When I was 21, I was a college dropout living on the floor of a friend’s apartment. I was estranged from my family because I chose not to be around them, and I was completely lost in myself.
During that year, I spent nearly every day alone. Over the previous two years of my life, I had slowly slipped into myself, away from friends and any purpose to guide and drive me beyond the most present satisfactions. I lived in a cage of self-absorption. For Thanksgiving in my 21st year, I missed all of my family’s activities, including our goose-hunting trip and the Thanksgiving Day meal at the ranch house. Instead, I chose to cut myself off from communicating with everyone, seeking desperately to avoid seeing another face that might recall me to my own lonely heart.
I have always been content alone. My mother often told me I was so easy as a child because I needed no attention—I had my own mind to get lost within—yet this also rightly worried her because I did not seek others out, especially when I was hurting or feeling shame. By the time I was 21, after two years of burying myself in the shame of not living up to who I could be as a student as well as a pile of addictions and self-hatred, I was even more intent on fleeing others; they awoke in me an awareness of just how lonely and lost I was. I could hide my heart’s aching loneliness from myself with a series of addictions and distractions, but the face of another person was a mirror to me.
Thanksgiving day for my family usually consists of turkey, stuffing, endless rolls, a goose, pecan pie, football, and thanksgiving. The central focus and culmination of our meal is our giving of thanks where, with a solemn yet joyful procession around the table, we offer up our gratitude for family, friends, and all the goodness of life. This is one of many sacraments my family practices around the dinner table on special occasions. For birthdays, my family intentionally sets aside a time at the end of the meal to tell the family member who was born that day why we love them. These moments recall us back to joy, thanksgiving, and shared love. But for that Thanksgiving, I was a prodigal so desperately mired in the muck of myself that I could not handle love, joy, and thanksgiving. When we turn in upon ourselves and seek our satisfaction from only what we desire, our hearts can shrivel up to the point where love and joy become painful for us. Right then, love and joy were painful for me to encounter.
Instead of community and celebration, I spent that Thanksgiving alone. I locked myself up in the apartment and wanted no one to come near me. Because I was so afraid of seeing another face, I did not leave my room until I became hungry. Around mid-afternoon, I finally decided to order pizza (which to my surprise was still delivered on Thanksgiving) and waited in my cavern for it to arrive. I was watching football, just like my family was likely doing, when the pizza arrived. When I opened the door, I found a young man, probably my own age, looking at me quizzically. I immediately wondered: Why was this young man working on Thanksgiving? What had led him to the point where he wasn’t at home with his family, eating a joyful Thanksgiving meal? Was he without a family or friends to share joy and love with today?
Then, I saw in his eyes the same questions being asked back at me. Beneath my armor of distractions, the desperate beating brokenness of my own heart pulsed with billowing pangs into my consciousness. In this pizza delivery boy’s face, I saw my own loneliness.
Driving through a small town on I-45 the other day, I saw a big billboard, the type of sign you only see in a small town in Texas, which read: “Lost? The map is in My Book. ~God”. When I saw it, I was struck by a realization: When I am lost, the map back to where I need to go has not often been written on a page but in the face of another person. When I was lost that Thanksgiving day, the face of a pizza delivery boy first woke me to how lost I really was. Now, every time I attempt to escape back into myself to hide from the constant reality that I am lonely, broken, and in need, I find myself face to face with another broken heart. I writhe to run, but the God whose face is always seeking mine will not let me turn forever from my own brokenness. I am recalled back to the place of my own poverty, where I am unable to live without another living within me, beside me, and for me, and where in turn I am called to live for others outside the ruinous cavern of myself.