You can’t see it… It’s invisible… But everyone knows it’s there. It’s frustrating, fickle and fleeting. It uses people. It chews them up and spits them out without any care or concern.
One day it seems like you are in. You’ve made it. You’ve arrived. And then, before you know it, the next day you’re out. You’re left wondering what unwritten and unsaid rule you violated that terminated your membership in this exclusive group. And in the same turn, how in the world “that person” took your place?
“Really? That guy? Him?”
What is this
It runs through every sector of society. Every company, club, college and even church has it. It’s that invisible line that demarcates who’s in and who’s out. It divides those who have influence from those who are inferior. It separates the somebodies from the nobodies. It segregates the “have’s” from the “have not’s. It has it’s own set of rules. And the requirements to “get in” seem to change all the time.
C.S. Lewis calls this the Inner Ring. In his lecture, appropriately titled The Inner Ring, he says that in all cultures and organizations there are…
…two different systems or hierarchies (at work). One is printed in some little red book and anyone can easily read up on it. It also remains constant… The other is not printed anywhere. Nor is it a formally organized secret society with secret rules which you would be told after you had been admitted. You are never formally admitted by anyone. You discover gradually… that it exists and that you are inside it. There are what corresponds to passwords, but they too are spontaneous and informal. But it’s not constant. It’s not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some obviously out, but there are always several on the border line. (parenthesis added)
Lewis also says that these inner rings are inevitable and at times appropriate. There are moments when confidential conversation is necessary. There are moments when difficult decisions need to be made and not everyone can be “in the know.” At times, inner rings are unavoidable. But the desire to be in that inner ring… that’s another matter all together. The desire to be in is dangerous and, eventually, it will kill your soul.
Earlier this fall I attended a pastors retreat. Upon arriving at the retreat, I found myself instantly asking questions like, “Who do I need to get to know here? What profound things can I say to impress the other participants and those running to retreat? How can I position myself to get to know the right people?”
The retreat was structured with corporate worship and teach, followed by break out groups to process what we were learning and experiencing. The organization leading the retreat had their staff members lead our break out groups. The leader of my group was the president of the retreat organization. As I walked into the room housing our group I quickly realized that not only was the president of the retreat organization leading my group, but there was also a pastor from a notable Southeast mega-church and notable worship leader. I have no idea how I found myself in this group, but as I walked into the room my thought was, “This is it. I am entering the inner ring.” (Cheesy… I know.)
Lewis goes on to say that the desire to be in the inner ring will break you unless you break it. Why? Because once you “arrive,” once you get into the inner ring, you quickly come to learn that there is another inner ring. Either there is another inner circle in the inner circle you just entered. Or, you discover that in another area of your life there is another inner ring you have not entered.
At the end of the retreat; when it was all said and done, I found my self faced with the temptation to go back home and find another inner ring to weasel my way in to. As inconspicuously as I stumbled into that group, I was thrust out of it. Being in that inner circle didn’t change my circumstances back at home. It had no impact on the situation to which I was returning. It didn’t leave me feeling fulfilled and complete. It only left me feeling empty and insecure.
Once the novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty… You merely wanted to be in. And that’s is a pleasure that cannot last… and you will be looking for a new inner ring.
The antidote to the inner ring syndrome is friendship. Simply doing the things you love and were created to do with the people who love to do them also. And ironically enough, you will find yourself in the only inner circle that matters. An inner ring not characterized by instability or anxiety. But one characterized by peace, joy and love. You will find your self in family. People who love you not for what you do for them, but just for who you are. And in the end, isn’t this what we all want? We all want to know and be fully known just for who we are not who we think we need to be.
In family we find stability and security. We don’t have to worry that we will be out done. We don’t have to live in fear that we will be kicked out or that someone else more spectacular will be let in. But rather, we get to join in to the celebration of others. In this inner ring we find freedom.
Where have you found yourself striving to be in?
Where have you found yourself in without trying?
Grace and Peace