Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spare Oom

In C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, the marvelous, soul-shaping adventures of the Pevensie children begin when the youngest of them, Lucy, enters the spare room of a large country house. The only item in the room is a large wardrobe, and it is through this wardrobe that Lucy finds her way into Narnia. As she explains this to her first friend in Narnia, Mr. Tumnus, he mistakenly thinks she is from a country called "Spare Oom."

When I was a little child, first hearing these stories, our house had no spare room, and I suspected that my inability to find Narnia had to do with this lack. When I was twelve, my father turned our unfinished attic into a precious garret-bedroom for me, a second bathroom, and a spare room. It had considerably more furniture in it than the room Lewis made famous, but it was a spare room nonetheless. 

I never found a portal to a magic world, but once we had our own Spare Oom, curious things began to happen. Once, an Kenyan student who arrived at the university and found she had no housing stayed with us for a week, filling our house with her warm, cadenced laughter and insisting on braiding my long hair into a network of intricate braids. Then Lennon moved in. We had been friends since we were twelve, but in the months he inhabited Spare Oom, I learned what it meant to have a brother. When we made a space that was open to the needs of others, we found ourselves tumbling into stories we would not have imagined for ourselves. 

When my friends Grant and Jenn bought their house in Texas, they sought a house big enough to share -- a house with rooms to spare for whomever God would bring them. I was the first person to benefit from that beautiful generosity, and during our year together I experienced what it meant to live in common and in accord. Many in my generation will talk about the idea of Christian community, but they made physical space for a radical way of living, and that year bore fruit in ways I am only beginning to understand. 

And so, with Narnia and Waco in mind, I have kept one room of my house empty, spare of furniture, wares, or sundries. I have vowed to keep it free from things so that it will be ready when the Lord calls for it. I will not let it become a place to store excess clothes or books or boxes. I have room enough for my wealth in the other rooms of the house, and I tithe my money, so why not my house as well? 

One day, I think this room will be full, but I don't think I will be the one to fill it. Sometimes I pray pictures of how this might be: wayfarers stopping along their road to Elsewhere; a friend fallen on hard times; a young prophet painting banners for God's revolution; someone who wants to plant a garden with me.

Most days, however, I simply rest in the knowledge of this room. On days when my desk is piled with bills to pay, papers to grade, tickets to book, lessons to prepare, meals to cook--in the midst of so much tending, Spare Oom stands apart. Uncluttered. Unhurried. Demanding nothing from me (nothing to dust, nothing to buy, nothing to do). Waiting. Simply knowing that it is in my home, open and waiting, settles me. 

My Spare Oom holds none of the things that make a place recognizably "mine," but in a sense, it is the heart of this house--a reminder that even if the property is in my name, the home belongs to the Lord, and I fill, tend, cook, welcome, work, and rest here at His good pleasure. My Spare Oom has no wardrobe, but my prayer is that in this room, we will build doors to other worlds: the realm of the redeemed, the new heaven and new earth, home. 


  1. Oh, how I love this. I loved our season of a home with spare rooms, and I pray that you will love yours, as well. (I've no doubt you will.) :)

  2. I think you're on to something here, Bethany. Since we bought our large house in '08, we've often had friends with us. My brother has lived in a "spare room" with us for over six months. I'm grateful.

  3. This post reminded me of the excitement Anne Shirley felt at the thought of sleeping in a spare room bed and the antics that occurred when she was finally able to do so!