Becoming A Better "Includer"
A few months ago, I heard a story from a friend that got me thinking about inclusion and exclusion. This friend of a friend (lets call her Lucy) went to the library one day with her kids. While Lucy was at the library, another mom came up to her and initiated a conversation. Lucy later told my friend that she was annoyed that this other mom was talking to her because she “didn’t need any more friends.” This story made me really sad, but at the same time, I understood where Lucy was coming from.
Inclusion can feel complicated sometimes. How do I include others when I have so little margin in my own life? Do I need to include others even when I rarely see my own friends? Do I have to include people I don’t like? What does it look like practically to include others? Are there some areas in life where it is okay to be exclusive?
These tough questions are why it has taken me months to process and write this blog post.
Another reason it has take me so long to write this post is that including others doesn’t come naturally to me. As a classic introvert, when I go to a party or large social gathering, I tend to quickly gather my closest friends and then retreat to the corner for the rest of the evening. Sticking close to my people feels safe to me. My worst nightmare would be attending a wedding where I didn’t know a single person and my spouse is in the wedding party…and there is no wine.
So let’s muddle through this whole inclusion/exclusion thing together and see where we end up.
The definition of include is “to take in,” and as I have reflected on this, I think it has two parts:
First, in order to include, we must “take in” our surroundings. When you walk into a room, do you tend to search for familiar faces or do you instead look around for that one person who doesn’t seem to know anyone? Do you see the quiet person at your table, your class, mom’s group, or Bible study who just needs someone to initiate conversation with them? Our lack of awareness, even if unintentional, can be a passive way of being an excluder. We cannot include others if we are unaware of them.
The second part of being an includer means we must take others in to our lives. Take them into our conversations, our groups, our family dinners, our space, and our time. This sounds so easy, doesn’t it? So why don’t we do this more?
I wonder if there is an assumption that being an includer means you need to be best friends with everybody. Or that including has to be a grand gesture. But maybe this isn’t the case.
For example, my daughter and one of her best friends are in ballet together. Whenever we show up to class, the two girls hug each other and start running around like little monkeys. One week, before class started, I noticed a few other little girls staring longingly at my boisterous daughter and her equally boisterous friend. So, I encouraged Evelyn to ask them to play too. They all played, and it was super sweet to watch. I had a few minutes of small talk with their moms, the girls’ class started, and that was it. I didn’t feel the need to initiate a play date or become best friends with these women and that was okay.
Sometimes, God clearly calls us to include another in a big way, and when he does, we can trust it will be worth it. But oftentimes, inclusion can simply be noticing someone and engaging with them. Maybe it’s asking a question, or commenting on something you like about their outfit. Many people out there just want their presence to be acknowledged, and some desperately long to be pulled into a conversation.
I want to touch on the subject of best friends. I think we can all agree that quality time is essential to deepening our friendships. We simply cannot invite everybody to everything ALL the time. Even Jesus had his group of twelve and his three best buds. But, that didn’t keep him from noticing and engaging with people outside his group.
Check out this verse:
Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”
Oh and this verse too. Sometimes Jesus’ own besties were mad at him for being such a relentless includer…
One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him. Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.
One of the many reasons I love Jesus is because He LOVES to include. In God’s Kingdom, life is just a big party where the motto is “the more, the merrier!” Isn’t this approach to life one we want to pass onto our children? Don’t we want our children to be the ones at school who ask the quiet kid how their day is going? The only way to raise these kinds of kids is to be the kind of parents who do the same. (Trust me, I am preaching to myself here too).
God loves to include because he loves people. If including others is loving, what would be the thing that keeps us from doing it?
Fear. The voice of fear persuades us away from initiating with that person because he or she will just demand more of our limited time and attention. Fear cautions us away from extending an invitation because of the possibility of being rejected or made to feel foolish.
Let’s not allow fear to keep us from becoming so protective of our time or ego that we can’t even enter into small talk with another. Let’s not let fear be the reason we become overly focused on our friend groups and fail to love those outside of it.
Going back to Library Lucy…She may have not needed any more friends, but what if that mama in the library did? Three years ago, I was that interrupting mama at the library. I had just moved across the country and had NO friends. But, God graciously brought some wonderful includers into my life. These people didn’t just include me in conversations, they invited me into their small groups, mom’s groups, holidays, family dinners, birthday parties, and inside jokes. I am so thankful for each and every one of them.
So yes, inclusion can feel difficult, awkward, and uncomfortable. There is some risk involved, but here is where I have landed: including others actually isn’t that complicated. We make it harder than it has to be when we focus too much on ourselves. Just look outside yourself, love others, and include them. That’s it. Your initiation or invitation might be the answer to someone’s prayer, not to mention the joy this will bring the Lord’s heart.
I can’t tell you how or when to include, but I can encourage you to pray that God will help you notice others and specifically lead you in each situation.
Let’s start with today. How is God currently calling you to become more inclusive?
Maybe you are a hardcore introvert and initiating with others feels tough. That’s okay. Start small by simply noticing the lonely around you and engaging with one new person this week. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.
Or perhaps you are a shameless extravert and have the gift of bringing people together. Make a big pot of soup this week and invite over some people on the outskirts of your circle. My husband and I started a small group that is always open for anyone to join. Our small group is the space carved out in my life where I can easily welcome others in. Or maybe you are the person who longs to be included. Pray that God will bring some wonderful friends into your life and keep putting yourself out there, trusting that He will give you the desires of your heart.
Wherever you find yourself today, I want to pray this over you:
Broaden our vision,
Widen our circles,
Expand our hearts.
Give us capacity
To see and love others like you.