It’s 1am, and I can’t sleep. My heart is heavy and my mind is full of unpleasantness.
I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I’ve spent the past few days having a great time with people I love. But still, seeing the Instagram stories from dozens of friends who are hanging out at something I wasn’t invited to—it hurts. A lot.
Exclusion hits a raw nerve for me, and I know that I’m not alone in this. The more I speak openly to people around me, the more I discover others who feel the same way: rejected, excluded, forgotten, and isolated.
I hear these fears from all sides of our community. Even from the people I look at and think: ‘They’re a cool person, they’re in the thick of the group, there’s no way they’d ever feel left out’.
The reality is that when we’re part of a large community, we can’t always invite everyone to everything. And I get that. Space can be limited. Budgets can be tight. We may not know everyone.
I know I’m guilty of making others feel excluded. Sometimes I post things on my Instagram story because I want people to feel a twinge of jealousy when they see what I’m doing. I want them to know that I’m happy on my own and that I’m not (always) an introverted, anxious mess sitting at home in my pyjamas. And if I’m really honest, sometimes I want the people who haven’t invited me to know that ‘I’m fine without them’ and that ‘I had more fun not being at their event anyway’.
For many of us, the last few months have amplified that sense of loneliness and exclusion. When limited by social distancing restrictions, we’ve had to make tricky decisions about which friends to invite for dinner, and how to gather in small groups without offending or excluding anyone. It’s been tough, and I haven’t always gotten it right.
Recently, I poured out my sadness and frustration over coffee with a close friend. “Why can’t we be a community that includes everyone?” I asked her. “How do we change this culture of cliques and exclusivity?” We talked for hours, about what we’d love things to be like and how we can bring change.
I’m here to say that I don’t have the answers. I’m on a journey of learning what real community looks like, and how to bring Heaven here to earth. But I‘m starting to believe it’s possible to create a culture of inclusivity and healthy community. To ask God what that looks like for each of us. To make sure our heart is to pursue things that will build each other up, and not tear each other down.
As I read God’s Word, I see more and more that Jesus showed us how to do community well. He wasn’t close friends with everyone, and (probably) wasn’t organizing weekly one-on-one coffee catch-ups with all His followers. He had his 12 disciples, and a handful of other followers, and they were His go-to people. His group. The ones He shared meals with and prayed amongst.
But beyond His close circle, Jesus didn’t turn people away because they were outcasts, or because they came at an inconvenient time. He didn’t exclude anyone because he found them draining or annoying. Whether it was a leper, a prostitute, a Roman centurion or even a group of little children, Jesus didn’t reject those who came to Him. Instead, as the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke 19:1-10 shows us, He sought them out, ate, and fellowshipped with them.
Through His example, Jesus also taught His disciples how to do community well, and we get a glimpse of what that looked like in Acts 2:46-47. In this passage, we read that the early believers met together regularly, and that their group grew daily:
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
How can we live out the Acts 2 model of community in our lives today? We all know that inclusion is a nice idea, but what does that look like on a practical level? These are some ways I’m learning to be conscious of my own part in building community. Together we can:
1. Think beyond our inner circles (Romans 12:16). None of us think we’re the issue or that we’re part of a clique until we’re on the outside of one. Most of us would never intend to leave others out. It’s great to have a small group of close friends, but let’s aim to look outside of our circle for others who may be on the fringe. Who can we reach out to? Is there someone who would love to be invited to spend time with our group of friends?
2. Examine our motives before posting photos from a gathering or talking about the weekend’s social events with people who weren’t invited (Philippians 2:3-4). That doesn’t mean we have to be secretive, but it’s good to be aware of the times when we’re sharing for the sake of promoting our own sense of ‘social status’.
3. Always be ready to say yes (Romans 12:13). Yes, our friend can bring someone. Yes, their sister can join too. Yes, partners are welcome. If someone asks and we have the capacity (or physical space) to include more, we can say yes.
4. Be the connectors (Ephesians 4:2-3). It’s unrealistic to try and be best friends with every new person in our community. But what we can do is make an effort to connect them in with other like-minded people.
5. Call out exclusion when we see it, in gentleness and humility (Hebrews 10:24). We can ask our friends why a certain person isn’t invited, or gently suggest including that people in. Whether the exclusion was intentional or not, we can help our friends be mindful of fostering inclusivity in our communities.
6. Show grace to others when we’re not invited (Romans 12:17-18). I find this last one really hard to do, but I’m learning that it’s so important. If we can give people the benefit of the doubt when they haven’t invited us, we’ll not only avoid bitterness and insecurity, but we’ll build a community that understands that not everyone can be invited to everything, and that’s okay.
I want to be conscious of the niggling thoughts and hidden agendas in the dark places of my heart; the ones that care more about promoting my self-image than fostering integrity and love.
I want to do everything I can to make our community a place where fear of rejection or isolation has no hold over us. A community built on trust and hospitality and generosity, and not fraught with division or comparison or bitterness or insecurity.
Let’s be the kind of people who are so busy welcoming and including and giving generously, that we barely take note of what people are doing without us.
The kind of people who are secure enough in who and whose we are, that not being invited doesn’t feel like a personal blow.
Who’s with me?