Excluded: remove from consideration or rule out.
Recently I attended a writer’s conference known for its friendliness. Unfortunately, instead of feeling welcomed, the above definition described my experience to a T.
I spent most of the time by myself because people knew each other from past conferences or came with a buddy. My reaction was to stop attending the large group sessions and reduce the number of workshops I attended. Of course, when I did attend a meeting, I left immediately upon its conclusion.
Forcing myself to attend the end of the week banquet – okay, my husband strongly encouraged me to attend – I sat with a group of women who had roomed together during the conference.
You see I was a commuter, which apparently, made you persona non grata. I tried to engage, but for the most part, silence ensued when I spoke, while the others shared inside stories and jokes.
After the banquet, one of the women said, “let’s take a picture outside and I will send it to everyone.” As I walked outside with the group, I realized they were gathering together and not including me.
Suddenly they noticed me! Holding out the camera, one of the group said, “So glad you’re still here. Can you please take our picture?”
“Of course,” I answered, “No problem,” and dutifully took the picture.
I smile as I write this, but it was hurtful and embarrassing at the time.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Think back to times in your life when you felt left out.
Was it when you attended a party and stood in the corner hoping no one noticed you were alone and friendless? How about the time you joined a small group meeting, and after the initial friendly introductions, there was no attempt to include you further. Yes, that even happens at Bible studies. Oh, and the uncomfortable feeling when worshipping at a new church, and no one acknowledges your presence.
Most of us have felt excluded at one time or another. It’s uncomfortable and makes you want to run away – or at least never return.
However, after the banquet fiasco, I came to two conclusions: this welcoming thing is not an easy task, and perhaps it was partly my fault.
After all, I am an introvert, and sometimes I come off as reserved and standoffish when I don’t mean to at all. In all honesty, my not attending group sessions and leaving immediately only led people to further see me as aloof. It didn’t help my cause.
SO WHAT’S AN EXCLUDED WOMAN TO DO?
Nothing is new under the sun, so I knew that biblical women must have known this feeling too.
Let’s take a look at four excluded women and see if we relate.
It was time for the dreaded trip to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Reluctantly Hannah gathered what she needed and steeled herself for the onslaught of insults from her husband’s other wife, Peninnah.
All year long, Hannah watched Peninnah’s children play while every month passed with no pregnancy. It was hard, but she was able to avoid her sister-wife most of the time; however, on the annual trip to Shiloh, there was no escaping Peninnah’s taunting and cruel words.
After Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, presented his sacrifice to the LORD, he gave his wives a share of the meat. Despite the choice portion given to Hannah, Elkanah gave his other wife additional allotments to feed her children.
Hannah didn’t even glance at Peninnah, but she felt the smug look as Elkanah divided the food, thus her heart was heavy. Excluded by her family, she began to cry uncontrollably and did not eat.
Yes, Hannah understood the meaning of the word excluded.
Hannah’s first response was to sink into depression, but ultimately, she turned to fervent prayer. So passionate that Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk. Of course, this story ends happily, for God blesses her with a son that she dedicates to the Lord and eventually other children.
How to respond like Hannah
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3 NIV).
Pray to God for help – not just words, but with passion and authenticity. God wants to heal your broken heart. He did this for Hannah and He will for you too – maybe, not the exact way you want or expect, but He is there.
Uplifted after praying, Hannah ate and was no longer downcast. Yeah, eating does that for me too.
In other words, the depression lifted, her appetite returned, and she smiled at others. This mood change was before she knew that there were children in her future!
Like Hannah, pray and leave it with God. Know God is on your side, whatever the outcome. (Read her story in 1 Samuel 1 and 2.)
EXCLUDED: MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS
Chosen above all women to bring the Savior of the world into our midst. Nevertheless, excluded for a sin she did not commit.
Imagine the gossip, whispers, and laughter at Mary’s expense. Pregnant during the betrothal. Just goes to show you that “Miss Perfect” wasn’t so righteous after all.
