Meet Barb: the Kid Who Tries Too Hard
Barb is a nice enough girl, but she feels like she doesn’t have any “real” friends – friends who she can share her deepest and darkest with. Friends who give to her as much as she puts in – and she puts in a lot. Barb always texts back. Barb is there for every social event you plan, and is probably the one to suggest going out to the movies next weekend. But Barb is also the recipient of a lot of rejection. She messages the group chat, checks her phone every couple of minutes “just in case someone responded,” but no one does. Barb invites everyone out, and no one comes. She doesn’t understand why everyone is so mean.
When people seem desperate for friendship, it’s irritating. So we start applying “friendship repellent.” We don’t want to be mean, so we just tolerate their presence in the group. We ignore their contributions to the conversation. We never ask them follow-up questions. We laugh at their jokes, but half-heartedly, and then we move on quickly. We resent the fact that we have to invite them (because, you know) they’re part of the group. Until… eventually someone forgets to invite Barb and slowly Barb just disappears.
I’ve been both Barb and the group that’s excluding. I’m sure you have been too. In fact, whenever there is a group of people, this scenario seems to exist. We either smother people with our desire for friendship or, once we have our group of friends, we passive-aggressively protect it from anyone too different from us.
Apart from the gospel, we only gather around proven sameness. Common interest, common sports, common suffering, common causes are what bind people together. To gain entrance requires you pass some sort of test to prove your worthiness.
We see this in institutions like:
Greenpeace (You need to really love trees.)
Basketball teams (You need to love basketball and be athletic.)
Alcoholics Anonymous (You need to work the process.)
But we see this most clearly in almost all of our cliques and social groups – even if we never admit it. Attractive people date attractive people. Parents of homeschoolers are in a bitter war with the public school parents. Even though Mean Girls exaggerates the high school social system, black kids and white kids still often sit at different tables.
And then there are always those people who seem to fit into no category, caste, or clique, and struggle to find any place at all. They are rejected and rejected (or stop trying and stop trying) until finally they find their tribe and feel happy.
And you would think, that if anyone was going to break this cycle of rejection and exclusion, it would be these ultimate outcasts. But as it turns out, when we have fought tooth and claw for just three friends who we can finally be ourselves around, we typically become just like the people that rejected us. We don’t want anyone to spoil what we worked so hard for.
Welcome to High School.
There is only one antidote to this cycle of desperation, rejection, and exclusion. It’s the gospel. The gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only cure for High School drama and our aching loneliness.
Because Jesus mingled with social outcasts, those desperate for friendship no longer need to fear the margins. Jesus is their friend.
Because Jesus died outside the city, those in the most coveted inner circles are compelled to leave them. Jesus is their challenger.
The gospel removes both fear from the first, and pride from the second. Because of the gospel people who would never get along outside the church, can get along inside.
And to those too afraid of rejection to reach out and risk relationship one more time, Jesus tells you “do it anyway.” After all, he was rejected by all mankind so that we would never be.
John 17:23 explains that the unity in our churches and youth groups will be the most convincing apologetic to an unbelieving world. Jesus expects the community based on his message to be so counter-cultural and compelling that those on the outside will say: “The only explanation for these people being friends is that Jesus really is God, and he rose from the dead.”