I was afraid to go
into Junior High School. Horror stories
filled my young head about the “big kids” who really didn’t like little guys
like me. We heard stories about getting our pants pulled down in front of
girls. Much of what I lived in fear of never took place. Normal stuff happened like kids sticking out
their foot and trying to trip you or someone saying something dumb to make you
feel even dumber.
The first month of
Junior High seemed to go by without much of a problem so I began to think I
might have successfully made it through the dreaded season of Junior High
Each morning all
the kids who were bused to school would have to meet in the cafeteria and wait
until class started. I was never really
sure why we were not allowed to play on the playground, but I was just a kid –
what did I know?
There were rules
for all of us held captive in the cafeteria each morning. No talking and no eating were allowed. Our lives were reduced to a very abnormal
activity for someone our age – motionlessness.
One morning on the school
bus a kid gave me a stick of gum. I
chewed the life out of that gum on the way to school and honestly forgot it was
in my mouth. I was oblivious to the fact that I was breaking one of the
Each morning a
teacher would be assigned to monitor our pre-class holding cell of non-activity. On this particular morning Mr. Jones (I have changed
his name just in case he might still be alive) was the teacher assigned to
cafeteria duty. He was a very handsome
man. All the girls liked him and
surrounded him like an admiring human necklace.
To the guys it was kind of sickening since we were no competition for
Mr. Jones. At this stage in our development we were only skinny/fat/tall/short
little nerds who had yet to come into our own.
About ten minutes
into our cafeteria time, I was minding my own business when the really deep and
manly voice of Mr. Jones boomed out and echoed off the walls and linoleum
floors of the cafeteria. Whenever Mr.
Jones spoke like this we knew he was about to emotionally filet some poor kid.
All of us sucked in our collective breath and wondered who would get it this
“You, over there – chewing
the gum – look at me!” I was so glad it
wasn’t me until I realized I was actually chewing the gum given to me on the
bus forty-five minutes earlier. He had
to be talking about someone else so I didn’t look up.
Mr. Jones bellowed
again, “You, Elkins, look at me!”
At that moment the
most frightful thing that could ever happen to a Junior High kid was taking
place, I was being noticed. A couple of
things began to happen. I wanted to go
to the bathroom really bad but held it.
My bowels were doing those funny things that happen when you are home
sick with the flu and need to find a toilet really fast. On the other end of my physiological reaction
was the desire to heave up the oatmeal mom made for me earlier that morning,
along with the toast, the glass of milk and the cookie I snuck out of the
cookie jar. I played the man, pinched both ends shut and looked up.
As my eyes met the
gaze of Mr. Jones he said, “Yeah, you, Elkins, stand up.” As I slowly rose the entire cafeteria went
silent. Junior High kids were about to
witness a public execution so being quiet and obedient in times like this was
essential for their personal survival.
My life, all 12
years of it, was now flashing before my eyes.
Grown ups said this is what happens just before a person is about to die
and they were right. Then the snickers
started coming from all across the cafeteria.
I was being abandoned and left alone in the greatest moment of shame I
had ever experienced. It was about to
get much worse.
Mr. Jones then
issued a command, “Elkins, I want you to get down on all fours and crawl over
to me like a dog.” What? I wanted to
protest, but only knew I needed obey the teacher. Slowly I got down on the dirty, un-mopped
cafeteria floor, and began to crawl on all fours towards Mr. Jones. The kid’s snickers had now become outright
laughter. Mr. Jones seemed to be feeding off his audience like a comedian
working a room. As I shuffled across the floor my knees and hands became black
with the dirt, grease and food crumbs that litter a school cafeteria floor.
I started my long,
crawling journey towards Mr. Jones. It
took a couple of minutes to make the journey.
It felt like a lifetime. I wanted to hide. I wanted to be gone. I wanted to die.
As I finally came
to a stop at the feet of Mr. Jones he had one final command. “Elkins, crawl over to that garbage can and
spit out your gum.” In a numbed response
of obedience, I crawled over to the garbage can and spit out my gum. At least this torture and humiliation was
over, I thought, but Mr. Jones was not done with me.
“Now, get back down
on the floor and crawl back to your seat.” Again, a crawl of humiliation was
assigned to me and back across the dirty floor and through the mocking laughter
of my classmates I went. As I reached my
seat, I sat down emotionally destroyed.
As a 12 year-old kid, I felt my life was over. I had no idea how to get out of the hole that
Mr. Jones dug for me. The rest of the
day I lived in an emotional state of numbness.
