I can trace it back to about second grade. That’s my first memory of some kids being included while others were left out. Here’s how it went.
The wedding of the year was in the works for many months before the big day arrived. Bridesmaids were picked, groomsmen named, someone brought a few flowers, and a minister of sorts was put on call.
Nothing was going to throw off this event because, after all, this had been the talk of the second grade all year. So we all dressed up that day and headed off to the “chapel” (the platform area between portables two and three) during lunch.
But things went south that fateful day when a substitute teacher came by and saw everyone gathered for the ceremony by the portables instead of in the lunchroom. The “wedding” was immediately shut down, and, apparently, the vice principal called Jimmy’s mom, who didn’t appreciate her heirloom ring sitting at the local elementary as a sign of Jimmy’s commitment to Christine.
This is a funny memory and a reminder of the goofy things we do as kids. But it’s also etched in my memory because only certain kids were allowed to come to this event, and we made sure everyone knew it. I was on the inside. Many of my friends were not.
Over forty years later, I still remember that detail. Why? Because being included matters. I’m guessing you have a similar grade-school memory of being included or excluded.
I recently saw a meme going around on social media that seemed to strike a chord with lots of people because it was shared over and over again. It read:
“Sometimes the greatest gift you can give another person is to simply include them.”
Those are some emotion-packed words in a small statement, right?
We talk a lot in our culture about the dangers of bullying. We run all kinds of anti-bullying campaigns, teach our kids about standing up for others, and feel despair when we hear the tragedy of kids who do desperate things because they feel alone.
But sometimes we tend to think of bullies only as the kids who throw the punch, lurk in bathrooms, show aggressive behavior on the playground, and, well, do the things our kids typically don’t do. I wonder if many of us let ourselves and our kids off the hook by adopting a narrow definition of bullying and disregarding the equally damaging results of exclusionary behavior.
The Perfect Example
As Christians, including others is not a complicated doctrinal concept requiring great research. Jesus modeled it well and often. He didn’t make it a habit to hang out with those who were like him or made him feel comfortable but instead leaned into those who needed him most: the excluded ones.
Whether it was dinner with a tax collector (Mark 2:13–17), accepting water from a Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–41), talking to a demon-possessed man (Mark 5:1–20), or healing the leper (Mark 1:40–45), Jesus lived his life including others.
Not only did he engage with those whom most people would have excluded, but he also took it a step further by calling them to direct ministry with him. His disciples were not the rich, the powerful, or those with the greatest religious knowledge and recognition. At face value, we would not have been impressed by the men Jesus picked, yet he picked them anyway.
There are certain things in parenting I consider “as you go” lessons of life. These are the things we want our kids to do so regularly, so instinctively, and so thoughtlessly that they become a part of their nature as they go about their daily lives. It seems that being an includer should be an “as you go” expectation of our kids.
When we find ourselves including certain people and excluding others, we need to stop and consider how the Lord sees these individuals.
God’s word says this:
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
I challenge each of us to decide today that we are going to raise kids who include others—particularly including others who are often excluded. How?
First, be the role model your kids need. Second, be intentional about finding opportunities to make space for others, which may require us to get rid of some things to make room for what matters. And lastly, we’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable (showing our kids that their comfort is not our highest priority).
The Real Wedding
Back to weddings for a second. In John 2, we learn about a wedding Jesus attended. Unlike the pretend second-grade wedding I participated in, basically everyone was invited to this wedding (most likely the whole town, as was customary in the day). In fact, it was so inclusive and well attended that they ran out of wine.
Inclusive? Yes. Went off without a hitch? No.
What happened after they ran out of wine? Jesus had the opportunity to perform his first miracle and show the crowd who he truly was. Jesus arguably did some of his most powerful work in the moments of inclusion.
When we preach inclusion, things can get a little messy at times. It’s not as convenient as being exclusive and only hanging out with the people we’re most familiar and comfortable with.
But when we’re inclusive, Jesus is given the opportunity to show up in mighty ways. He changes our perspective. And it just may be that he can shape our kids’ hearts toward inclusion and their eyes toward looking for the marginalized.
I’m praying we don’t just read this and agree in principle with the concept of including everyone, but that we actually go out there and do it. Give someone the gift of including them (and their kids) today, and then wait in anticipation to see how the Lord works.