It is amazing to me how sensitive I still am to perceived rejection or exclusion from a group. A few months ago I began attending a local church, and recently decided to officially join. My primary reason for attending and joining a church is that I want to develop a community of friends and the support of like-minded people. I attend services on Sundays, but need more in order to create the kinds of connections I want.
My church offers a variety of classes and groups, and I have attended one class series, as well as participating in, and being a presenter for, the goddess group retreat a little over a month ago. This is a good start at getting to know others, and I also saw an opportunity for me to offer classes of my own, as well as starting several groups I would like to lead or participate in.
I started looking into how to go about proposing these classes and groups, and who I would need to speak to. I quickly got feedback from another fairly new member of the church community that she had tried this same path and had not been embraced. I have a huge fear of not being accepted – I think we all have a similar fear but I fantasize that mine is bigger than most – and her experience immediately triggered this fear of rejection in me.
In order to mitigate my fear of rejection by “the church,” I chose to blame this person for her experience. She was too pushy, she wasn’t collaborative, she didn’t follow the process, etc. By blaming her for her experience, I believed I could have a different experience (be accepted) by acting differently than she did. In other words, blaming her gave me an illusion of control.
I moved forward with contacting the people I needed to speak to about classes and groups via email, and received what I perceived as a lukewarm response. Since I was leaving to go on a two week vacation shortly, I decided to just leave it until I returned, which was a week ago.
Yesterday morning when I arrived for Sunday church services, I immediately saw the person who is in charge of the groups. I needed to use the restroom, but made a mental note to speak to her before the service. As I was leaving the restroom I ran into the woman who is in charge of education (classes). I thought it was very serendipitous to have seen both of the people I needed to speak to without even looking for them.
I introduced myself to the education person and reminded her that I had ideas for classes I would like to discuss. I felt immediately shut down by her response: Choose one topic I feel passionate about (oh, and by the way it can’t be happiness – which is one of the topics I teach classes on), fill out the form and send it to her. Oh, and it will have to be a workshop, it can’t be a class series because there just is not room in the schedule. I felt as if she were doing me a favor to even consider me teaching a workshop.
I walked away from that interaction feeling as if offering to do classes at the church was an imposition, not a gift I was offering of my knowledge and time. I felt rejected and not as good as whoever else was already being allowed to do classes. I felt like an outsider in a community where I want to be an insider.
I entered the sanctuary in a serious funk and sat down to wait for the service to begin. The thoughts going through my head were things like “I made a mistake joining this church. Maybe I should go to CSL (a different church). These people are mean. These people don’t like me.” and on and on.
The service started with an upbeat song and I just wanted to stay grumpy. The education person (who I felt rejected by) got up and made an announcement about needing people on the education committee to help with class sign-up and other administrative tasks. I felt even grumpier.
Then the pastor got up to welcome everyone, and everything changed for me. I had recently taken the church membership class, but I was on vacation during the Sunday when they introduced the new members to the church. I had only given a passing thought to what this meant to me, other than the fact that once again I wasn’t part of the group. Then the pastor asked if I was present, and had me come forward to welcome me as a new church member.
This was totally unexpected, I hadn’t really thought about that possibility at all, so I didn’t have an opportunity to feel nervous about being in front of everyone all by myself. Right after this was the part of the service when the congregation gets up and greets one another, and many people congratulated me on joining the church. I felt included and accepted.
I sat back down after the greetings and had an epiphany. I wasn’t meant to teach classes at my church, at least not right now, and that’s why my path in that direction was blocked. To be honest, I didn’t even really want to teach classes, I just felt that it would be a good way to get to know others at the church and as a side benefit would possibly be good for my business.
I saw that by teaching classes as a way of getting to know others at my church I was perpetuating my old belief that if I didn’t have something of value to offer, then others wouldn’t want to get to know me and be my friend. I realized that starting groups on topics that I was interested in was a better way to be a member of the community, and I also would be getting my own needs met within the groups, rather than being the leader or the teacher.
I had just learned the lesson – once again – that when there are blocks in the path it doesn’t mean that I am not valuable or that I am being rejected or excluded. It’s just a message that I’m going down the wrong path and that I need to alter course.