When I started 10th grade, I had just switch from private school to public school. I had no close friends who went to my high school, but I knew I didn’t want to spend the next 3 years at an all boys school. So, I made the switch. I must not have thought too much about how few people I would actually know on the first day of school, or maybe I just wanted out of that all boys school so badly that I didn’t care.
Regardless of the reason, my first day of school was kind of weird. Kind of scary. Kind of lonely. At some point during the morning I realized that I was going to have to go to lunch. Not only did I have to figure out how to maneuver the lunch line and order food, I also had to figure out where to sit. Fortunately, I found someone I knew and sat with them, but we weren’t close friends, and they weren’t exactly eager to have me back at their table everyday. Most days, I ate alone. I got really good at eating as if I had some place to be.
Part way into the school year I found a group to hangout with. They were kind of burnouts, too cool to have lunch in the cafeteria. They wore all black, had piercings, and probably did stuff on the weekends that I’d never considered. But, they seemed to want me around so I hung out with them for a while. After I got caught smoking at school it became clear that they probably weren’t the friends for me. To this day, I don’t recall seeing any of those kids again after we parted ways. I made new friends in my classes and found some people to sit with at lunch. By the end of 10th grade, I was doing OK friend-wise. I still spent most weekends alone, but that never bothered me too much.
Summer after 10th grade, I got a car. With a car, I had freedom. I could go wherever I wanted. I often would pick a road and drive until the road ended, or I was too far from home for comfort. No Google Maps. No GPS.
One Friday early on in 11th grade, I was invited to meet a couple friends from one of my classes at the football game that night. So I went. When I arrived, I was surprised to find all the different kids I had met in my honors classes knew each other and were hanging out together.
Instant group of friends.
From that night on, I had my group. We did everything together. Eleventh grade was a party. We were all perfectly content do nothing together, and stoked when we came up with an idea of something fun to do. Best Friends Forever wasn’t really a thing back then, but if it were, we all would have worn the t-shirt. Nothing could break us apart.
Twelfth grade broke us apart.
Group drama. Coupling. College. Our group fell to just 2-3 of us. All the girls were gone. They’d either gotten bored with us or found boyfriends. Most of the guys had found girlfriends and no longer had time for us. The group was done.
I was back in the pit. Maybe I wasn’t alone all the time, but because of my class schedule, I ended up with a lunch period that left me eating alone again. I spent most of my after school time hanging out with one guy. By the end of the year, we were sick of each other and looking forward to getting away and starting over in college.
I’m thinking something similar happened to Jesus’ disciples. For 3 years, they did everything together. They fed the poor. They healed the sick. They cast out demons. They found the lost. Jesus was speaking out against ‘the man.’ Life was a party. Every day brought a new adventure. I imagine them sitting around asking, “What do you think Jesus is going to do today?"
But then Jesus started getting weird. He started talking about dying and resurrection. The mood of the group must have shifted. They must have been clinging to the past, trying to hold on to the party, and ignore the pit. No one wanted the party to end.
Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
“No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.
Peter really wanted the party to continue. But, the pit was right around the corner. Everything was about to change and he couldn’t accept it. Fear gripped him. He clamored for understanding. He got lost in confusion. He did exactly what Jesus said he would do. He denied him, and then he ran. They all ran.
It might be easy to look at Peter and call him a coward. But, really, how many people would have likely done the same thing if they thought their life was on the line?
What if it wasn’t your life though? What if it was your reputation?
What if a group of people whom you respected and wanted acceptance from were to shoot down something you believed in strongly? What if your boss, or peers were calling you out on your ‘religion?' Would there be a temptation to deny what you believe? To temporarily set aside your faith so as not to lose the acceptance of those people?
Or maybe it’s not so blatant. What if you had the opportunity to minister to someone in your workplace, or your social group? What if you could see their life spinning out of control and you knew Jesus was the answer? Would you be willing to go out on a limb, and risk a relationship ending conversation so that they could hear how much God loves them?
Where is the line that you won’t cross for Jesus? Is it your front door? Are you a Christian at home and at church, but live firmly planted in the world outside those doors? Is it school or work? The bar? The gym? Where does following Jesus get so hard that you are tempted to deny him?
Most people have a line.
It’s easy to be a believer on Sunday. It’s fun to be a part of the party when life is good and God is dropping down favor like nobody’s business. But what about when you’re in the pit? What about when you’ve allowed your sins to accumulate and you feel trapped by your addictions, guilt, fear, worry, and doubt?
Once I graduated high school I went away to a mid-size college where I knew exactly two people. They were girls. They were twins. And, they were more interested in meeting new people than hanging out with old faces. My roommate was either working, studying or with his girlfriend all the time so I spent most of my time alone again. I was in the pit. But it was in that time that I discovered some of my passions in life. I remembered a childhood dream to write. I found a love for working with youth. My interest in Literature was sparked. I figured out I could live on my own. I became something closer to an adult. I made new friends, and found my way back to the party.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
No one ever said we’d always get to live in the party. God doesn’t promise that our life on Earth won’t be met with disappointment, loss, or problems. Jesus pretty clearly states that following him will most certainly bring about suffering. But, we were never meant to dwell in the pit. David reminds us that we walk through the darkest valleys. We don’t go down there and setup camp and live out the rest of our days. Every valley has an exit. And every pit will eventually lead back to the party.
What we need to take from this is that no matter where we are, pit or party, God is close by, waiting and hoping for us to turn to him. No matter how many times we’ve denied him. No matter how many times we run from him. No matter how many times we draw the line, He’s always there. He always loves us.
Come join the party this Sunday and hear Blake’s next Out of the Blue message.