Inclusive to Feel Included

IMG_0003.JPG I have a mental list of authors I would love to have lunch with just to talk shop. Maybe you have a list of inspirational people (perhaps not authors) that you would like to have a conversation with just to hear firsthand their stories and the insights they gleaned from their experiences. My list includes nonfiction authors Joan Didion (The Year of Magical Thinking), Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic), Anne Lamott (Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace), and Cheryl Strayed (Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things). I’m a fan of nonfiction writing, and as I read about others’ experiences, I learn from them, and sometimes I see myself in them. Even if their experience is completely different from anything I’ve known, I usually still connect with the emotion that drove their decisions.

Strayed is one author that while I’ve not experienced life as she knew it (losing her mother in her early 20s, becoming a heroin user for a period of time, having an abortion), I still can relate to the emotions that spurred her to make these choices. As a result of her experiences, Strayed offers down-to-earth insights in her nonfiction, and many fans have written her to share their favorite quotes that spoke to their hearts right at the time they needed it. Strayed compiled these “best quotes” into a new book called Brave Enough, and I recently gave this book to our daughter for her high school graduation.

Before I presented it to our daughter, I read about 75 of the 135 pages (I couldn’t help myself!), and I came across this quote from Cheryl Strayed that spoke truth to me: “You must be inclusive in order to feel yourself among the included” (49). It made me think about struggles that organized religion has faced, particularly when wrapped up in legalism. As part of a legalistic group for a number of years, I can attest to the fact that when I was quick to judge others and exclude them based on the lack of religious performance in some area, I often felt I was on the ever-turning hamster wheel of trying to earn my place in the kingdom of God, not to mention making myself worthy of God’s love. As long as I compared others (and myself) to a rigid set of rules in order to discern who was in and who was out of God’s favor, I rarely felt included, accepted, let alone liked by God.

Strayed’s wise quote helps us see that as long as we judge and exclude others, we will never feel included ourselves, and perhaps more importantly, we will never grow to realize that it wasn’t about keeping all the rules perfectly in the first place. By loving others and extending grace, we finally realize that the inclusive sense of belonging we’ve been looking for has always been available, offered freely by the Triune God.

~by Nan Kuhlman

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