Every single cafeteria I have ever sat in smells exactly the same. Like mystery meat nachos, old shoes, and pre-pubescent fear. Even in cafeterias that haven’t been cooked in for years, that smell lingers. The school cafeteria. No one wants to do that again.
I remember one of the only times I ever skipped in high school was during lunch. I was coming back from a week or so of school missed. I was not sure I had a place to sit, and I could not face it. So, I took my lunch and sat between the long forgotten trophies amidst the giant dust bunnies in the upper corner of the gym balcony. It was lonely, but at least I chose to exclude myself.
There are few things more raw than standing at the end of the lunch line with your hot tray searching desperately for a seat. You feel naked, begging silently for a smile, an invitation, even just an empty seat that no one will tell you has already been taken. You pray desperately that no one will notice your soul is not wearing any clothes. You just want someone to invite you.
There were a half-dozen kids in the kiddo-worship dance party this Sunday. They formed a circle each hand linked to the next and ran clockwise until they got dizzy. The best part of it was the fluidity of membership. There was always room for one more. Wherever and whenever someone wanted to break in…they could. No invitation was needed, because everyone was always invited. Just for a second I thought I saw a glimpse of heaven.
I may pray “as earth as it is in heaven” but my heart has been working like the school cafeteria and not the all-inclusive worship dance. I form clicks and insist that there are a limited number of seats. I hunch over my tray and sneer at someone approaching, “you can’t sit here.” I smile and wave at the girl who I have decided will be my new best friend. “Come sit with us!” I call, “you are invited.”
Deep inside, I am as spiritually insecure as a thirteen year old with a third eye pimple and a bad hair cut. I just want to be liked, and I don’t know how to do that without someone else being excluded. I don’t know how to feel in without outs. If I am not better than someone else, than how do I know that I am good at all?
Inside my heart I have grouped people as in and out, out of fear. People who I fear will exclude me I quickly turn my back to, rush past their table without making eye contact. If I am offered a smile or wave, I decide that they are disingenuous. I don’t want to eat with you anyway. I may even talk about you with my friends, just so I know that I fit in.
That attitude goes down about as easy as those mystery meat nachos. And it makes me sick to my stomach, living in fear that I will one day not have a place to sit, striving to get to the next great table, being willing to edge someone else out of their seat.
Mercy doesn’t work like that. Pardon means forgiven, and it is given to those I am attempting to exclude as it is given to me. You are excused, and therefore, invited. Period. Even with the third eye pimple, even if you are wearing the wrong thing, even if you smell funny. Pardon is miraculous. It is what turns the middle school cafeteria into the great worship circle dance, lead by 7 year olds who are too loud, and joined in by giggling two-year olds that sometimes fall down and mess everything up. They are invited despite that, because of it even.
My heart will not be bound by the striving of the lunch room any longer. Everyone is invited. Let’s head outside for the great circle worship dance. I want to live in mercy, and dance in pardon, and I want to invite anyone who will, to break in and circle around. We are pardoned, everyone. Let’s all celebrate together….and lets find something better to nourish us then what they are serving in the school cafeteria.
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