Additionally, Mary’s future husband, Joseph, planned on divorcing her (ending a betrothal required a formal divorce in the NT Jewish culture) instead of the stoning many thought she deserved. However, God intervened and enlightened Joseph to the honor bestowed upon them as a couple. The child Mary expected was the Messiah!
Furthermore, she probably felt excluded from God’s protection. After the trauma she suffered over the last nine months there was no room at the inn! Giving birth in a stable without her family and a familiar midwife did not scream inclusion.
Expecting her first child was something Mary dreamed about, but this was never how she imagined telling her family and friends about her first pregnancy.
Instead of sharing the wonderful news with Joseph, and then as a couple telling their families, Mary is young, unmarried, and bewildered. Anger, fear, withdrawal, or disappearance are all understandable reactions; however, Mary trusted God’s heart and knew that His ways were best. Her response during this difficult time was obedience.
Notably, Mary also sought out a person who she knew supported and believed in her. Mary went to visit Elizabeth for encouragement, guidance, and friendship. Elizabeth had experienced her own unusual pregnancy; therefore, there was a special connection between these two women.
This love and friendship between Mary and Elizabeth remind me of Ruth and Naomi from the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.
How to respond like Mary
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6: 27).
Mary’s faithful obedience was the cause of her exclusion. Perhaps you have experienced rejection because you stood by your convictions or shared your faith.
Like Mary, obey and trust God, but also seek out your Elizabeth.
I know when I share a burden, concern, or hurt with another person who cares for me, I feel better. Usually, they can assure me that my feelings or experience is not unique.
If you don’t have an Elizabeth, pray for God to direct you to a person who can fill that role. That might mean finding a person who is excluded and bring them into the fold. Helping others is an excellent way to feel included and find valuable friendships in the process.
Thus, find people who share your beliefs and values. Cultivate relationships with other believers who know and understand you without judgment, but who also will speak truth into your life. We all need at least one Elizabeth. (Read about Mary in Luke 1: 27-56 and 2: 5-4; Matthew 1: 18-20 and 2:11)
EXCLUDED: THE WOMAN AT THE WELL
Gathering at the well was the Facebook of biblical times. The women fetched water in the morning and evening and caught up on the local gossip too. However, the Bible tells us this Samaritan woman came to the well at noon.
Most likely, she was avoiding the other women. You see, she was a woman of ill-repute. She lived with a man she was not married to, and the multiple marriages in her past were shameful and condemned by the “righteous” women.
Of course, she was surprised when Jesus engaged her in conversation. Amazingly, she tried to exclude Him by reminding our Savior that it was not proper for a Jewish man to talk to a woman in public, especially a Samaritan woman. However, Jesus persisted, and she grew excited at what she heard.
And then it happened, the disciples returned: excluded again. Feeling shunned by their disapproving looks, she left in a hurry, leaving her water jar behind.
The response of the woman at the well
This Samaritan woman was full of skepticism and shame. She knew the Messiah was coming someday, but not for her – her sins were too great.
However, she opened her heart to this man’s message; moreover, she allowed His words to break through her avoidance of others, sharing the message her heart knew was true. Once again, God uses a broken person to meet the spiritual needs of others.
How to respond like the woman at the well
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1: 9).
Don’t isolate yourself or hide your sin
Opening your heart to hear Jesus will break down the walls that disconnect you with others. Jesus already knows your sin and circumstances; don’t be afraid to discuss them with Him.
Avoiding others is not the way to overcome the feeling of exclusion. The woman at the well learned this after years of dodging people. (I know this speaks to me and how I handled the conference)
Continue to be friendly, reach out to others who look lonely or excluded. When the woman at the well broke her self-imposed isolation, salvation came to many.
When excluded, it is easy to stay away from uncomfortable situations. There may be times that is healthy, but for the most part, disengaging is not the answer and can lead to depression or even agoraphobia, a condition that at its worst develops into a fear of leaving your home.
