Will I Be Alone at the Lunch Table? (Thank You, Tosca Lee)

education-662458_640Will I be alone at the lunch table?

Remember wondering that? As the photos of children returning to school or jumping on the bus for the first time flit across my Facebook feed, the memories flood back.

I loved school. Learning was a joyful and effortless pursuit for me. Books were my haven, writing my gift, and I understood math at least long enough to pass a test. New school shoes, paper bag book covers, and shiny unblemished notebooks were like Christmas stockings and Easter egg baskets.

But also, through those years, I was alone all the time. Even surrounded by classmates. Even on a busy playground. Even in a cafeteria full of peers. I was always alone.

There were countless reasons for it. Reasons I understand with the distance of years. Explanations that have something to do with me, something to do with them, and something to do with all human nature. Some kids just don’t fit in. Some kids don’t have a regular crowd in the lunchroom. Ever.

I hated it then. Took it on myself like a deformity. Wore it like a scarlet letter or a scar. Now, I havdesert-1007157_640e a different view.

Loneliness was my desert, like where Moses fled or where John the Baptist wandered. It was my shipwreck, like Paul endured three times. It was my prison cell, like Joseph experienced after his brothers tossed him in a hole and sold him to slavers. It was my caves in the hills like David when he fled from Saul. It’s the place I didn’t want to be. The long, hot, dune of my childhood and adolescence that I’d never have chosen but where God met me, fed me, defined me, refined me.

In many ways, the desert remains with me, even into adulthood, and informs who I have become. I use the phrase without thinking. All the time in unfamiliar social situations – Who will I sit with at the lunch table? In large groups, out of habit, I take a seat alone. People assume I’m a little stuck up when really it’s still my reflex that someone already seated is probably saving that place for someone else – not me.

forsaken-1273885_640For too many years, that loneliness was an open wound. Driving me to make bad decisions just to avoid its return. Creeping into my personality in ugly ways – manipulation, insecurity, clingy-ness, people-pleasing, or constant fear. The evil one used variations of the question Who will sit with you at the lunch table to taunt, to mock, and to cow me away from inhabiting my freedom in Christ. But, greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. Jesus took on the desert within me, unafraid, and gently (okay, sometimes not so gently) made me face it with Him.

God didn’t remove my desert but He transformed it into a place with springs of living water. I’m stronger for having wandered in that desert remembering it is where I heard the voice of God and learned to follow His footsteps through the burning sand. When loneliness returns, as it does in every life, I feel that initial lunchroom fear but then I remember – Jesus is here. When rejections come, as they do for us all, I’m instantly that lonely girl wondering if anyone else will let me in. But, then He reminds me, I belong to Him, with Him, beside Him, and have been adopted into His vast family. When I meet others who are lonely, who don’t belong, who eat alone, or watch the crowds around them knowing they’re not invited, I speak their language. I hear their heartbeats. And I have more than just my own presence to offer – I have the presence of the One who will never leave them – if they are willing to receive Him.

This summer I attended a writer’s conference where I didn’t know most of the others there. Initially, I felt the panic rise as I faced the large conference hall alone but I heard Jesus beckoning me to take the seat He’d saved me. The speaker asked us a series of questions, deeply personal reflections intended to help us mine the caverns of our lives for universal truths woven into our own stories. I was answering easily until one question sucker punched me in the center of my soul: When did you feel most misunderstood?

I put my pen down on the table and stared, stunned. I remembered being alone in a thousand lunchrooms. On dozens of playgrounds or dances or parties. Alone on the bus. Alone at home.  Alone in hundreds of conversations trying to explain why I felt so deeply, so passionately about Jesus even at age six, eight, ten, fourteen. I remember the looks. No one understood.

And sitting there I realized I’d grieved that desert so desperately, I was pierced so intensely with that inability to make them understand – that it drove me to learn to communicate about Christ.

My sense of being alone with this knowledge of God, this desolate place, drove me to develop a language to explain what I was reading in the Bible, to write words that would inspire others to see God, to help them want to follow Jesus, to encourage them to go deeper on the adventure with Him – so that I would no longer be alone.

And I sat in amazement that God not only met me in the desert, accompanied me through the desert, forged our relationship ingeyser-921782_640 the desert, and transformed my desert into springs of living water – He even used my desert as a means to bless others with Himself.

The question remains with me to this day – even at fifty-five – who will sit with me in the lunchroom – but when I hear it, I’m no longer afraid (for long). Where will it lead us now, Lord? This desert place, this loneliness, that once was the prison Satan thought would contain me – where will it take us now? And I inhale deeply of the freedom that is mine in Christ, take a long gulp of living water and face the desert unafraid.

When have you experienced the power of Christ to transform your desert into a spring of living water? What desert are you walking through today that you don’t have to face alone?

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8 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Barbara Irwin says:

    I, too was alone at the lunch table all my growing up years. But it taught me something else. I had to find out that I was insufficient by myself.It was only while I was still alone in college that I found out that void wouldn’t be filled by any means I could find, not even by the world’s philosophies or their religions.

    Finally I came to Jesus and was filled. I had brothers and sisters. As I grew in Christ, though, I became different again. Where God was taking me was strange compared with others of my Christian family, so once again I was alone. I’ve had to learn to communicate from this place and not to please people. As I learned, I grew comfortable again.

