Making 2021 the Year of Our Secret Place

“One thing I have asked of the Lord, and that I will seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord [in His presence] all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty [the delightful loveliness and majestic grandeur] of the Lord and to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will hide me in His shelter. In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock. And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, In His tent I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.” (Psalm 27: 4-6, AMP)

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite places to go was the library. Whenever I’d go, I’d always leave with a

stack of books as long as my arms. My dad used to yell at me, saying, “You’re never going to read all those books in two weeks before you need to return them! Pare it down!”

My mom would laugh and shake her head, knowing full well I’d gobble every book up. A few months ago, I remembered this part of my childhood and realized: Somewhere along the way, I got too busy to read. So, with all the libraries being closed due to Covid, I bought a handful of classics offline. One of them being The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This was a story I’d loved as a child, watching the movie over and over again until the VHS tape was beaten to smithereens, but I’d never actually read it.

In short, it’s the story of a little girl, Mary, who comes to live at her uncle’s manor in England after her parents die. When she gets there, she finds out that there is a garden on the property that has been locked up for ten years. Having not much else to do in the manor, she makes it her mission to find the key and the door to this secret garden. She ends up finding it and opening it, sharing the secret along the way with her cousin, Colin, and her friend, Dickon. As they try to revive the garden, other miracles begin to happen. Mary becomes less sallow and grows happier and stronger. Colin, a boy who believes himself to be a dying invalid, suddenly has a desire to live and learns to walk again. The garden even helps to restore Colin’s relationship with his estranged father.

All this to say: as I was reading this story that I loved from my childhood, I started to see it through different eyes. I remembered that I used to love running around the ivy-covered walls in my aunt’s backyard, pretending her gate was the door to the secret garden, and that I was Mary, about to slip away into a shelter full of mysterious beauty.

Why was I so taken with this story? I think it has a lot to do with this idea that Mary and her friends found a place that was all theirs. And within the walls of this garden, the world seemed to fall away. The children seemed to find things they lost: their happiness, their confidence, their sense of wonder– and then some. But the source of all these awesome things was the fact that they went to the garden every day, shut themselves in, and poured their time and energy into reviving that place. Their developed strength was a byproduct of working the earth, planting, and weeding. Their renewed vitality was from playing with each other and enjoying the place.

And I think that’s the perfect picture of what God wants out of us. He wants us to see our time alone with Him like we’re stealing away to a secret garden. He wants us to spend our time daily trying to bring life out of that relationship. He wants us to look forward in anticipation of slipping behind those proverbial ivy-covered walls into our secret place with Him. He wants us to be slow to leave and cherish each last moment.

I understand that some days, we don’t have much to give Him. Most of us can’t spend all day of every day shut away in that place with the Lord, but the beauty of it is that the more time we allocate to going there, the more apt we are to bring that awareness of His ever-present companionship out of that place. Once we start to spend daily time completely focused on reading, praying, or worshiping– tilling the ground of our hearts to better respond to God– the more likely we are to continue to weave more of Him into the ins and outs of our daily lives.

And as we do that, we’ll notice the byproducts of a relationship with God: less anxiety, less despondence, more peace, more desire to live, and a better quality of life. We’ll notice that the fruits of the spirit have started to sprout in our life, marking maturity and vitality in us that wasn’t previously there.

It’s not magic or science, as the children in the book would say, but it is the result of building our life on the Lord. It’s putting our energy and time into something more eternal than our busy schedules.

And I think after this year, we’ve learned that the things we busy ourselves with– career, traveling, making money, etc.– can easily be derailed and canceled. It doesn’t make sense to put all of our efforts into something that won’t stand the test of time and can be so easily shaken tomorrow. The devil may have stolen a lot from us in 2020. It may have been hard for us to progress in the areas we wanted to back at the beginning of this year with everything that proceeded. I think 2020 taught us that for any goal we set in 2021, we should set our sights on something more eternal, and anything else that results from that is just a blessing.

As this year draws to a close, let me encourage you: just because a calendar page changes doesn’t mean the hardships end. No one knows what lies ahead of us, but join me in aiming to spend more time where it matters. Join me in stealing away to your own secret garden. Let’s make Psalm 27: 4-6 our heart cry for the year; that we would dwell in His presence all the days in our lives, gazing upon His beauty and meditating on Him.

For when we are in the garden, we are healed and made whole. Not just body, but sometimes in the places where it counts even more: our hearts and minds. Let’s lean on what God has already done and rejoice in that, making it the center of each morning and allowing it to set the course of every day.

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