I’m re-reading a series of essays by C.S. Lewis this summer, and having a grand ole time doing it. Just this week I ran across his brilliant essay “The Inner Ring” in the The Weight of Glory collection and was struck afresh by its truth and wisdom.
As Lewis describes it, the “Inner Ring” is the human drive to be an accepted member of a prized group, club, or society—to be recognized as one on the “inside of things.” For many of us, to be a part of _______ group is the measure of true success, and is the reason (more than we’d like to admit) we get up in the morning. Though being a part of an “inner ring(s)” is not sinful in itself, and to at least some degree unavoidable, our inordinate desire for acceptance within the “inner ring(s)” is sinful and leads to all kinds of spiritual lapses and corruptions. This insatiable appetite for acceptance feeds pride, despair, anger, hypocrisy, covetousness, slander, deceit, etc. in the center of our being, causing instability and fluxuation in the soul and life. Stated simply, we are only as good as how accepted we feel by the inner-rings we want to belong to.
A good spiritual practice is to set aside a regular time to pay attention to how eager you are to be accepted by others, how disappointed you become when you’re excluded by others, and how much pleasure you enjoy in being received by others. If your joy and contentment is dashed by rejection, sky rockets by reception, or wildly shaken when your status hangs in the balance, then a warning light on the dashboard of your soul is blinking. You are consumed by inner-ringism.
To free us from such worldly passions, Peter reminds us that we are already accepted, no matter who else may reject us. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his (God’s) own possession” (I Peter 2:9). Should this reality grip your heart, the grip of inner-ringism would loosen. In fact, only to the measure we truly believe in God’s acceptance—that we are insiders in the most inside ring—can we face the rejection of every other inner-ring without compromising our life and joy.