He drew a circle that shut me out – heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: we drew a circle that took him in!
— Edwin Markham
When I was in 7th grade belonging seemed like the most important thing I needed to achieve in my life. I had a few friends from elementary school, but when I entered middle school my world expanded and I felt adrift in the crowds of people. I began to question if I had the “right” friends and thought maybe I needed to get some “cooler” friends. I tried fitting in with different groups, but I usually felt like a fish out of water … I couldn’t quite figure out what I needed to do to fit in.
One of the most painful experiences during this time happened when I was invited over to Jane’s house for a birthday sleepover. She was one of the cool girls and I was excited to be included. The only thing I remember from that night was the experience of Jane and all her friends speaking “gibberish” … a coded way of speaking that I just could not understand, and they made no attempt to explain it to me. They did not end up being my circle of friends … I just couldn’t figure out the codes, or the rules, to gain access to that circle, and they made no attempt to make it easier for me.
It is part of the human condition to want meaningful connections with other people. We have a deep need to find someplace we belong. Yet, we often have to work hard to figure out the codes and the requirements to gain access to that sense of belonging — whether it’s in school, the workplace, our extended family, or our faith community. In our various circles of belonging, we may not be aware of the codes and requirements we’re using to construct our circle that make it difficult for potential friends to enter. If we can make the implicit “rules” explicit, then we can make choices about which of these rules are actually useful for building the beloved community, and which need to be set aside. This can be challenging work! How might each of us draw our circles a little wider each day to give the gift of belonging to ourselves and others?