“My thirties are so much better than my twenties,” she stated. “I’m about to turn 38 and I’m in a much better place.”
I was smiling and nodding as I listened to this woman I had just met in the park describe her place in life.
“I have much more money, I care less what people think of me, and every year, my circle shrinks,” she continued.
I nodded outwardly but internally, I made a mental note to chew on that last statement for a while. She is intentionally shrinking her circle of friends in order to make her life better, and sees this as a good thing.
I have chewed it over for two days now, and decided that I completely disagree. Granted, she and I start from entirely different theological and philosophical backgrounds: she is not a Christian and I am.
In her mind, something that makes her life better, more efficient, more comfortable, and easier is ontologically better than something that does not do those things. It’s a common cultural thought right now: become more efficient; make your life better. What does that look like? Well, pruning the tree and getting rid of unnecessary things is certainly a part of this methodology. The problem is when this is applied to people. To human beings.
I know that what she meant by her statement was that with a smaller circle of people she is close to, she has fewer distractions, fewer people making demands on her time and energy, and a more focused and present state with those relationships she is invested in.
Again, not necessarily bad things.
The first thing I had to ask myself was, do I simply resist this concept because I’m a raging extrovert who wants to be with people 24/7, or is there something universal to be examined here?
As a Christian, I tried to picture the Jesus I know making that statement: “Every year my circle shrinks and it’s GREAT. I love it!”
It just doesn’t fit. It actually seems to be very much the opposite of what He was working toward on earth, things like inclusion, welcoming the alien and outcast,
expanding His circle.
His imperative to tell everyone about Him and bring more people into the gang doesn’t seem like something said by a man actively shrinking His circle.
I can picture the people in my mind right now who I would like to shave off of my social life. You have your own collection of difficult people. I can think of people who may be draining or demanding of my energy, and I simply can’t abide an ethic that says ‘Yah, just go ahead and cut them out—your life will be easier.’
Quite the opposite.
I’m not talking about having no boundaries; about becoming an open-doored walking mat who just says yes to everything because you can’t say no. I’m talking about intentional expansion of your circle. I mean going out of our way to welcome in those who are different from us, or who think, believe or live differently than us.
What about weekly dinners where strangers are welcomed to come and share life and interact? What about the weird people who otherwise wouldn’t be invited to dinner? Are these the sorts of people we should just cut out of our lives because it would be more efficient or convenient?
Nearly every time I’ve tried to do this, I’ve learned something and grown. Maybe hearing about the world from people who don’t look or live like us would actually teach us something, or at least stretch us. Maybe we’d even make new friends we’d want in our inner circle!
Is the church of Jesus Christ a place where people come to ‘shed the fat,’ so to speak, and shut the door on those who we don’t like? Is Jesus’ plan for saving the world about cutting off the people who bother or disagree with us?
The irony here is that many of the people who would celebrate the shrinking of their social circles are the same people celebrating diversity and inclusion and whatnot—on Twitter or Instagram at least.
Yes, let me make a post about diversity but shrink my circle in reality.
Let’s make status updates about being open-minded and progressive but shut our actual doors to people we don’t like.
Is that what the Christian is called to? To shrink our social circles because people bug us or drain us? Is this what Jesus would have done?
I must emphatically argue no.
The God I serve is a God who moves toward people rather than away from them; a God who goes out of His way to make people feel included, not shaved off of someone’s rolodex.
May we be the same.
May we actively look for ways to bring people from the outside to the inside.
May our doors be open and our minds be closed to ideologies that treat humans as disposable or inconvenient.
May our circles grow bigger.