Matthew 25:40 – And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
This is a story of my personal failings, and a lesson I have had to learn and relearn, and I still haven’t gotten fully.
I don’t think I’ve ever been a popular person. It was painful as a child and teenager to be excluded from a group, and I the sensations of that pain linger as an adult. It’s a core desire of our nature to belong and have social connection. It’s led me to develop a strong sense for people who need to be included, and also led me to have a drive to connect people. Unfortunately, I can see how the pain of exclusion has led an unfortunate pattern of behavior towards others.
I never remember fitting in or being accepted by the kids I went to grade school with, even when I didn’t go to school with them anymore, and only interacted with them at church through our teen years. As best as I can place it, they picked on me because i was a straight-laced kid. I remember being teased because there were things I couldn’t do, or things my parents wouldn’t let me watch.
Contrasted to that, I remember taking trips down to Tennessee to visit my grandparents, where comparatively, I was a rebel. The kids down there that were my age were real jean-skirt type home schoolers that had very conservative families (more conservative than my own home schooled family). They didn’t do much that seemed like fun, and they dressed differently. My childish perceptions concluded that if I ever ended up with the conservative lifestyle that those kids had, it would be over for me socially, more than it was already. No chance ever for acceptance.
Fast forwarding, this social fear played out later in life when I was at a Christian college on the west coast, and there were some people there who had very conservative lifestyles. More so than the rest of us who were decently conservative ourselves. I couldn’t understand why people would choose to live in such a constricted manner. To my shame I didn’t treat them well. I was constantly annoyed and irritated with them. Hindsight says it was not because of how they acted, but because of who they were. I think it was my old fear popping up that I would be associated with them and rejected somehow. I know I must have been unpleasant to be around for them.
We all went our separate ways, and time passed. I don’t quite know when it happened, but I know at some point I started liking them. Regardless of their lifestyle choices, they were kind, honest, good-hearted people who sincerely loved the Lord and were working hard for Him. Those are things anyone can appreciate. Aging has given me perspective that being friends with people I once considered so uncool does not decrease my social worth as an individual, but increases the social value I get through having a diversity of friends.
I’ve had similar situations play more times than I’m comfortable with. People with whom it was hard for me to be friends with at first because I thought they were uncool or socially awkward. I guess it’s because I was afraid it would rub off on me and make it harder for people to like me. Or maybe it was because people might look at me and think, ‘Yeah, he’s like that, too.’ I’ve come to see that it’s a self-sabotaging defense mechanism. I’ve robbed myself of relationships in order to give myself a chance at relationships. It’s backwards.
Galatians 5:14 – For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I don’t think this social problem has ever been about other people. It’s been about myself. I had such a poor view of myself from wounds I developed situationally when I was young that I was afraid if I would ever be liked. A large part of my journey to maturity has been learning to love myself, in a sense. Discarding the juvenile fear of what peers think and becoming more comfortable with who I am. Not feeling a sense of need for people who don’t care about me. But balancing these healthy boundaries with an honest self-examination towards becoming a healthy individual.
Now when I meet someone who makes me uncomfortable because of a lack of social skills, general awkwardness, or an ultra-conservative lifestyle, I try to talk myself into giving them time. To let them grow into the relationship. God knows I’ve been awkward myself. There is most certainly something in the relationship that will be enjoyable and positive. It’s a battle I still fight in my mind, but I’ve seen on many occasions that it’s one worth fighting.
Matthew 25:45 – Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
How do you view other people? Do you limit yourself to certain types of people that are worthy of your time and friendship? How do you view yourself? Do you need to develop a sense of worth as an individual? (Hint, read the gospels).
Learning to live differently will lead to better relationships and outcomes. God wants us to grow into healthy individuals.
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.