On Being Shelter

Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm,
Like springs of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.  (Isaiah 32:2)

Names are important in Scripture. Certain Bible characters (like Jacob) have their names changed at crucial points in their lives. What if God were to give you a new name?  What would you want it to be?  When I went back to school for my counseling degree, we were asked to prayerfully consider that question, and I chose the name Shelter from the Scripture quoted above, accepting it as a guiding purpose for the work that I do.  But the context of this beautiful description of God’s people indicates that we are all created to be shelter for one another.  Yes, we have a perfect Tabernacle (or shelter), One who provides protection, refreshment and even beauty for weary travelers.  And for now, I know that I am a tattered and inconsistent reflection of that good refuge, sleet seeping through the cracks, muck on the floor, provisions in short supply.  Nevertheless, I am shelter, and so are you.  So let us consider what that might mean as we seek to love others well.

Collage depicting shelter

Collage depicting shelter

  • Shelter is protective.  That is, perhaps, its defining quality.  Shelter guards the well-being of those who are vulnerable.  It provides a shield from outward attacks, whether from human enemies or nature’s elements.  We can do this in many ways, from opening our homes to stopping our mouths.  As we relate to those around us, those in our families, our churches, our neighborhoods and streets, I want to remember to ask myself whether I am protecting them – or am I something from which they need protection?  Shelter is life-giving.
  • Shelter is restorative.  Shelter provides the basic elements which sustain life, such as warmth, safety and food.  It affords the endangered wanderer a place to rest, to take comfort, to be fortified for the next leg of the journey.  That is what I do for my friends when I give them space to vent; it is what I do for my clients when I help them see God’s hand in their story; it is what I do for my husband when I iron his shirts.  I want to remember to ask myself whether I am providing cool water and a soft bed or whether I am draining the spirit from those around me.  Shelter is life-giving.
  • Shelter is available.  Shelter doesn’t discriminate; it’s door stands open to all in need.  Rich, poor, bad, good, male, female, etc.  Just as the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous, so, too, God’s blessing of shelter is available to many.  (I’ve already written about those few cases where I am called to close the door, but that, too, is intended as a blessing.)  As a limited, human shelter, it’s my job to guard this availability.  That means I maintain some margin in my life, I’m intentional about self-care, and I look to God for decision-making.  I want to be aware of and available to those who are sinking around me.  Shelter is life-giving.
  • Shelter is temporary.  Shelter is not home.  It’s a brief refuge in the middle of a wearing pilgrimage.  People leave shelter eventually and make room for others.  This is a necessary corollary to being available.  If our shelter is too comfortable, too permanent, too all-encompassing, no one will ever move out!  I want to remember to help others find the right time to move on, so that they, too, might find their purpose and become shelter for others.  Shelter is not for hiding.  Shelter is life-giving.

To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. (Rev 2:17In the end, the name God gives you won’t be the same as mine.  You were created with unique gifts; I believe your reflection of Christ will be largely or subtly different than anyone else’s.  Nevertheless, we are all meant to be some kind of shelter in the storm, peace in the gale, shade where no other exists.  May you sink your roots so deeply in the stream of living water today that from your heart others may drink of its overflow.

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