Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Him, since Jesus was coming that way. (Luke 19:1-4 NIV)
Being rejected or left out is one of the worst feelings in the world. If you have to watch or even think about others getting to enjoy or experience something you want but cannot have, it can begin with the sting of nagging envy. This can be followed by a feeling of inferiority, and then downright agony, if you continue to focus on the hole that cannot be filled.
I have experienced this at a variety of levels. In school, I was distant socially and often not invited to parties or functions. I auditioned for roles I wanted in various productions, but there always seemed to be someone a little better for the part than me. I never dated and had trouble landing jobs, while many of my friends seemed to have no trouble making their skills stand out, attracting women and acing the big interview. Without knowing Jesus at the time, I seemed to only focus on the negatives and slip into states of depression.
In sports, when a team is left out of the playoff picture, they are said to be “on the outside looking in.” Seattle fans are now quite familiar with this frustrating feeling of having to watch rivals compete for the coveted championship while their team has fallen short. It was a new bitter taste for the Seahawks last season, when they missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. The Mariners, meanwhile, currently have the longest current streak of playoff absences in all professional sports, causing extreme restlessness among their fan base.
But could you imagine being left outside of the kingdom of God? I am always struck by the disturbingly powerful message in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man, presumably consumed by greed and his worldly wealth in his lifetime, sees a glimpse of heaven from a state of torment in the underworld and can pleads fruitlessly with Abraham, while watching Lazarus in a state of perfect peace and rest. The true horror for the rich man is not the terrible environment or physical pain he is in, but the chasm that cuts him off from heaven – and the reality that he must now spend eternity forever separated from God.
The good news is that if we choose to love and follow Jesus, He can lead us to take action that can bring us back when we are seemingly on the brink. There are numerous examples of this throughout the Gospels. The bleeding woman, spurred by her belief that Jesus could heal her, fought through physical pain and the crowds to touch His robe (Mark 5:25-29). Zacchaeus was determined to see Jesus and climbed a tree to get past the crowds (Luke 19:1-4, above). Jesus then saw him and led him to repent. The prodigal son, in the midst of suffering through unfamiliar need, realized what he had with his father and was then driven to return to him, despite not knowing what the result would be (Luke 15:17-20).
There are still a lot of times when I experience envy or shortcomings in my life and sense some distance from God. It sometimes takes everything I have to fight off the negative feelings, but I know it’s not a losing battle, and I will always choose to keep fighting for myself, for my family, for the body I am part of. Even though I actually still feel like something of an outsider at Creekside, since our weekly schedule and distance from the church make it difficult for us to do anything outside of Sunday service, I will keep trying to strengthen connections and look for ways to support and serve.
The emotions that come with the challenges of our everyday lives can be overwhelming, but if we make the effort to reach out to Jesus, we will never be rejected. Are you sensing a chasm in some aspect of your life? Make the conscious decision, take the time, and ask Him to bridge the gap.
We never truly have to be on the outside looking in.
Daniel can be reached by email here.