starting to figure out who I was. Who I am. Let's start with where my story first collided with His.
I was eight years old. That's when I officially remember choosing to have a relationship with Jesus. Now I'm not one of those people who can remember the exact date, time and place where I turned my life over to Him. Instead, for as long as I can remember, it seems like I knew He was there, and I never doubted it. But eight was the turning point -- when I went from knowing He was there to realizing that I needed him. Desperately.
It's only looking back now that I realize what a selfish decision it was to start our friendship. I'd moved around year after year, being uprooted from people and places, and I wanted a friend. A friend I could count on. I was sick of being the new kid, either constantly trying to fit in or else forced to elbow my way into already existing friend groups where I wasn't wanted. Yes, I wanted a friend. Painfully.
I'll never forget first grade when my teacher, Miss Smith, designed a class activity for us to become blood brothers. She gave us each a small piece of red construction paper and instructed us to tie it around our wrist. Then she told us to pick one classmate with whom we wanted to become blood brothers by rubbing our red papers together in front of the class.
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're wondering what kind of activity this is for a first grader, right? And I wholeheartedly agree with you, but at the time, I was six. What did I know? It sounded like fun, and I couldn't wait to start. Miss Smith gave the go ahead and soon her room was abuzz with first graders running across the room to lock elbows with their future blood sibling in anticipation of the big ritual.
I made a beeline for Amy; but I was too late. Jennifer had beat me. I took a step back and anxiously surveyed the classroom only to discover that I was the only kid without a partner. I stood there looking at all of my classmates smiling contentedly in their little pairs, each one oblivious to my situation, and I felt like the biggest failure in the world. I was looking for someone to take me in, anyone, but there was no one left. It was a crushing blow to my child psyche. I know this to be true because other than being chased around the playground by my male classmates and taking a Rorschach test, it's the only memory I have of first grade.
Sensing my desperation at that moment, Miss Smith convinced Amy that it was acceptable to have three people in her group. With forced smiles, she and Jessica took me in. But I knew the truth. I was second best.
When I rubbed my red paper with Amy's, I didn't experience the same twinge of satisfaction that the other kids did. Instead, I felt a deep loneliness. I was the blood sister that nobody wanted. But even that blood friendship didn't last long. By second grade I was on my way to another school, and then another, to do it all over again.
So at eight years old (after having made my fourth move in three years), when I kept hearing that Jesus was a forever friend who'd always be with me, never leave me or forsake me, and would love me just the way I was, well, it seemed like a no-brainer. Who wouldn't want that? Just say a little prayer, and he'd come into my heart and the friendship would start instantaneously. What wasn't to like?
And so while I'm pretty sure that my eight year old brain believed all the other stuff about Jesus –- that he was the Son of God, had died on the cross for my sins, and had risen again to be my Savior -- it was the fact that I'd have a forever friend that really sold me on him. He was the forever friend who loved me so much that he was willing to do more than rub a piece of red construction paper against my wrist. He was willing to seal our friendship with real blood, his blood. That was a bargain my eight year old brain couldn't pass up. And so my relationship with Jesus began.
* * *
Of course, when you're eight, nobody reads you Luke 14:25-33(NLT):
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison — your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’
“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.”
No! Instead, they tell you about God parting the seas, and Jesus walking on water, and Noah building an ark big enough to cram in two of every kind of animal. They give you fun crafts to make, prizes for the Bible verses you memorize, and a sticker if you have perfect attendance, but somewhere in all of that, they conveniently leave out that as wonderful as your friendship with Christ is, that it's going to cost you something. No, not just something, everything.
Maybe that's too much for a child to swallow at such a young age, but even as an adult, I can't think of too many churches I've been to where the pastor has been up front about the whole thing. Where he's gotten down to business and said, more or less, “Okay, you want to be a Christian and join our church? Great! But here's a list of what it might cost you – father, mother, spouse, children, friends, wealth, property, all of your possessions, popularity, worldly success. Am I forgetting anything? If I am, you may have to part with that too. Still interested?”
It would almost be refreshing to hear someone say that instead of finding ways to explain away what Jesus actually said and call it “interpretation.” But many of us, myself included, have become adept at finding a way to make the Bible say what we want it to so that we can feel good about doing exactly what Jesus told us not to. In other words, so we can live for ourselves.
At any rate, somewhere along the way I blinked and went from being a little girl who selfishly wanted a best friend and was told I could have him for nothing more than a prayer to a young woman who realized that that wasn't the whole truth. That somebody had been holding back on me. Because the more I read and studied the Bible, the more I realized that that little prayer wasn't enough. It was enough to begin the friendship, but it wasn't enough to keep it going. This was a friendship that was going to require more of me than I'd ever realized. Much more than a red piece of construction paper that's for sure.
* * *
Has an experience of loneliness ever led you to a place of intersection? If so, what did you learn there?