I always had friends when I was younger. But I’ve never had a best friend. Often, I wasn’t someone people wanted to hang out with. I wasn’t the prettiest, the smartest, or allowed to do all the things other kids could—simply put, I wasn’t the “cool kid” on the block. I spent a couple years wishing for a best friend, above anything else.
As I grew older, I finally started to find my people. People who understood and accepted me. And it felt good. So good, in fact, that sometimes I’d push other people away to keep my friends to myself. I was scared that others might take my spot, and I wouldn’t be good enough anymore.
Recently, I’ve been ashamed of my younger self. As someone who was once excluded, I should have been more inclusive of others, not less.
Although it’s true that Jesus is the closest and best friend we could ever ask for (John 15:15 says that He has called us friends), earthly friendships are still necessary and worth pursuing. God created us for community.
In Ecclesiastes 4:10, we read, “For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”
As Christians, we’re called to be friends—those who help others up, not bystanders.
But including others isn’t easy, and it isn’t always black-and-white. So how do we do it well, while not hurting ourselves in the process?
1. Inclusion Doesn’t Permit Excuses (But Does Promote Wisdom)
“But we have nothing in common.”
“But he talks too much, and the rest of us want to have a real conversation.”
“But she doesn’t dress like us.”
Inviting another person to spend time with you and your friends means a change of dynamic—you might have inside jokes that the new person doesn’t know, they might want to talk about different things, or it might just be plain awkward. And yes, sometimes you just really don’t want to hang around someone.
But people who are regularly excluded are often the people who need friends the most.
The truth is you will always find an excuse to exclude people. But friendship is not all about what you want–it’s about being selfless. It’s about being compassionate. It’s about sharing the love of Jesus.
It’s important to note that using wisdom is not the same thing as making excuses. If someone has a reputation for being deceptive, a bad influence, or a bully, that’s different. Wisdom says to avoid those who might be a bad influence, those who might cause you to sin. In this case, inclusion looks less like reaching out to them, and more like reaching out to God in prayer for them.
2. Inclusion isn’t Just Non-Exclusion.
“Well, we aren’t really excluding them. If they want, they can come talk to us.”
That’s not how inclusion works. Just because you’re not purposefully excluding them doesn’t mean that you’re including them. I mean, how many times have you made friends by not talking to someone? Inclusion often begins by leaving the comfort of your friend group and going up to talk to someone. Don’t put others in a situation where they must either invade your group or stand alone.
When Jesus was on earth, He didn’t expect people to come to Him (although, eventually, they did). He began His earthly ministry by going up and talking to the lowest of the low—the tax collectors and the beggars and the disabled. He cared about them personally and reached out intentionally.
3. Inclusion is Genuine, But Not Pushy.
“I told him that he could come talk to us if he wanted. The ball’s in his court.”
“Should we make her come over here? She’s really quiet, but maybe we can get her to open up.”
Like most things in life, you have to find a good balance when standing up for inclusion. You can’t simply “try” to be inclusive by meekly inviting someone. You have to be genuinely excited about making them belong, and about being in their company. Just putting up with someone’s presence doesn’t really include them, because more than likely they’ll still walk away feeling alone and left out.
But at the same time, you can’t make someone part of a group. Inclusion doesn’t mean pressuring someone to do something, but simply making them feel welcome and loved. If someone doesn’t want to participate, don’t push them! It’s not your fault that they don’t wish to be involved. Warming up to someone takes time. Just letting them know that you wanted to hang out with them is enough for the time being.
4. Inclusion isn’t just for the included.
“I wish someone would reach out to me instead of me reaching out to them. I’m the one that needs a friend.”
Let me tell you right now: you’re not alone. And because you’re not alone, there are opportunities for you to be inclusive, too. If you’re like me, you won’t always have a friend group around to hang out with…and that means you’re the loner. But that doesn’t mean that the ball is in someone else’s court.
Sometimes, the best time to reach out to others is when you yourself need a friend—those are often the friendships that blossom most.
Love One Another
John 15:12 tells us, “This is My commandment: Love one other as I have loved you.”
Jesus loved people personally, intentionally, and selflessly. He never shied away from fellowship with the loners—He reached out to them.
His command to us is to do the same, and to glorify God while doing so.