this week i tried an experiment. i offered sanctuary. i’m sharing this experiment with you because it’s december, hopes/wishes/expectations are high, the world is moving fast, and sanctuary is hard to secure.

sanctuary is defined as “a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter.” (webster) it is home, it is safety, and it takes many forms. there are physical sanctuary spaces and there are relationships that serve as sanctuary in all the important ways. the best sanctuaries provide shelter, nourishment, and basic attendance to needs. bird sanctuaries offer places to nest, food, and protection from contextual threats. natural habitat sanctuaries keep the “unnatural” out and, at the minimum, faith based sanctuaries offer space for gathering with like minded others and the Divine. sanctuary doesn’t end there though. home can be sanctuary and so can you.

while most of you reading this have a roof over your head and food in your belly you may have never considered your place of residence as a place of protection. similarly, the thought of your self as a sanctuary for others may have never entered your mind. let’s take a minute to consider these options. 

seriously...close your eyes and consider: how could my home/car/place of business/my self be a place of protection and shelter for someone in my life?

if my self welcomes your self with grace then you are protected from judgement and given shelter from abandonment, alone-ness, and more. in listening better, attending more, and taking a few risks we might both be nurtured by the sanctuary that results.

the risk i took this week involved me opening my home as a place for retreat. i didn’t sweep or clean the sinks. i didn’t plan an elaborate menu or promise great entertainment. instead, i put out some bowls of nuts and fruit, made a simple pot of soup, lit some candles, piled blankets and heating pads by the front door and invited people who are the “givers” in my community to come and go, read or sleep, journal or stare into space, and simply just be. i asked participants to walk right in between 11 and 5, find their space, and embrace the quiet of a community of people being fed by some stillness. it was a beautiful time simply because it was. 

so often we don’t offer ourselves or our homes as sanctuary simply because we lack the vision to see that what we have is exactly enough. we don’t need better answers, more advanced social/relational skills, cleaner homes, better furniture, or catered buffets. we only need our selves and what we already have. i believe that we can always stretch what we already have without going without ourselves.

what if sanctuary is simply our full humanity being willing to welcome the full humanity of others? to love and to allow ourselves to be loved into feeling protected and nurtured and fed. what if we could offer sanctuary with a simple look, an honest word intentionally stated, or by sharing something we have that others might need? what if we allowed enough to be enough as we do so rather worrying that our offering needs to be perfect, extreme, or given without awkwardness? who cares about awkwardness when you are offering something as sacred as sanctuary. it’s bound to feel risky when our whole messy humanity gets offered up to the complex humanity of others in order to extend nurturance and safety and welcome. 

if you’re up for the risk, i’ve assembled a small list of ways you  might offer sanctuary in the coming days. i’m sure you have ideas too and i would love to hear them. if we each took even one small swing at this challenge, we might just change the world (while changing ourselves).

ways of offering “sanctuary” (from the easiest/least costly to more difficult/involved/more costly):

smile at the grocery checker. ask them about their day. genuinely listen to their answer.

look into the eyes of someone in your home/work place/church/volunteer organization/classroom and tell them one thing that you appreciate about them. don’t make it a joke.

have a conversation with someone where you listen 90% of the time and talk only 10%. resist the urge to give answers, turn the conversation to yourself, or “fix” the person you are with.

greet the poor and disenfranchised, or just “different,” among you with a smile and eye to eye contact when you encounter or pass them on the street. a “hi” wouldn’t hurt either.

if you drive kids around a lot as part of your normal routine, turn your car into a place of rest (name it something like “the calm cab”). buy small (cheap) battery operated tea light candles, travel with relaxing (but interesting) music or recorded books, and set an ambiance of quiet and rest. try some car yoga and deep breathing.

gather the change from your purse or car (or get some when shopping) and drop it into the bucket of the salvation army bell ringer when you arrive at or depart from a store. thank them for their work.

if you end up having to call customer service, work hard to make the encounter a positive one and then ask to be transferred to the phone agent’s manager in order to commend them on the great service.

carry a small stickie note pad. leave a note on the public bathroom mirror thanking the person who cleans the bathroom or stick one on your mug before putting it in the “bus your own” bin at the coffee shop, thanking the dishwasher.

rake your neighbor’s leaves/shovel your neighbor’s snow.

write a note/email/text to someone who has experienced a loss during the past year. tell them that you remember and that you care. resist the desire to offer platitudes and offer nothing but empathy and love instead.

use side walk chalk to leave encouraging notes on the sidewalk or on the ground by peoples’ car doors.

carry $5 coffee or fast food gift cards to give to those who can’t afford a hot drink on a cold day.

purchase the drink of the person behind you in line.

bring store bought goodies to the people who work at your local trash department, post office, fire department, etc. (they often can’t accept home made food items) with a note of gratitude.

go to a pet store and use the self serve machine to make a dog tag with a message such as “you matter.” place it on a ribbon or simple chain and give it to someone who needs this reminder with the instructions for them to pass it on when they find someone who needs it as much as, or more than, them.

surprise someone with a meal. drop it off with a smile and simple note that says “save the time you would have used to make your dinner and use it to stare into space, listen to music, read a book, etc.” even a simple loaf of bread, container of soup (or can of soup), a bag of salad, and some apples will do to make someone feel loved.

offer to do the laundry for someone in your life who is stretched thin. pick it up, take it home to wash and dry it, and return it the following day folded.

offer to watch someone’s children or ailing parents for an hour or two. if you have the resources, give the person you’re relieving money for coffee, a meal out, or a movie.

open your home (even if it’s messy, the dishes are dirty, or you wish it were better appointed...it’s the ultimate gift of comfort to invite others to encounter you as you truly are). light candles, offer simple food (even popcorn and water works), and provide space for people to retreat or connect. it isn’t what you serve or the decor you serve it around that will provide sanctuary for people. neither is it the intricate theme or event you plan to entertain. rather, it’s the opportunity to authentically connect with real people and our selves that speaks deeply. real people have sanctuaries that aren’t perfect and we all long to interact in honesty with our real selves invited to the table.

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