Is This Seat Taken?
Have you ever experienced that awkward feeling when a person informs you that the seat in which you would like to sit is already taken? As polite as the individual may be, it is hard to escape that momentary sense that you have entered a space where you are not wanted. Thankfully the effect of this rejection vanishes as quickly as the last M&M in a candy bowl surrounded by a group of excited children.
Attempting to enter new relationships with others can be a bit more challenging. The discouraging thoughts and emotions we experience when our best efforts yield no fruit can linger much longer. Like the empty seats marked “reserved,” an individual or group can communicate—consciously or subconsciously—that there is no room for anyone else in their relational world.
Why, you ask, would people do that? There are valid reasons for keeping relationships closed, such as a serious counseling situation. Or perhaps a group is working on a particular project and to add members would reduce efficiency. If you are not going to bother to read the assigned chapters then you will be of little benefit to the discussion in a book club so better to stay home. Now and then individuals find themselves in a busy season with time for only a minimal number of relationships. Most people understand these contexts.
The difficulty in building new relationships, whether you are the pursuer or the pursued is often rooted in our sin. As Augustine would say incurvatus in se, “sin curves us inward on ourselves.” In our relating to one another, selfishness often rears its ugly head with hurtful manifestations. Members of the group have a particular type of person they enjoy. The unspoken criteria can be derived from economic status, personality type, level of education, theological positions, white collar vs. blue collar, public school vs. home school and so on. The circle expands depending on how closely the new individual matches the criteria.
James corrected his readers who were engaging in this kind of selectivity.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? ~ James 2:1-3
Loneliness permeates the human condition like dust particles floating all around us; we rarely see them, yet we know they are present in the very air that we breathe. Given the prevalence of this relational malady, a viable solution would seem to be found in simply bringing lonely people together. That is not an easy task, given the detailed agendas so many of us have.
However, selectivity is not isolated to those who are being pursued. The pursuers can exercise the same type of selectivity, although for different reasons. A person wants to be friends with this person but not that person. Again, selfishness may be at work. Associating with certain individuals can either enhance or detract from our own social status in the community, or so we think. Our expectations may be unrealistic. How many times have we sought to gain something through a friendship that only Christ can provide?
God has provided the answer to our inherent loneliness. Titus 3:3 declares that one time we were all estranged from God because of our sin. Yet the Creator of the world pursued us, unwilling to stop until he found us. Through the finished work of Jesus Christ, the “one Mediator between God and man,” believers have an everlasting friendship with God. The gospel not only delivers us from our sin, it delivers us from ourselves! The love of Christ welling up in us is meant to turn us outward toward God as well as toward others. No one need be lonely in the family of God or in our church.
If we will look to the Holy Spirit to guide us, the Lord (not we) will direct our pursuit of friendships. No longer is our primary agenda who will benefit us relationally. Instead, we are seeking to find those into whom we can pour our lives. The question, “Who will be my friend?” is now replaced with, “Who can I serve?” When we give our lives away in this manner, we expose ourselves to the beautiful diversity found in our brothers and sisters in Christ! As we exercise this kind of others-minded, servant-hearted, inclusive kind of love, we let the world know that we are Christ’s disciples.
All Because of Grace,
P.S. BTW—this seat is open for you.