by Chuck DeGroat
Yes, Jesus…who turned over tables, met me under what I barely recall as a wide, brown table, with thin legs that tapered toward the bottom. Then again, it might have been a small table with thick legs. I was six. All I knew was that this was my safe space. The underside of that table was my secure little world.
Jesus met me under that table. Jesus—who shook up the likes of Pharisaical moralists and politically-manipulative high priests. Jesus—who touched lepers and welcomed prostitutes.
He was under that table. With me. It didn’t make the pain go away. It didn’t keep the words from screaming into my little psyche. To this day, it doesn’t make the panic attacks go away. But he was there.
The table was a safe space for me. Again, my memory is faint, but this is where I hid when I felt scared, when Mom was angry and Dad was away… when my world felt unstable.
In time, I’d discover other contained spaces. When I closed the big glass door to our bathtub, I entered another world. When I ascended into my bunk, I was above the clouds. In our old Volkswagen camper, I’d sleep in a snap-in canvas hammock in the pop-top, looking out to the stars. That still gives me chills to think about. I could have flown on that canvas hammock into another dimension. I may have.
To this day, I like to find “safe” spaces—at retreat centers or on a walk in the woods, and even in my home.
And in God’s amazingly good providence, over time I’ve learned to create safe spaces for others. Over the past 18 years or so, I’ve specialized in working with sexually abused women in my therapeutic practice. I didn’t ask for this. I thought I’d be the guy who counseled male sex addicts or people with spiritual questions. No. God gave me women, women with extraordinary stories of sexual abuse. Raped by fathers while reciting prayers. By grandfathers while in the same room with other family members. By pastors. Courageous women.
It only recently occurred to me that maybe—just maybe—they started coming to me because I knew how to create a safe space. But here’s the truth—I didn’t know. There was no method to it. No one told me how. I suppose that in and through my own abuse journey, I’ve learned how to find that secure and contained hiding place where no one but Jesus is welcome. This is sacred space.
Jesus met me under a table. For me, that is Epiphany. Sometimes, I need Jesus in that same childlike way. Sometimes getting out of bed is hard in the morning. Sometimes I want to pull the covers over my head and forget the world exists. Sometimes, remembering the safety and security of that table-refuge is what gets me through anxious meetings. Sometimes, I wish that I could just stay in that place…forever. People view me as pretty put together, but sometimes the world is scary.
It was in therapy five years ago that I remembered that secure space under the table. This is the first I’ve written about it. But it’s Epiphany. We look to Jesus. Or perhaps Jesus finds us in Epiphany. The God who in Genesis 3 cries out, “Where are you?” looks for us, wherever we might be hiding. I’m grateful…so grateful for that.
Chuck DeGroat teaches pastoral theology and counseling at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.