    Now I’m back in the desert learning new things. It seems to be my God-appointed path. My few friends are to some degree or other more desert-dwellers and our fellowship is rich. Thank you Jesus for the learnings in the desert. That is where I grow strong in Him.

  2. Patsy Arrouet says:

    This struck a chord in me: “People assume I’m a little stuck up when really it’s still my reflex that someone already seated is probably saving that place for someone else – not me.”

    My childhood was full of those moments. It was as if I felt I needed an engraved invitation before believing I was welcome to join in any group forming to do something fun. Yearning, jealousy, and self-pity were my chosen companions.

    Not until adulthood when the Lord used divorce, discouragement, and frustration to bring me to Himself, did I begin to believe He made me just the way He intended, and I was precious to Him.

    He began changing my perspective of myself and of others. I began to see those who I believed had rejected me as souls struggling with their own issues. He shifted my focus outward.

    Yet that child in me is still inclined not to push for entry to a group that appears happy and self-contained. I had no idea until recently, in attending a class reunion, that I had given the impression of being stuck-up or standoffish! That little girl who wanted so badly to be included now seeks others who appear on the outside looking in, to stand alongside and invite into the group.

  3. Jennette says:

    I can relate!!!

    Such a beautiful post on such a hard topic. Thanks for sharing it!

    As far as my deserts….I feel like I am constantly processing life’s ups and downs and I’m not even sure how to answer that question. Ha!

  4. LjG says:

    Wow, Lori!! I think that you speak for so many of us! Thank you. I remember trying so hard to fit in in Jr. High, High school & 1 year of college! Through so many circumstances, I was just quenched, closed up, shut off. Through the blows of rejection I received, I just sort of closed up tight. The healing really came through my amazing husband, who stuck with me through all my ups and downs. He was a steady rock who refused to give up on me and the Lord used him to bring a deep healing, an opening up, a transformation! It took time to know the Lord at in my late 20s, but His healing has been nothing short of amazing! He knows me and keeps leading and nudging me forward. So thankful!!

  5. Yes. This. You hit the nail on the head. Loneliness is a difficult affliction, and one not easily overcome.

  6. Dez La Roche says:

    Bowing to you.

    I have been this person my entire life. Alone because my mother, sister and grandmother have mental illness – no relationship with them at all. The greatest gift my mom ever gave me was when she dragged me out of my bed in the middle of the night one night to tell me that I was nothing like them. I was swallowed up by rejection at the time, but I know God was speaking through her directly to me.

    I married a man with autism (didn’t know it at the time), and for 22 years I felt alone. He could not hold hands or sit by me on the couch or sleep with me in our bedroom.

    I adopted a daughter from China with him, and she ended up have Ataxic Cerebral Palsy….I was alone in my heartache over it. I felt isolated from all the other families who adopted from China in our group, and their girls were thriving. They would look at me with their big smiles and say “isn’t this just the best thing that ever happened to you?” I would smile and say yes to appear normal. There was no family to help, and my husband’s autism did not allow him to have feelings about it. I felt alone as I tried to advocate for her in the school system. I went home alone and cried myself to sleep often.

    To backtrack a little…when I lived with my mother Jesus drew me to him in 3rd grade through a lady I found in the apartments we lived in at the time. I was wandering around, lost and lonely. She took me to church with her most Sundays. The women in the church looked at me with pity, but it was a safe place. One summer when I visited my father at about 10 years old, I broke down crying in a very stoic Methodist church. All the adults kept asking me why I was crying…I couldn’t explain it, and I was deeply embarrassed. I know that God was moving through me. Through my junior high and high school years I searched deeply for a relationship with Jesus. I begged him to heal my brokeness. To heal what was so wrong with me that all of my family had rejected me. It was too serious of a relationship for the other kids to understand….alone in my relationship with Jesus, even at my church youth group. I was on the outside looking in at their “loving, normal families.” As I grew older, Christians explained to me that my deep sadness meant I really wasn’t a Christian, that I didn’t really have faith in Jesus….loneliness.

    I finally broke and became angry with God in my mid-twenties. I felt God abandoned me…more loneliness. I was tired of singing about how unworthy I was. I was tired of hearing about how I needed to ask for forgiveness so that I could be accepted into the kingdom of heaven while I was living in hell on earth. I wanted someone to apologize to me. I wanted God to tell me how sorry he was for allowing me to have a childhood that had shattered my heart and left me crinkled up and discarded in the corner like a worthless piece of trash. Until recently, I have been angry with God….for 25 years……the darkest loneliness.

    I realize he has been with me this entire time. Patiently reaching out to me in ways that would appeal to me at different times in my life….that’s how gracious he is. I have felt his spirit flow through me in art, music, and literature…providing me with a sense of belonging in nature.

    I have never felt like I belonged, but I have realized lately, especially reading your book, Running from a Crazy Man, that the only place I belong is in my relationship with Jesus. Thank you for being a conduit for Jesus to show me that being a Christian is not a life of perfection, of fairness, or approval by those around me. To be honest, I’m not really sure what it is, but I’m starting with surrendering control of my life and my desire to please people around me to God.