What aspects of becoming an adult have surprised you the most?
For me, several things come to mind. The amount of work that comes with home ownership; the weight of caring for a family; the way ice cream sticks to my waist like it never did when I was young and carefree.
Still, what surprises me most isn’t the new, grown-up burdens. It’s the things I always assumed would be left behind as I officially exited childhood.
Feelings of inadequacy.
Lack of autonomy.
I’ve never been “cool.” (Surprise! I’m an introverted writer with marginal physical coordination). As an elementary school student, I wondered just what it was that drew certain groups of girls to one another and what made other girls unworthy. Certainly I tried to be friendly — I’m an introvert, but I DO try — and sometimes the cool girls would even talk to me. As long, of course, as they were alone.
This bothered me less and less as, over the years, I made friends and developed a satisfactory social life. Cliques felt less personal to me. Still, observing them, I would wonder: what makes people cling to such clearly exclusive, though unofficial, groups? Why are those within them sometimes willing to talk with “outsiders” — quite naturally and pleasantly, no less — but only when other members of the clique aren’t around? Well, at least it’s temporary, I thought. By adulthood, people will have outgrown this sort of thing. Right?
Ah, the innocence of adolescence. (I know…”innocence” and “adolescence” are an unusual pairing, but I’m standing by it).
Yes: they’re pervasive. College, grad school, a teaching job, and various churches have illuminated my high-school naivete. Cliques, it seems, are as inevitable as death and taxes, and if you’re not included in them, well, so be it. You’re a grown-up. You can handle it.
But within the body of Christ, we should do better.
The theme of Christian unity flows through all of the New Testament — through the words of Jesus, through the epistles, and through the books of Acts and Revelation. True unity bears witness to the fact that those who believe in Christ are in fact His Body, doing His work in the world. Paul illustrates this in I Corinthians 12:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
…The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor…
… God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (vv. 12-14; 21-23; 24-26)
Within a local church body, believers have the opportunity to live this out. We do so by using our gifts, of course, but — let’s not forget this part — by welcoming those members of the body who hover on the edges.
It can be tremendously discouraging to try using one’s gifts within a local body, but to feel as if it’s happening in a vacuum. To serve in some capacity, to nourish those being served, to converse with those also serving…but, at the end of the day, to part ways when those who served by your side go rejoin their actual friends. To regularly see them among the same cluster of people they join on other occasions, and to realize that one conversation, or even several conversations, do not mean you’re “in”; that serving as part of Christ’s body doesn’t mean you’ll feel like part of it.
Of course, we’re grown-ups. We’ve outgrown the need to be part of the “in” crowd…right?
But should there be “in” crowds among Christians?
Obviously, we can’t all be close friends with everybody, making a giant communal color-coded calendar that allows us to rotate through different groups of people every weekend so nobody can become guilty of exclusivity. True friendships aren’t nurtured that way. And yet…what so often happens is the opposite. What so often happens looks just like high school.
And even if we well-adjusted, mature grown-ups can tell ourselves we don’t need to feel cool, let’s remember: our kids are watching us.
If our kids sense that this is how things work — that once we find “our people,” we no longer need to reach out to others — that, in fact, those who drift around by themselves are probably alone because they want to be — maybe even that their seeming preference for solitude, or their lack of resemblance to the members of a clique, mark them as “other” — then our kids will pattern their own social lives after that model.
We have a responsibility to show our kids something better.
We have a responsibility to one another to choose a different path.
Most of all, we have a responsibility towards the One who created us in His image…because until Christ returns, it is we, His church, who are tasked with showing the world what God’s love is all about.