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Column: A new friend can be an answer to prayer

WORTHINGTON — Inevitably, when the calendar flips to August and back-to-school sales fill the aisles of the stores, I find myself feeling a wee bit nostalgic for freshly-sharpened pencils and brand-spanking-new three-ring binders.  Not that I particularly want to go back to school, with 20 years of formal education under my belt, but still it brings back some fond memories.  Like the time I bloodied up my knee in first grade by falling off a giant rock. I was so proud of having climbed up the rock that I didn’t even mind the blood.  (I still have the scar.)

Or the time I got locked in a storage closet in fifth grade with several friends and the superintendent had to get an ax and chop down the door to release us. Boy, that was the talk of the school for a few days.

Or the times I ate my lunch in the bathroom because I was too shy to go up to strangers in the lunchroom and ask if I could sit beside them.

OK, I’m not actually nostalgic about that experience.

Can you even believe I did that? I was in 10th grade, and we’d just moved from the town I’d lived in almost my entire life, to a new town in a new state, and I didn’t have the self-confidence it took to sit beside people I didn’t know.  

It took an assignment in French class to finally help me make some friends.  We were assigned partners and, while normally I hated group assignments, I was relieved to be paired up with a nice girl named Anna.  She was so friendly, in fact, that by the end of class she asked me if I’d like to sit with her and her friends at lunch.  I smiled and nodded and held back tears of relief.

She didn’t know it, but she was an answer to prayer.  

Funny how God works, isn’t it?  The moment my French teacher said, “Find your partner,” I froze inside.  But then it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me.  Anna and her friends became my best friends in that school.  

I still freeze sometimes, internally, when someone asks me to do something that makes me nervous.  My mind rushes to all sorts of excuses and I seek out places I can hide — just like the lonely sophomore hiding in the bathroom to eat her lunch.  But now, thankfully, I have learned that a bathroom stall is no place to live my life. I’ve learned to trust God in those moments of fear.  To trust Him that even if something seems too hard, too scary, too much, it may just be the answer to a prayer, after all.   

My 7-year-old’s favorite Bible verse is Matthew 14:27 “Don’t be afraid …Take courage.  I am here!” (NLT), which she learned at Vacation Bible School this summer.  She even quoted it to my father when he went into the hospital for surgery in June.  It’s a good one, no matter what your age.

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in rural Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, runs monthly.