I heard people speaking and felt my feet on the ground, but I was fully
disconnected from reality. I was still
that way when I got home later that afternoon.
As a family, we always
ate dinner together. I was usually the noisy one at the table. On this
particular night, I carried my numbness and silence to the table. About half way through dinner my dad asked me
what was wrong. The last thing I wanted to do was recall the events of the
day. When I hesitated dad pressed me to
answer because he could see something was terribly wrong.
I spent the next
few moments sharing with my family what happened to me. That night I didn’t
finish my dinner and went off to bed early.
The stress of the day had taken a physical toll on my young body, along
with the emotional toll on my developing self-image.
Fifty years have
passed since that humiliating incident in the cafeteria. I had parked the pain of that day deep within
my heart. Over the years, God had me
pray for Mr. Jones. I did not know what
to feel about him. As a kid, I was told to
respect and trust my elders, yet here was a man who had deeply violated another
human being. Today, he would be fired
and possibly brought up on charges of child abuse. As the years went by I began to add blessings
to my prayers for Mr. Jones.
Somewhere near the
forty-year anniversary of this event my wife and I were praying and this incident
came to the surface. As Jan and I
returned to that day in prayer, Jan prayed “Jesus, come and reveal your truth.”
As I relived that
painful crawl on the dirty floor, I was shocked to actually see the Lord. He was there that day. He was down on all fours with me – crawling
on the dirty floor beside me. He wasn’t
looking at Mr. Jones or the laughing kids.
His eyes were fixed on me.
At first I did not
know what to think of the image I was seeing.
Jesus had crawled with me all the way over to Mr. Jones. His robe was getting dirty. His hands slide
through the same grease and dirt as my hands.
He listened to the hurtful and demeaning words of Mr. Jones. Jesus was there at the garbage can as I spit
out my gum “like a dog” and he was there crawling with me all the way back to
my seat. I was never alone in my humiliation.
What came next was
even more amazing. Jan asked, “Is the
Lord saying anything to you?” Again, I
paused, and waited to hear. The Lord
spoke and said, “Garris, what you experienced that day was very painful, but I
always provide purpose in the midst of your pain. For the last fifty years Mr. Jones had no one
to pray for him. You have prayed for him
and I have used those prayers in his life.
My purpose was fulfilled in the midst of your pain.”
As those words sunk
deep into my spirit I began to see my suffering that day, and all the other
times of personal suffering, in a completely different light. I began to realize no suffering we experience
is ever lost in a purposeless place. God
is always working somewhere in our suffering for a higher good.
Suffering links us
to Christ in a unique way. Many of us
look at suffering and try to remove it from our memory by turning our back on
its presence. That never works. Suffering not yielded to God can fester and
become a place of sickness instead of freedom.
The suffering of
Jesus was so real that when he saw the Cross approaching he asked the Father if
there was another way possible.
Thankfully, Jesus embraced his suffering so we could be free in the
midst of ours. The humanity of Christ
spoke out that day in the Garden of Gethsemane and brought us a real and honest
look at personal pain.
Some people fight
suffering. Jesus embraced it. If we can embrace our suffering, and find
Jesus in that experience, we will begin see the hope of resurrection hidden
somewhere in the pain. A life focused only on the pain of suffering – without
Jesus in the picture – will become a life absent of the songs of worship and
deliverance that are birthed in the bowels of suffering.
Paul said in Romans
8:17, “And since we are his children, we
are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But
if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” In other
words, we can’t escape the reality of suffering if we are in route to the
inheritance God has planned for us.
Somewhere in each
season of suffering there exists the comfort of God. In 2 Corinthians 1:7 Paul writes, “We are
confident that as you share in our sufferings,
you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” Many miss this comfort
because they look for the removal of the pain or seek punishment of the
That day on the
cafeteria floor I was not suffering alone.
Jesus was crawling with me through the shame, the dirt and the
mockery. The first time around, I missed
this fact and carried the burden of suffering alone. Years later, Jesus showed me he was always
there with me. I was never alone. That knowledge has changed how I now live in
the midst of suffering. His promise to us is that he will never leave us or
forsake us – ever.
Today, I thank God
for Mr. Jones. My experience with a
dysfunctional teacher has turned out to be a great blessing in my life. I have learned so much about the heart of God
from the pain I experienced that day.
This is the desired goal for any follower of Christ – that we would find
Jesus in the midst of our most painful experiences.