There will come a time when your child excludes others, and a time when your child will be excluded. Both are gut-wrenching occurrences, but the latter serves up an achy, empty feeling with it as well. My kids are young; I haven’t yet seen the toll exclusivity can take on their spirits, and therefore on my own. But I have witnessed glimpses of it—and a glimpse is all it takes to make me fall on my knees asking “How do I respond to this? How do I fix it? How do I protect, them, oh God, help me protect them!”
Really– how do we, as parents—as people— etch acceptance into hearts that have an inclination to exclude? How do we speak Worth and Courage into a tender spirit that simply wants to belong?
There was an evening a few weeks ago when I witnessed Sophie exclude others. She and another little girl sat huddled together in her princess tent holding hands and giggling and declaring that no one else could enter. It’s as if we—girls especially—have this innate desire to label “us” and “them”—we determine who we are by labeling who’s in and who’s out. Unfortunately, the church has often taught us to do this as well. Thank God Jesus does just the opposite. Jesus is radically—even heretically—inclusive, “yet most Christian denominations are exclusionary institutions.”* How fascinating that we have this deeply ingrained nature to exclude while simultaneously knowing this isn’t the way things should be.
When I witnessed Sophie exclude, I grew angry and frustrated. I pulled her aside and said “Sophia Grace, we include people.” You don’t have to kick people out to know that you’re in, I wanted to say. I wanted to recap the prodigal son and the parable of the lost sheep and the sermon on the mount as well—but she was already running down the hall with her dolls.
A few days later, we were at a pre-school function. I saw Sophie repeatedly attempt to excitedly say “hi” to another little girl. The girl totally ignored her (understandable, yes, I know they’re three)—and ran right by Sophie to give another little girl a giant hug. And as I looked at my daughter as she watched those other two girls embrace—as I witnessed her on the outside—I felt a pain she didn’t even know how to feel yet. But she will feel that pain one day—one day she’ll come home and someone will have made fun of her. And she probably won’t want to tell me about it, and I probably wouldn’t know what to say even if she did.
But Jesus—thank you Jesus. Christ transcends the hopeless cycle of “us vs. them” and calls us to join with Him in living out radical inclusivity. And in an act of surrender, we can actually become the people we want to become: people of welcome. “The Kingdom of Heaven is available to all!” Christ tells us again and again—“You’re in and she’s in and he’s in! Get it through your thick skulls— there is no “them”, there is only “us.” I read recently** that “It is the greatness of Christianity that it can see how small it is. The importance of being Christian is that we can understand the insight that it is of no importance.” In other words, the Christian rests in the paradox that being “Christian” is not what redeems us—Christ does.
I want to instill unorthodox inclusivity in my kids. I must heed the Spirit that continually whispers to me: “Everybody’s welcome.” And when my kids inevitably come home wounded—scorched by the stings of exclusivity—I must remember to habitually return to this solid truth: “No them. No other. Just Us. We’re all in.”
*Taken from a video entitled “What Jesus Really Taught” by Father Richard Rohr
** Taken from “The New Being” by Paul Tillich