Sam Shoemaker (1893-1963) served as a pastor in New York City and Pittsburgh. He was instrumental in establishing the spiritual foundation for Alcoholics Anonymous, particularly the need to turn to God as a way of coming out of alcoholism. Rev. Shoemaker, toward the end of his life, wrote “I Stand by the Door” (aka “I Stay Near the Door”) as an apology for his ministry. I first heard the poem in 1983 during a devotional time at the beginning of Church History class at Eastern Nazarene College, taught by Joseph Seaborn. The poem struck me that day and ever since by its simplicity and vision; what’s more, I’ve found it crosses cultures.
I stand by the door. I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out, The door is the most important door in the world— It is the door through which people walk when they find God. There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there, When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I, Crave to know where the door is. And all that so many ever find Is only the wall where a door ought to be. They creep along the wall like those who are blind. With outstretched, groping hands, Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door, Yet they never find it . . . So I stand by the door.
The most tremendous thing in the world Is for people to find that door—the door to God. The most important thing any one can do Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands, And put it on the latch—the latch that only clicks And opens to one’s own touch. People die outside that door, as starving beggars die On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter— Die for want of what is within their grasp. They live, on the other side of it—live because they have found it. Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it, And open it, and walk in, and find Him . . . So I stand by the door.
Go in, great saints, go all the way in— Go way down into the cavernous cellars, And way up into the spacious attics— In a vast, roomy house, this house where God is. Go into the deepest of hidden casements, Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood. Some must inhabit those inner rooms, And know the depths and heights of God, And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is. Sometimes I take a deeper look in, Sometimes venture a little farther; But my place seems closer to the opening . . . So I stand by the door.
The people too far in do not see how near these are To leaving—preoccupied with the wonder of it all. Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door, But would like to run away. So for them, too, I stand by the door.
I admire the people who go way in. But I wish they would not forget how it was Before they got in. Then they would be able to help The people who have not even found the door, Or the people who want to run away again from God. You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long, And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place, Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there, But not so far from people as not to hear them, And remember they are there too. Where? Outside the door— Thousands of them, millions of them. But—more important for me— One of them, two of them, ten of them, Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch, So I shall stand by the door and wait For those who seek it. ‘I had rather be a door-keeper . . .’ So I stand by the door.