It's September, and by now (or soon), school will have started -- with all of the excitement of seeing friends, joining extra-curricular activities, and taking a good class with a great teacher. But anxieties about fitting in, not being good enough, or failing might also try to surface at this time. This month, let's focus on one of those issues -- fitting in, belonging. One of the best ways to discover the true sense of belonging is to include others. And, to support our efforts, we always find help in the Bible, this time in Colossians. (All citations are from The Message version of Colossians).
We really do know how to include others and what it means to include others because we all know how we want to be included and how we want to feel.
- We make others feel at home, part of the group, one of us, wanted, worthy, appreciated, successful, loved.
- We pay attention to them, encourage them, compliment them, listen to them, build them up.
- We ask them to join us, or we join them, stop what we're doing to help them, plan activities with them, take time for them.
- We bring out the best in them, rejoice with them, comfort them when they're down.
- We accept them for who they are; we don't force them to conform to our way of dressing, thinking, or acting.
Sometimes including others is easy, but sometimes including those who really need to be included is hard. So we need to cultivate some qualities in ourselves so we can effectively reach out to others. Above all, it requires us to get out of ourselves. It takes:
- Confidence to know ourselves and to realize that we have something special to share with others; confidence to help them feel loved; confidence to know we'll be okay if those to whom we reach out reject us, as they might.
My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you've been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You're deeply rooted in him. You're well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you've been taught…. And let your living spill over into thanksgiving. (The Message, Col. 2:6-7)
- Unselfish willingness to put others and their needs first rather than our own needs or wishes: we may really look forward to having lunch with our friends, but we need to be willing to forgo this fun activity to bless others.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. (3:15)
- Awareness of others to see who is yearning to be part of a conversation, group, or activity. This takes active looking and listening, as many people are able to hide their true feelings behind masks -- appearing egotistical, not interested, unfriendly, etc.
Don't shuffle along eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up and be alert to what is going on around Christ -- that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. (3:2)
- Compassion to see the good in others and acknowledge it, to point out what they do well. Sometimes all it takes is an encouraging word or a smile to make others feel wanted and appreciated.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive and offense…. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (3:12-14)
- Courage to step out from our own crowd and include those who others may think of as weird, nerdy, social outcasts, loners, stuck-up, bossy, etc. It's possible that our own friends may then ostracize us. But if we're motivated by love and directed by God, then we can't be hurt by reaching out to others; we can only be blessed. Our friends may change their minds, or we may find new and better friends.
As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul -- not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy…. (1:10, 11)
- Integrity to stay true to ourselves. Jesus reached out to many people. Some accepted him; some didn't. He was definitely pressured to stop being who he was; stop preaching, teaching, and healing as he did; stop including those who hadn't been included before. But he never forgot nor changed who he was.
Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. … But that's not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don't need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. (2:8-10)
- Oneness: the ability to see that we are truly all God's children, regardless of how others (or we) appear or act.
Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. (3:11)
When our hearts are focused on seeing the beauty, individuality, and unity of all of God's children, it makes it easy to include others. When we include others, we make a difference not only in their lives, but in our lives as well, for we have truly shared a valuable gift. It's amazing what the gift of inclusion does to bring peace to our community and the world.