A lot of my friends give me grief about being “too inclusive”, but I just can’t help it.
I’ve felt the pain of being intentionally excluded and left out at different times in my life, and there are few things that sting more than the feeling of not being wanted.
When I was in elementary school, I had a group of 5-6 girlfriends in my class that became my “group.” You know, the group you do important things together with, like brag about the newest Beanie Baby you got, write secrets in your felt journals on top of the monkey bars during recess, exchange Lisa Frank stickers, etc. We would have sleepovers, go swimming, watch Mary-Kate & Ashley movies…it was pretty much perfect.
Until one day, in 4th grade, one of the girls threw a sleepover party for her birthday…and I wasn’t invited. I don’t really remember why not, except maybe that girls can be catty and vicious even when they are little. Regardless of whatever the reason may have been, I wasn’t invited, and no one kept that a secret from me. They talked about it non-stop in the days leading up to it, how much fun it was going to be, and how only the “real BFFs” were invited. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me and hung on to hope that maybe their minds would change and I would be included.
The night of the sleepover, I got a phone call from the girls. I perked up, super excited, thinking the moment had come where I would be invited last minute. I didn’t mind showing up late, as long as I was wanted at the party. When I put the phone to my ear, ready to accept my late invitation, all I heard was hysterical laughing, a few snarky jakes, and then the sound of the phone slamming into the receiver.
Ouch. This crushed my little 4th grade soul. Heck, it would probably crush me now. The message was clear; I was not invited, and I was not wanted.
Fast forward a few years to high school. I embodied the definition of “not cool.” I was 5’10, pushing to get to 100 pounds, had pale skin, red hair, braces on my teeth, the works. I was still anxiously awaiting on the distinctive body parts that typically appear around this age to arrive, but their slow entrance caused me to resemble a light post. I was also pretty shy, so aside from the occasional movie outing or study group, my friend scope was fairly limited. These elements combined led to a teenaged girl who was “not cool” in the eyes of most public schooled high schoolers. I went through my first couple years of high school in this conundrum, until the end of my sophomore year, it all changed. While my physical ailments remained the same, my social life was dramatically transformed, all because one girl decided to befriend me.
And here’s the thing about this girl; we didn’t have a whole lot in common. She was near the top of the Varsity line-up on our tennis team, and I was on JV. She had blonde hair and tan skin, and…um…I did not. Most importantly, she possessed the two necessary essentials for succeeding in high school; 1) a car, and 2) boys who liked her. I lacked both of those things, so that automatically put her way out of my friend league. She had a ton of friends already. But for whatever reason, she sought me out and chose to make me her friend. She invited me places. She would pick me up and give me rides in her janky car. She would invite people over to my house for swim parties, sleepovers, and movie nights. She forced me out of my shyness. She really had nothing to gain by becoming friends with the awkward shy girl, but she chose to include me in her group anyway. The message was clear: there was room for me, and I was wanted.
Looking back at the past 10 or so years of my life, a lot of who I am today results from that friendship that began in high school. I experienced the power of inclusion, and although I didn’t realize it then, it changed my life.
You would think that as an adult, the problem of exclusion would magically disappear when maturity comes along, that we would grow beyond cliques that leave others out and keep our friend circles wide open. Unfortunately, we all know the same hurt I experienced in the 4th grade is still happening to grown adults all around us. I know I’m guilty of causing it too. But there is something deeply embedded in me that wants people to feel like they are a part, to know there is always more room for one more, that another chair is waiting, available and ready to be pulled up to the table.
Realistically, you can’t befriend everyone. But you can be intentional in befriending someone. A someone who may not even realize the deep need they have for community and genuine friendship, but I bet you it would change their life once they experience it, just like it changed mine.
Until next time,