"Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses." Psalm 25:16-17 (ESV)
There were many feelings I expected to have at this conference I'd been looking forward to attending. Acceptance. Fun. Camaraderie.
On paper, these were my people.
They lead organizations. I lead an organization. They are vulnerable. I am vulnerable. Like me, they know the stresses of deadlines, trying to balance kids with ministry, and the nagging sense that we should keep hidden the fact that we have the pizza delivery place on speed dial.
Yes, these will for sure be my people.
And the great thing about gathering with people you just know you're going to bond with is that they will get you. Really get you ... like on the level of having inside jokes that makes every conversation comfortable and delightful.
I couldn't wait to be with these people.
And I couldn't wait for the deep friendships that would surely bloom as a result of our time together.
I walked into the meeting room and quickly located the table of the people I was excited to meet. Every seat had a nametag attached so I circled the table looking for mine. As I got to the last chair and realized my name wasn't there, I got a sinking feeling.
I milled around the room looking for my name, feeling increasingly out of place. Finally, at a table on the opposite side of the room, I found my name. I rallied in my heart that the Lord must have a special plan for me to meet and connect with the others assigned to my table. I took my seat and pulled out my cell phone as I nervously waited for my tablemates.
As the prayer for the meal concluded and the event got underway it became painfully apparent to me that the others assigned to my table weren't able to come for some reason. So, I'd be seated alone. Very alone.
In reality, I don't think anyone else really noticed my predicament. After all by this time everyone in the room was busy passing rolls and salad dressing options.
In my head I started to have a little pity conversation: Well self, would you like a roll? Or ten perhaps? It's certainly an option when you're sitting single at a table for ten.
And that's when a very clear sentence popped into my head, "You aren't set aside, Lysa. You are set apart." It wasn't audible. And it wasn't my own thought. I knew it was a thought assigned by God that I needed to ponder.
To be set aside is to be rejected.
That's exactly what the enemy would have wanted me to feel. If he could get me to feel this, then I'd become completely self-absorbed in my own insecurity and miss whatever reason God had for me to be at this event.
To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.
That's what I believe God wanted me to see. If He could get me to see this, I'd be able to embrace the lesson of this situation.
Have you ever been in this place? Maybe you're there this Christmas season. It's tough when everything around you screams "merry" while you're aching with loneliness and feel anything but.
I wasn't just in this place at the dinner that night. I've been in whole seasons of my life where, though I had people around, I felt quite alone in my calling.
Can I give you three thoughts that might encourage you today?
1. Look for the gift of being humbled.
Proverbs 11:2b reminds us that "with humility comes wisdom" (NIV). In this set apart place, God will give you special wisdom you'll need for the assignment ahead.
2. Look for the gift of being lonely.
This will develop in you a deeper sense of compassion for your fellow travelers. You better believe when I walk into a conference now I look for someone sitting alone and make sure they know someone noticed them.
3. Look for the gift of silence.
Had I been surrounded by the voices of those people I was so eager to meet that night, I would have surely missed the voice of God. I'm trying to weave more silence into the rhythm of my life now so I can whisper, "God what might You want to say to me right now? I'm listening."
I know it can be painful to be alone. And I know the thoughts of being set aside are loud and overwhelmingly tempting to believe in the hollows of feeling unnoticed and uninvited.
But as you pray through your feelings, see if maybe your situation has more to do with you being prepared than you being overlooked.
There is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to look past being set aside to see God's call for her to be set apart.
Dear Lord, help me see the gifts hidden in this season of loneliness. I'm believing today that I'm set apart, not set aside. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY: John 15:16a, "You didn't choose me. I chose you." (NLT)