I was not “cool” in high school. I was shy and awkward, often not knowing what to say or how to make friends. I was easily intimidated by confident girls, and though I made an effort to form friendships, I struggled with feeling left out.
This could have made me bitter. Some days, that’s exactly what it did. I resented girls who were cliquey or “cool,” and for a while, I wasn’t sure what to do with these feelings.
One day in my room, I resolved to never make another girl feel the way I did. Even though I was hurt by the actions of others, repeating those actions—toward the clique or toward someone else—would only create an endless cycle of pain. I committed to do my best to make people feel welcome.
Ten years later, that’s something I’m still dedicated to pursuing. I know what being left out feels like, and as far as it’s in my control, I do my best to include whoever I can in my community. Here are some ways I do this—all practical steps you can take yourself.
Seek out the lonely
Shortly after high school, I went to college. One thing I committed to do each day on my lunch break was sit with someone who was eating alone. Ten years later, I’m still close with many of the girls I met during my “lonely lunches.” (I don’t recommend doing this with guys. I found out the hard way that many guys who eat alone are doing so for a reason…so unless you want to turn down some weird dates, you might want to be cautious with this!)
This is also a great idea at church or in other gatherings. If someone is hanging out on the fringe of a group, or sitting alone, consider stepping out of the crowd and approaching them. It doesn’t have to take long. Just introduce yourself, talk for a bit and introduce them to anyone else you know. Helping people connect with others is a great way to facilitate friendships.
Teach your friend group to be inclusive
If you’re an extrovert like me, you probably have a lot of friends. It’s easy to get caught up in the familiar crowd when you’re at church or another gathering, leaving out the quieter or newer attendees. Be a leader in your group by teaching them how to include others. Steer your friends toward inclusiveness by turning the conversation to invite a new person’s participation—e.g., “We were just talking about breakfast places, Jenny, do you have any favorites in town?” By doing this in front of your friends, you’re showing them you want to include the newer person.
Create opportunities to include others
You can also host events—as big or small as you want—to include those who are left out. This might be a breakfast date or a craft party at your house. You could invite some more outgoing friends who can carry a conversation, then invite a few newer or quieter people who are still getting to know everyone. By creating an opportunity for them to be included, you can get to know them and they’ll have a chance at building relationships without having to initiate anything themselves. It’s a great gift!
Remember: Inclusiveness doesn’t mean “no boundaries”
Sometimes as you’re including people, you’ll run into a toxic person. If a person turns out to be divisive, critical or disruptive, you do not have to continue inviting that person to your events. It may be better to minister to them one-on-one or find someone else who can (if the person will even receive it). There is a difference between being welcoming and taking on a toxic relationship out of guilt. Know the difference!
If you were left out some time in the past, let that feeling motivate you to bind up the wounds of others. Don’t let bitterness or victimhood take root! This is your chance to change the narrative—one person at a time.