The Quakers say it this way, when a member of the community comes to an impasse.
When way closes, way will open.
Such beauty and mystery in six small words. They resonate in my soul as truth, although I can’t quite explain them. Sometimes the melody is sweet and hopeful; other times frustrating, clanging. How might one respond to this simple promise? What could this mean? How could it be?
Parker Palmer elaborates on the struggle beautifully in his book Let Your Life Speak. It’s a short read; one well worth space in your heart and mind. In it, Mr. Palmer recounts his vocational journey through secular and sacred, faith and works, seclusion and exposure, fit and misfit, all the while seeking, as Frederick Buchner put it, “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The following excerpt can also be found here.
‘Have faith,’ the Quakers said, ‘and way will open.’
‘I have faith,’ I thought to myself. ‘What I don’t have is time to wait for “way” to open. I’m approaching middle age at warp speed, and I have yet to find a vocational path that feels right. The only way that’s opened so far is the wrong way.’
After a few months of deepening frustration, I took my troubles to an older Quaker woman well-known for her thoughtfulness and candor. ‘Ruth,’ I said, ‘people keep telling me that “way will open.” Well, I sit in the silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not opening. I’ve been trying to find my vocation for a long time, and I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do. Way may open for other people, but it’s sure not opening for me.’
Ruth’s reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking: ‘I’m a birthright Friend,’ she said somberly, ‘and in sixty-plus year of living, way has never opened in front of me.’ She paused, and I started sinking into despair. Was this wise woman telling me that the Quaker concept of guidance was a hoax? Then she spoke again, this time with a grin: ‘But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.’
If you can relate to Mr. Palmer, if your world and your God seems to be shutting you out, I’d like to first of all encourage you to read his book. Secondly, I’d like to submit to you some new ways of thinking. Maybe closed door after closed door does not mean you are in the wrong place. Maybe it actually means God is moving you along. Maybe it is not opposed to the beautiful promise:
You will hear a voice behind you when you turn to the right or left, saying, ‘This is the way – walk in it.’ Isaiah 30:21
Maybe God is using the sound of doors closing to fine-tune our hearing. Maybe He wants to teach us how to move along more efficiently. Maybe the racket made by trying to wrestle doors back open is drowning out that still small voice. After all, a door opening is usually quieter than one slamming shut. Maybe it’s just not time yet. Maybe there is no good reason, yet God can still make it all work together for your good, and if your life can be a demonstration of His miraculous goodness — could that be worth it? Maybe that door would have been good, but God in His great love has a more excellent way He wants to show us.
Or just maybe we haven’t noticed what IS opening because we have filled our senses with what HASN’T opened. Maybe we need new eyes to see, new ears to hear.
In the frustration of doors closing, we must not become deaf to the still small sound of an open door.
I have done this. I have filled my heart with what is lacking, closed my eyes to His goodness, tuned out hope for the future. Unwilling to do the hard thing, to hold today’s disappointment in one hand and tomorrow’s hope in the other. I have also let busyness rush me right by what (or rather who) might be an opening. Once again it’s true: hurry hurts. Perhaps related, I have even let pride govern my willingness to do the very small thing in front of me.
But I – we – must not become too busy or too proud to say yes when that opening appears small, insignificant, almost shadow-like. I love how pastor AJ Jones says it, something like this:
God does have a place for you, something in this world that only you can do. Just keep being faithful, keep saying yes to all the little doors opening, because that’s how you’ll know to walk through the big one.
God sure does love to pour into lives willing to be faithful in the little.
So friends, when way closes, let’s not become calloused by banging on closed doors. Let’s move on. Let’s work to keep the doors of our hearts (eyes and ears) open. Let’s practice the little yeses even when our hearts long for the big one. Let’s not lose faith when the things unseen and hoped for appear to be on the other side. Let’s loose tight, blaming, controlling fists and lean trust-fall into the wind. Let’s look for a tiny shadow of an opening and stoop to see what lies within, how we can go lower still, how to take one small step at a time, and trust that way will open.