(Check out John 4: 7-42 to read the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus)
EXCLUDED: THE WOMAN WHO BLED
Jesus felt power leave Him and knew someone had touched Him with purpose. He looked around to find the person.
Meanwhile, the woman realized her healing from this one touch. Twelve long years of exclusion from polite society was over. The bleeding finally ceased, and she was “unclean” no longer. (Leviticus 15: 19-27)
However, her elation was short-lived. As Jesus’ eyes scanned the crowd, she was fearful that He was angry. However, she’d already shown great courage, and she didn’t falter now. I’m sure she shook as she confessed that it was she who touched His robe.
To her relief, and probably surprise, Jesus didn’t exclude her. Instead, He praised her faith and told her to go in peace.
The response of the woman who was healed
This woman was greatly distressed. Her bleeding caused her to be “unclean” in her culture, and she spent all her money on a cure to no avail. What to do? She couldn’t go on living like this.
She heard about this Jesus, who healed. Was her faith strong because she’d run out of options? Whatever the reason, she believed that Jesus was all-powerful, that even just touching his clothing was enough.
Seeking and believing in Jesus was her response.
Follow the example of the healed woman
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
Lastly, follow the example of the healed woman. She had reason to be mad at God for allowing this problem into her life. This disease probably left her exhausted most of the time, but worse, she was shunned by society – considered unclean. (See the note under “August Service Project” for more information on what “unclean” meant in the biblical culture)*
So when she heard about this Jesus, did she scoff and say just another con man out to take my money. No, she went to find Him for she knew He was different. It appears her perseverance resulted in a gift of faith.
Don’t blame God, instead, seek Jesus and ask for increased faith and God will answer. When we have faith, being excluded seems minor compared to being included by Jesus, who is all-powerful and ready to help.
Perhaps the help will not come as you expect or want, but He is there just the same. Reach out and touch His robe, He is waiting.
(Read about this miracle in Mark 5: 25-34)
RECAP OF HOW TO OVERCOME EXCLUSION
- Like Hannah, pray with passion and authenticity. Hannah knew that going to God about her exclusion was the answer. Prayer alone provided relief for Hannah. When we pray fervently, we have a sense of relief and inclusion. God is on our side.
- Be obedient, like Mary, and cultivate quality friendships. Having someone who speaks truth into our lives, but does so without judgment, is vital to our well-being and feeling of inclusion. When we feel excluded elsewhere, we can turn to those special people in our lives. I have a couple of friends like Elizabeth. My mother was also an Elizabeth for me; unfortunately, she passed, and I miss her Elizabeth- like ways so much.
- Don’t isolate yourself from others, and be open to Jesus. The Samaritan woman avoided others to deal with her exclusion. However, she opened her heart to hear what Jesus had to say. We too should be open to sermons, Bible study, and other ways that God speaks to us. Seek forgiveness for sins and don’t allow others to make you feel guilty for what God has forgiven. Spend time with others and share Jesus with them.
- Persevere and ask God to enhance your faith. The woman with the bleeding disorder didn’t give up. When excluded we should continue to seek our tribe. People who will uplift, encourage, and help us in times of distress. Ask God for direction and to bring people into your life. Touch Jesus’ robe. He heals our hearts as well as our bodies.
AUGUST SERVICE PROJECT
Excluded is this month’s Christian Workout. For those of you who don’t know about our workouts, click here to learn more and find links to our previous workout blogs.
This month’s service suggestion is to follow Jesus’ example. Don’t ignore someone who is reaching out, but make a concerted effort to find the person in need. Then make them feel welcome and included.
For some ideas on how to include others check out my blog Hospitality by the Book.
SOME ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
*As mentioned in this article, the woman with the bleeding disorder was considered unclean. A concept hard for us to understand. Here is a fascinating article, which provides an explanation about what “unclean” meant in the Bible. It is worth taking the time to read. Click here for a surprising perspective about this edict.
You’re not excluded on this site. Your suggestions, ideas, and comments are welcomed, encouraged, and appreciated.
Blessings until next time.