Have you ever felt left out? Maybe you remember being picked last for the team, passed over for the promotion, not invited to a party, or realize you’re on the outside of an inside joke. We’re all human, and we forget things. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget people. Sometimes, it takes an extra effort to include someone. That’s a priceless gift we all a can give.
I’ve mentioned before, I have Mast Cell Disease. It’s a rare, incurable, life-threatening illness, best described as “allergic to life.” For many people with chronic illnesses, being left out is almost a given. We know we can’t do all the things someone who is healthy can, but it’s still nice to be asked. It’s amazing when someone goes out of her way to include you.
I love Christmastime! I’m pretty sure I have frosting in my veins, tinsel in my hair, and may have started listening to Christmas music in October. I’m THAT person, the one you either completely relate to, or the one you wish you could put inside her gingerbread house forever. There’s no middle ground. I have always enjoyed a good “Secret Santa” gift exchange, but the Mast Cell Disease makes everything difficult. (If you’re unfamiliar, people in a group are randomly assigned each other’s names, and pick out a gift for that person.) I have so much fun picking out a present for someone. It’s fun going from store to store looking for that perfect gift she’ll love. (By “store” I mean website to website while I’m wearing purple penguin Christmas pajamas and drinking hot cocoa.) Mast Cell Disease has made me extremely sensitive to fragrances, even indirect contact with anything from essential oils to a candle can send me into anaphylaxis. So, being on the receiving end of a mystery gift from someone, well that’s scary. This weekend, I received one of the best gifts I could ask for.
My friend, Mercy, and another friend of hers wanted to coordinate a Secret Santa exchange. This candy cane lover wanted to desperately join in, but knew it would be a risk for my health. I was also reminded sometimes, we don’t get things because we don’t ask. Sometimes, we’re left out not intentionally, but because we’re not asking if there is a way we can be included. So, I sent Mercy a message explaining my dilemma. It turns out it was no dilemma at all. Within minutes I was part of the fun. All I had to do was ask if whoever ended up with me would mind making sure it’s fragrance free. It’s not about getting a gift; it’s about getting to be a part of the fun. Mercy already gave me the gift I wanted most, to be included. She gave me A Jesus Moment, a moment where something good happened. Those are moments where Jesus is showing us He cares.
We have all felt left out at some point. If we’re honest, we’ve also left someone else out at some point. I’d like to propose a solution to this exclusion: communication. It can feel scary to speak up sometimes, but you don’t know if you don’t try.
If you’re in a situation where you’re often excluded what can you do? If you’re the one who is doing the planning, what can you do to make sure others are included?
Here are 5 ideas.
- Be realistic and hopeful.
Before you decide you have to be excluded, see if that’s really the case. At first I thought it would be too much to include me, but then I realized maybe not. Now, if this was a candle exchange, I’d know to sit this one out.
If you’re the one planning, think about the people involved. Stop for a minute and see if there is someone who you may be missing. Is there someone you automatically left off assuming she’d say “no?” Pause for a minute and think. Is there a way you can include her? Also, even if you suspect she can’t come, being asked is a gift. Even if she’s said “no” 99 times, ask again because she needs to knows she’s wanted and belongs. Who knows, the 100th time may be “yes.” (Unless she’s told you to stop asking. Then, respect her wishes.)
- Clearly communicate needs and the ability whether or not they can be accommodated.
Be honest. Don’t assume someone knows what you need. If your single friends are planning a night out, they may forget you need to be home earlier because your toddler doesn’t give you Saturday mornings to sleep in. Instead of assuming you can’t go with them, ask if they’d mind meeting up earlier. If you have a shellfish allergy and someone suggests Red Lobster, ask if they’d mind someplace different, and be ready to suggest one.
If you’re in charge of an event, try to think ahead. Perhaps you know your friend has a child who deals with sensory overload. For this year’s Christmas party, do the lights have to flash on the tree for that one night? Can they be set to stay on or just unplugged? If someone deals with chronic pain, ask if she needs anything extra. Maybe you need to set aside the comfy recliner so her back won’t hurt from squeezing onto the overcrowded sofa. Also, don’t make a big scene about it. Let her decide how much your other guests need to know.
You don’t have to wait for friends to include you. If you have some unique needs, or simply want to see your friends, take the initiative. Also, make sure they know anything special in advance. For example, if I’m planning something, my friends are asked to not wear perfume.
If you are the friend wanting to include someone, allow extra time and maybe money. Include her in the planning so she knows her needs are being considered. If she is allergic to gluten, find out where she gets or how she makes gluten free desserts, and have some on hand when she comes over.
- Be willing to hear “no.”
This one is hard, but sometimes things can’t be changed. You may want to go out with your friends, but they can’t change the time a concert ends, and you can’t change what time you need to be up the next day. Remember it’s the situation, not your friends that’s an issue.
Sometimes you may go out of your way or desperately want to include a friend, but she has to say “no.” Sometimes the needs are just too complex, or she may be too exhausted. For someone with a chronic illness, things can change in an instant. One of the best gifts I can get, is hearing a genuine “It’s okay” when I have to cancel last minute. It also helps when friends remind me in advance I have permission to back out if I need to. If the plans can be changed, offer to do it. If not, see if there is a way she can be included somehow. Heading to a concert? Grab her a t-shirt. Going out to eat? Ask if she wants you to drop off some take out on the way home.
- Extend grace.
If a situation happens where you are left out or someone makes a rare mistake that causes harm, respond in love. Assume the best. If these are your friends, you’re likely friends because you care about each other. If someone accidentally wears perfume around me, I do have to quickly remove myself from the situation, but I can choose how to respond. I need to give my friend a chance to apologize. (From a distance or maybe over the phone, if she’s still wearing the fragrance)
If you’ve left someone out, or without thinking made a mistake that caused harm, be quick to reach out. Be understanding that in the moment, your friend may come off as angry. She may be angry, but she may also be tired or not feeling well and come off as mean when it’s not that at all. If she is angry, give her the space she needs to be angry and communicate her feelings, but don’t let her berate you. There’s a line between communicating and disrespecting someone that shouldn’t be crossed.
Being included is a gift and a fantastic way to show Jesus to someone. Romans 12:9-10 sums it up well:
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (NIV)
Show love to each other, hold onto the people in your lives who matter to you, and put each other first. Hospitality isn’t about inviting people over for dinner. It’s a state of mind and heart that heals and bring hope.
Is there something you can think of that I missed? Have you been in a situation where someone cared and it made a difference? Please leave a comment on the blog and let me know. Also, feel free to share this, if you know someone who it might help.