself be cared for. Let Jake love you, and let me love you through him. Just receive this love.”

Suddenly in that moment, I understood that in Jake was Jesus, washing my feet. And there was nothing to do but receive. I was reminded of something a good friend had said to me the week before: “We need to be a sanctuary for you, too.” These words came true as God showed up in Jake, giving me a space to be weak. Even with nothing to give, I was enough.

There is a song we often sing on Sunday nights during worship: “Lord prepare me, to be a Sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true…” What does this mean exactly, to be a sanctuary? Perhaps becoming God’s dwelling place for one another, a beautiful place set apart and made holy. A safe place to be honoured in our weaker moments. A place where someone says, “You have cared for me. Now let me care for you.”

When I finished eating, Jake gracefully took my dishes without a word. “Thank you for your kindness,” I said. “When I arrived tonight, I was feeling…” I hesitated, not wanting to admit how anxious I had been. He gave me a knowing nod. “You felt awkward. Out of place. I get it.” He knew that feeling all too well. And as we kept chatting and hanging out that night, there was no more rich and poor, strong and weak, helper and helped—no ‘one above the other’. There was only genuine friendship and understanding, both of us caring for each other, and walking together in the same direction.

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