Recently, I was sharing with some friends of mine about how I often feel “set aside” by the institutional church. Despite growing up in church and spending tons of time there, I don’t really feel like I belong in churches. There is a lot to unpack there, but the point for today is that we were lamenting the reality that I have been set aside too often.
We all know that feeling. A bit like rejection and a bit like indifference. The nonverbals, the placading. Of course, this becomes, at many points, a self-fulfilling prophecy and we can sometimes see this even when it is not there. But we all experience this at times.
So, I gather my friends and complain about the church. I recall the injustices of being set aside. But there is another aspect to all of this.
I am not just one who is set aside; I am one who sets others aside.
Sometimes when I think about the experiences I have been through, especially the hurtful ones, I really try to think about what the people who hurt me were perceiving. Why did they do what they did? Why did they say what they said? And just pausing to ask those questions helps humanize my “adversaries” and remind me that my life is full of instances on both sides of the fence.
The Habit of Setting Aside
So, why do we set things aside and what should be done about it?
It is easy to see this from the victim’s standpoint. Being set aside is being undervalued, unseen. Ignored or rejected, the reality is that being set aside is about not being fully appreciated.
What is it that you set aside? Because if setting things aside is about under-appreciating them, to claim we do not set anything or anyone aside is to say we perfectly discern the value of everything, at all times, which is patently arrogant and absurd.
I like to think of it this way: the world is full of amazing things. Literally, billions of amazing people. I can’t possibly fully appreciate them all; not to the level they deserve. Which can either be fine or dangerous (we’ll get to that in a minute).
Think about the snack aisle at the grocery store. There are all sorts of things, but you can’t take it all home. You can admire it all, but you don’t have the money or the cabinet space or the fortitude to eat all that sugar. You have to choose. Even the grain aisle, something you might not like. You might see the value of needing something there, but you can’t possibly take it all home.
We simply do not have the capacity to appreciate everything, all the time, for all it is worth. By choosing friends, we necessarily do not choose other people as friends. People who are just as lovely. We can’t go to all the churches at once or join all the bookclubs, although each has a benefit and a value.
Facing Reality and Truth
Here is where we go wrong: we think that because we cannot fully understand or envelope into our lives the value of something, it has no value. We make an enemy out of the things we don’t like or understand, or just the things we don’t have the willingness or capacity to choose. It is a way to try to validate our choices. We vilify something to justify choosing something else.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We can live in the complex reality in which we do not have the capacity to fully value every individual thing, but we do have the ability to understand that every individual thing has value. When you see that someone is amazing; you are often seeing a glimpse and there is someone out there who sees it more fully.
So, setting something aside does not have to mean dismissing or vilifying it. We reject lots of things in lots of ways. The key is to do it without violating the inherent value of anything or anyone. We need to be able to see the beauty and truth in everyone. We need a base layer of acceptance, of celebrating the value of all, into which we can make decisions about who we spend the most time with.
Of course, we also need to be very careful about what we are setting aside and why. Setting things (especially people) aside for superficial reasons will almost always result in vilifying that which is different. A synonym for superficial is “shallow”; if there is not much substance, that tendency to try to validate through vilification becomes stronger. If we are choosing to bring things close and set things aside based on what is comfortable, familiar, or superficial, we are committing a travesty. And if we are always choosing the same kinds of things over and over, we are setting a dangerous pattern. We are creating blindspots and habits of underappreciation.
Everything in life is beautiful. Each and every person is amazing, with incredible thoughts and ideas, inspiring perspectives and challenging notions. Which of them are you setting aside and why? An honest assessment will help us change when change is necessary and will allow us to appreciate the fact that humanity is so valuable we cannot begin to fully comprehend it.