Question: What do you do when your church has a popular crowd and the rest of us feel excluded?
Answered by Blythe Hunt
I wish I knew who submitted this question so I could personally thank them and give them a big, fat hug. I love this question, I love the heart behind it, and I love the insight! It brings to mind a brief period of time in my adolescence that I was invited to be a part of the “in” crowd at school; I hung out with them, not really fitting in, but curious about how to fit in. At the end of the day, I decided it wasn’t for me—the cool kids were neato, but I missed my friends, with whom I felt comfortable, more myself. It was a good experience for me to learn that not all of us will be part of the popular crowd, and that is okay. As I grew in my faith, I realized that God created me with a heart for the other uncool kids, and that is where I personally thrive and love to build relationships.
When Kara drew me into her heart and life, people—strangers—knew who I was practically overnight. All of a sudden, because of my friendship with Kara, who was The Very Coolest, I was cool! Or at least cool-ish. Or maybe just cool by association. And to be honest, I struggled with the perception some had of me—I didn’t identify as a cool kid, and I was afraid that I couldn’t live up to the cool expectations. I wanted to fade back into the comfort of being a misfit, never quite fitting in at church. Or anywhere, really. I feel most at home with others who don’t feel at home. So I understand that feeling of not being exactly where we think we should be in community, whether we want to be included with the cool kids or left alone with the wallflowers. My heart goes out to you, friend.
But, back to the question at hand. I think that this issue is likely very common. Any time there is a large gathering of people, groups will form, as will the impression of exclusion, even if that is the farthest thing from the truth. So I offer this in the hope that you, my kindred-spirit question asker, will be encouraged.
- Assume the best. When we aren’t noticed like we want to be, it’s easy to conclude that others are being exclusive. I would like to challenge you to do the opposite: assume the best of others. Assume that they are not exclusive, that if they knew you felt that way, they would be mortified. Assume that they are so good at doing relationships, their hearts are full. Be grateful for their relationships; try not to waste precious heart energy and tears thinking poorly of them. Instead of fostering an us-versus-them mentality (or projecting that as others’ mentalities), let’s go for us-for-them approach.
- Don’t succumb to self-pity. I know—this is a hard one. It’s really, really hard to be rejected and not feel sorry for yourself. Have a good cry, punch your pillow, go for a run. Grieve and allow your heart to ache, but try not to cross the line into self-pity. When we feel sorry for ourselves, it turns our focus inward and becomes a habitual way of thinking—our understanding of our identity will slowly morph into lies rather than the truth of who God says we are.
- Lean into Jesus. When we are rejected, we need to remind ourselves that we are never, ever truly rejected. Jesus sees the rejection, the pain, the humiliation. Jesus understands our broken hearts and our longings to be noticed and included. Don’t listen to the lies that you are unlovable—listen to Jesus and his words of love to us in Scripture. Consider that he died in order to have a relationship with you. Dig into scripture, cry out to Jesus, meditate on his truth, rest in his love. Live in the freeing truth of your identity as a child of God!
- Look for the overlooked. If you feel overlooked, you’re likely not the only one—look for others who are alone, lonely, rejected. Reach out to them. The chances of being accepted as a friend by a lonely person are very good! It’s a win/win: you can encourage someone else and make a new friend in the process. And you can reflect God’s heart to your new friend: Jesus doesn’t overlook anyone. Jesus has a heart for the rejected (by the way, he also has a heart for the cool kids!). Jesus pursues others! Jesus includes and welcomes and enjoys his people. In doing so, you will be combating that lie that God only loves certain people.
- Expect grace. Pursuing others is the Lord’s work. Consider scripture and all the places we see God pursuing his children—starting with how he called to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in their worst moment. Pursuing others is hard, risky work that will drive us back to God’s arms again and again when we are exhausted or rejected—again—or discouraged or overjoyed. As we live out this calling to pursue, we can expect grace to meet us around every corner. God delights in our love for others, and he will provide just what we need as we reach out to his children. Never doubt that grace will meet us; in fact, we don’t just have to expect grace—we can look for it and celebrate it when we find it, rejoicing in our God who never rejects us, never overlooks us, always pursues.