Monday, March 24

Apologize Anyway

Dear Jacob,

Sometimes you might find yourself feeling slighted by social groups. I wish I could say that after high school the desire to find a place where you fit just dissolves into maturity. But it really doesn't. As an adult I still look for an accepting vocational setting, a welcoming church, an inviting circle of moms. We never outgrow our desire to live in real relationship with others.  And sometimes those relationships are hard and sticky and disparaging.

There was a time when Dad and I lived among a community that had a hard time being welcoming. And while the people were certainly and unashamedly 'nice' they stopped just short of being self-giving, preferring to stay in the comfort of self-preserving. There was a wall in that place that I could never break through and so I did my best to just work around it, smiling through it whenever I could, whenever a crack presented itself. As much as I wanted to live in rich relationship with everyone, there was a predetermined group of people that wanted to live tightly together without me.

In high school you call this a clique. And while I don't hear you speak of your high school experience the way that I lived in my own, they're around you. Cliques aren't bad for those who are in them; they're a nurturing arrangement for those inside where it's safe and complimentary and favorable.  When you encounter this kind of tight-knit friendship from the outside you can make these assumptions:  1.They have everything they need  2.They're caring for one another. 3.You're free to build relationships anywhere else.

The typical response to people who have tight friendships where we don't is to envy them.  By doing so we give them greater importance than they really have.  A level of importance that is really just a mirage because when people cling so tightly to a group of friends they do so because they have intense need.  We've all been in periods of life that made us relational consumers, but hopefully those were just seasons, not life-long patterns. We can't open ourselves up to other relationships because we can't be certain we'll be accepted as our true selves.  When we rely on the same friends to feed us, we don't know how to offer nourishment to others.  The truth about cliques is that they are self-serving.

But those on the outside fail as well. When we're around the members of a clique we feel threatened and small and we offer nothing toward a relationship. What we offer is judgment.  This is where we cease to love others, to think the best of them; this is where we back away from initiative and grace and curiosity.  We're not really looking at them saying, "I have something I can give to you." We're saying, "You have something I want to take."  It's as much of a consumer mentality as going to church in order to be "fed."  When you live outside of a clique but longingly wish you were inside it's safe walls, you are identifying with their need for deep relationship and admitting that you can't and won't find it elsewhere. When we begin to view a clique as an enemy we begin to be the problem.

If love is the ability to think the best of others, then love is the answer to cliques.  When I was living in that community that failed to welcome me, I considered what role I had played in that situation.  It dawned on me that I had participated in distancing myself.  I had seen the intense commitment they had to one another and I had simply taken my ball and played somewhere else.  When this truth came to me, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to apologize.

As much as we love to vilify cliques their love for one another isn't a downfall, their character probably isn't malicious, and their struggles are remarkably similar to yours. So, I picked a person and invited her for a walk and I said some things like this.  I told her what I knew love was and I told her what I knew repentance was (to change your thinking).  And then I admitted that I hadn't been thinking the best and I was frustrated because I perceived that others weren't thinking the best of me.  I told her my lack of presence in her life was intentional and meditated, that I kept her at arm's distance and that I understood this didn't do anything to create unity in our community.  I laid out my options: 1. I could completely disengage and wash my hands of it because the work was too hard  2. I could continue to live like it doesn't matter and build my life outside of hers, which would just continue to perpetuate a false self  3. I could be mature and call out what was really happening, knowing that I was inviting either pain or reconciliation or both.  I told her I was sorry.  I asked her to forgive me.

She was grateful and repentant and pleased.  And I think we moved forward in a different way much more aware of how we were treating all people.  This conversation freed me.  And when we hugged good-bye I went in and called another person and invited her for a walk and I did it again.  Slowly, I began to break down that wall.  The purpose wasn't to be able to join the clique.  The purpose was to crumble the wall a bit so that as we both reconstructed the landscapes of our lives, we might have some common green space where our lives could overlap.

As people who follow after God, we are people who join him in his purpose to reconcile all things to himself. This means that we are agents of reconciliation and we should go about making things right. As much as we want to be blameless in everything the reality is that we are not. We all play a role in the undoing of families, communities and the world. We all work from a place of fear sometimes and we cocoon up in a community and say, "I'll never let this go." But sometimes the letting go is the opening we were waiting for and sometimes the assumption of fault is the rupture that conquers pride.

Relationships are tricky and, of course, we should seek to have those friends who stick closer than a brother. But at the same time, as much as it depends upon you, seek to live at peace with all men.


*That photo isn't the community I mentioned.  Exposing that one wouldn't be moving toward reconciliation.