I hesitated before opening the cafeteria door. I already knew what I would find inside. Two tables would be full of other Americans. They would be laughing and joking and having a wonderful time. Then there would be a couple of other tables full of German and Austrian students. Their chitchat would be identical to that of the Americans, except they would be bantering in German instead of English. There would also be a table of south Americans, who chatted back in forth in Spanish, and then there would be one last table. These students would be on the quiet side, more serious than the rest. They came from many different, non-German and non-English countries around the world, and their native tongues varied. Because they didn’t have a language in common, when they spoke, it was in short, simple German words and phrases.
I sighed. It was my first week of school, my first week in Austria and my first week in a non-English speaking country. My goal during the upcoming school year was to learn German, but from the stories I had heard of previous American students spending a year here, I knew that if I hung out with the other Americans it would be too easy to speak English all year, and I would never learn to interact with the native language speakers. Although the extent of my oral German skills was limited to “Wie geht es dir,” and “Es geht mir gut”, I had made a resolve, one that I intended to keep: I had resolved to NOT hang out with the Americans this year.
What I hadn’t considered when making this decision was how quiet and shy I am by nature. I have a difficult time making new friends in the best of environments, and now, having resolved to not speak English, and not knowing enough German to fit in with the native German and Austrian speakers, I was left feeling completely misplaced. Just WHERE did I fit in??? Why had I made that rash resolution anyway?
Only my hunger made me enter that Austrian cafeteria that day so long ago, but I didn’t break my resolve. I sat with the group of students from various places, the ones who didn’t have a language in common, and it was a very quiet meal. That wasn’t the end of my loneliness, either. Gradually, however, I became friends with the other non-English foreign students. The fact that we were all just learning German seemed to give us a common bond, and because we didn’t have a common language, we had no choice but to stumble out slaughtered German phrases with each other. Over the course of the next few months, we all learned!
As I look back on my experience in Austria, though I still shirk back from the feeling of stark loneliness that I initially felt, I know that if I had it to do over again, I would have done nothing differently. By the end of the school year, unlike my fellow-American students, I was fluent in German. But more than this, I had made many dear friends, even among the German and Austrian students, and in the long run, the initial pain was well worth the end gain!
This scenario reminds me of what so often happens when you accept Jesus into your heart. The moment you make that decision, you often find yourself feeling all alone. Why? Because your life changes. Your ideals change, your goals change, and you change in your manner of how you seek entertainment. Although all of these changes are for the good, suddenly you find yourself “different”. Your old friends brand you as “no fun”, “dull”, or “Bible-thumpers”. Many don’t want to hang out with you anymore. All in all, it can make for a very lonely life!
Friends, if your decision to follow Jesus has left you feeling lonely, please don’t despair! The most important thing to learn about your new Christian life is that your true friend is Jesus! He’s the one you can depend on. He will stand by you no matter where you find yourself. He can fulfill your need for friendship far more deeply than any human friend. With Jesus as your forever friend, you will NEVER feel lonely again!
So if you feel like you don’t fit in anymore because of a decision for Jesus, remember my experience in Austria and stick to your guns! Pursue first and foremost a friendship with Jesus! This doesn’t mean you are to “segregate” yourself from your former friends. It just means that you must “segregate” yourself from your former way of life. But if in doing so, your friends shun you, don’t give up! Jesus is your forever friend! In the end, you will be far richer and far more blessed than if you had compromised to maintain earthly friendships!
Sprichst du deutsch? Ya? Sehr gut! Let’s talk!