Have you ever felt “excluded” or “out of it?”
It’s a miserable feeling. Yet the desire to be “in” can make you say things you would not otherwise say, or not say things you should say. In his essay called “The Inner Ring,” C.S. Lewis addresses this desire to be on the inside of whatever group you care about most. This affects everyone in every stage of life:
- For pastors, there are temptations in church and denominational politics as well as status in the community or in pastors’ associations.
- In school, you can desire to be in student government, on a sports team, in a club, or just be accepted by the “cool” kids.
- At work, perhaps the desire is to be “partner” at your law firm, to get a promotion, to be part of the executive team.
- In church, the desire could be to be an elder, on the vestry, or on the deacons’ board; or, for a pastor, to be “successful” in having a growing congregation.
These desires are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves. Certain inner rings are unavoidable. Someone has to be the leader and have the influence, and it is not wrong to want that. However, as Lewis says,
The desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous…Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the moment you enter your profession until you are too old to care.
You will have certain choices that will send you toward virtue or toward vice. The choice will usually be subtle and small. Perhaps you are meeting with your boss and something comes up that has a hint of being not quite ethical. Just as you are being vetted for a promotion or being a partner of the firm, it is indicated that “we” always do it this way. Lewis says:
And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by a desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see that other man’s face – that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face – turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected.
There is an old saying that goes:
Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.
That first act of moral compromise can lead to further acts so that it becomes a habit that shapes your character and destiny.
If you get “in,” the initial rush of excitement will not last. Sooner or later you will have to look for a new ring to enter. Lewis says,
As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion; if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.
So what should you do? Don’t desire the inner ring, but do good and excellent work that will put you in the circle that really matters. Lewis says,
The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and the other sound craftsmen will know it.
This may not lead to fame, fortune, or influence, but it will lead to respect of those who know the field. This pursuit of good work will often lead to friendship—people who see the same truths and value the same things.
So it is better not to seek admission to the glorious moments of the age, not because they’re beyond us, but because we may not be strong enough to withstand the temptations involved with being close to power.
Jim Houston, the founder of the C.S. Lewis Institute, was once asked to move to Washington D. C. He didn’t do it, and one central reason was that he didn’t feel he could withstand the spiritual temptations of heading up a ministry in such a center of political power.
It would be good to ponder our own situation:
- What circle do you desire to enter?
- Have the rings you are in compromised your spiritual effectiveness?
- Do you need to pray for deliverance from this temptation to desire acceptance into more inner circles?
- Do you need to talk to a friend, a pastor, a counselor, or a mentor about this issue?
Above all, focus on doing your work well and let the results take care of themselves.
This post is excerpted from its original form, published over at The Gospel Coalition. You can read the full article here.
What inner circles do you wrestle with? Have you ever experienced what Lewis talks about? Leave your comments here.