Me too. And everyone else.
As humans we have insatiable (not-able-to-be-met) desires. We want to be accepted and we want to be approved. We want to be known and we want to be loved. Really, we want to be on “the inside”.
Have you ever called one of your friends to hang out, only to find that they already made plans with all your other friends. . . and you were left out? It leaves you with a sinking feeling of rejection, or perhaps inadequacy. A lingering question mark in your mind – am I cool enough, strong enough, pretty enough, man enough, funny enough – fill in the blank – to be included? They are in. You are out.
C.S. Lewis discusses the existence of privileged relationships in the world and gives a name to this phenomenon. He calls it “the inner ring”. Any time a friend, or group of friends develops, whether in business or in school or in church, an inner ring is created. Lewis does not reject the existence of rings, or label them as bad – after all, Jesus spoke to crowds, but He had His disciples, He had the twelve, and even within that, Peter, James, and John comprised yet another “ring” within the larger. There are rings within rings. And to have only a friend or two you share all with, another group you hang out with, and yet more acquaintances beyond that, is not bad. In fact, I should say this is very healthy. But what is dangerous is the desire to be in, as Lewis points out:
“I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an Evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together . . . But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter . . . As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”
At the end of the day you wonder – if only he would talk to me, if only she would respect me, if only they would accept me! If only…if only…if only. These are all thoughts and feelings many of us have. We so long to be in.
If you look within yourself I think you will find the fear of being outside stronger than you realize; in some ways we do not realize its strength until we find ourselves on the outside looking in. And that experience is, in a broad sense, universal to humanity, for it is our condition – sin has separated us from God, and so in a cosmic sense we are “on the outside”. God the Father, Son, and Spirit are the Inner Ring, and our sin expelled us from that. The feeling persists, the yearning of humanity – “If I could only get in!” And we fear being out. Lewis explains that until we conquer that fear, no matter what rings we are in or out of, we will never be happy. The catch is, we can’t conquer it on our own.
Are you tired of being let down again and again by the Inner Ring? Maybe you are on the outside looking in, imagining that the approval of peers is “all you need”. Maybe you are on the inside realizing that it’s not fulfilling, and that exclusion for exclusion’s sake is anti-community. Maybe you’ve been hurt by a certain inner ring that you just can’t get in – I daresay we all have.
Come and find rest in Christ Jesus. He endured the wrath of God, left outside the city on a cross, so that poor and broken humanity could be brought back in. He left perfect community, perfect love, perfect acceptance, and experienced the worst kind of rejection so that we wouldn’t have to. By nothing of our own avail, we are offered an invitation into the real “Inner Ring”. Then, in the acceptance, approval, and righteousness we find in Christ, we can love people more than rings, value souls more than socials, and build communities rather than merely building networks.
So ask yourself, what rings am I in (remember, they aren’t inherently bad)? How do I function within them? How do I treat those outside of them? Bring your desires to be in to the God who was left out for our redemption, and be transformed. He can conquer the fear.
You can read the rest of Lewis’ poignant lecture: http://www.lewissociety.org/innerring.php