The Room Where It Happens

A Sympathetic Take on Aaron Burr

Casey Wilson / 9.15.21

This week, thanks to a very thoughtful birthday gift from my friend Kate, I had the opportunity to see Hamilton in Atlanta. Every time I hear the songs, I find something new to be blown away by. Having already listened to the soundtrack for years, I was again reminded about how I both relate to and have compassion for Aaron Burr. 

In the story, Burr’s life runs parallel to Hamilton’s, and Burr wants to be in the seats of power Hamilton occupies. Jealousy and frustration blossoms (spoiler? #readahistorybook) into eventual murder, which I in no way endorse, obviously, but odds are, everyone can relate to the general experience of bumping up against a more successful person, and wanting to outshine rather than be outshone on occasion. 

In one scene, Burr feels excluded from a secret meeting with Hamilton and some of the Founding Fathers. Burr’s lyrics and narration morph from a suspicious third-party observer (“no one else was in the room where it happened”) to owning up to the fact that he wants to be in the room where it happened. Burr was a ladder-climbing, do whatever is necessary to get ahead, chameleon kind of person. But like the kid picked last in kickball, his nature betrayed his inner turmoil of feeling inferior and overlooked.

I so get that.

I’m reminded of the times, in different seasons and communities, when I didn’t receive the invite; when I experienced the pang of wishing I were included in some event or discussion. In other words, I resonate deeply with wanting to be “in the room where it happens.”

Ouch. Painful.

While sitting in the crowded theatre, hearing the song live, and watching Burr eventually conclude that “the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me,” I felt a nudge from the Lord. I began to wonder: What is so important about being in “the room”? Whatever that means for you—a circumstance where you are wanting to be present but are not.

The Lord’s response to me completely broke through my perspective: You’re looking in the wrong room.

While the desire to be included in [insert your ambition or desire] may not be inherently wrong, being excluded from something does not need to develop unhealthy fruit (particularly if it involves shooting one of your friends).

At the root, I sensed the Lord reminding me that the underlying desire is for the approval of other people. To be admired by those on the outside, to rub shoulders with impressive people on the inside. Like Burr, it doesn’t usually matter what happens in the room, so long as we are there. 

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal 1:10)

When I think about the rooms I want to be in, I’m sad to admit that my first desire is not always focused on the ones where I know the Lord will be present. He is with us always, but does that certainty shape my perspective? Is He any less with me if I am not in “the room where it happens”? No.

The most important rooms, where the truly important things are happening, are wherever the Lord is, and wants me to be, and where He is being glorified. Those rooms tend to not be gilded with crown molding, mahogany tables, or bright crystal chandeliers. To be an important person by worldly standards is not synonymous with crossing the thresholds of rooms where God is at work. 

Sure, the sting of not being included can be painful. But our ultimate acceptance by the One who matters is not contingent on others. To quote another lyrical theme from the show,  “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

Also, invest some time in listening to Hamilton, at the very least, if you have not yet done so. It might just change your life.