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?”
“Yup. 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.

Lewis says,

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


6 Responses to “The Inner Ring”

  1. Melissa

    I’m currently witnessing a situation at work where a person has gone from being in the “inner ring” and was/is also a supervisor. This individual’s status as one in the inner circle caused them to behave almost tyrannically to everyone else in the office. I mean we really saw the absolute worst side of this individual for two years and because she was in the inner circle with the next boss up – this person’s behavior went completely unchecked. The next boss up was relieved of their position recently and so the tyrant is now answering to different bosses – and they do not see this person as “one of them”. It’s painful to watch how this realization is affecting the tyrant.

    Makes me wonder how I’ve acted at times when I was in the inner circle – was I a power-tripper? I sincerely hope not. I don’t often feel “in” – especially at work – and if there is anywhere I strive to be “in” it’s at work – and I think that comes from the needing the job mentality (which comes from thinking I have to take control of providing for myself and Becca – even though God has shown time and time again that He WILL provide.)

    I probably need to do a bit more self reflection, but after thinking on it just a few minutes after reading your blog I don’t think there is anywhere that I am actively striving to be IN at the moment. There have been times I’ve been in – whether it was actually in the circle or just in the know during difficult situations. I think if you find yourself there – you bear various responsibilities depending upon the situation. For example, when you are “in” the inner circle with someone who is journeying through a crisis/tragedy – it’s a privilege to walk closely with someone through life’s truly difficult and daunting events. I think you must honor that, respect that – not exploit it or the person you’re walking alongside.

    The place I found myself “in” without trying? Honestly? At DCC – we are a church body, church family and there are many people there who I have been loved on by that make them feel closer than blood relations (but in Christ, we really are blood-related, aren’t we?). I think you’re absolutely right though – I do think friendship is the antecdote.

    • bryanmarvel

      In true friendship your not worried about status, appearance, power, etc… you just want to be with each other for the sake of being with each other. Also, because of your love for that person, most likely, you are willing to for go status, power, appearance, etc… for the sake of the one you love. You end up putting them before yourself.

      Thanks for reading Melissa.

  2. Cindi Williams

    What a wonderful reflection on something that can truly suck the joy out of life. That small little voice that whispers that you really don’t matter enough. Now when I hear it I will have these words to reflect on. I know that my heavenly Father loves me immeasurably and I am grateful that hs has given me such wonderful friends in the here and now! Thanks for writing this Bryan and sharing such great insights.


  3. sydney

    I sure want to be part of the inner Jesus circle of friends 🙂
    Mark 3:31-35
    Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”

    But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And HE LOOKED AROUND IN A CIRCLE AT THOSE WHO SAT ABOUT HIM, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For WHOEVER DOES THE WILL OF GOD is My brother and My sister and mother.”

  4. Ann Blue

    Those are the exact same scripture verses that came to my mind when reading your post, Bryan, the ones posted by Sydney! Such a great post, Bryan. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Becky Terry

    Well, it is a joy to find a benefit of aging, lol – for me, at the age and stage of life I am in, the “inner ring” is a non-issue. I am able to rest in God and who He has made me to be, and the path He has set before me. Blessed with friends and family with whom abiding love and a relaxed comfort-level prevail, it also allows me freedom from unhealthy striving. Thankful for that and pray for those who don’t…that they will. As I mature, and I tend to press more into Him…the other stuff slowly fades away.


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