The new kid was there, effortlessly working the room. He told a joke and everyone laughed, and I laughed. He was nice, and I had no reason not to like him except that everyone liked him and they wouldn’t like me. I had been there years, but when I told a joke they pretended they couldn’t hear. I told it louder and their faces scrunched. I stopped talking and they pretended I didn’t exist. I decided I would take up less space on the edge of the room, with my eyes down. But there was a problem: The edges were already crowded with eyes looking down, trying not to exist too loudly. At first I was annoyed. Then I saw them.
I had been so focused on the Rulers Of The Middle Of The Room that I nearly forgot there was anyone else. But there they were, right in front of me. We were together, a wall of outcasts looking down. But even as our eyes scanned the floor, we were looking for a path to the Middle of the Room. We revered the Middle, we respected it and played by its rules, even when it brushed us aside. But that night when I looked around the edges, something was different: I didn’t see from the perspective of the people in the Middle. I didn’t see rejected outcasts, waiting for a chance to prove themselves. I saw people. Like me.
After that night I began to make a decision: I would no longer seek a place in the Middle Of The Room. I would no longer spend my time looking for the most influential people to talk to, searching for ways to impress the gatekeepers of status. I would not avoid the people in the Middle, but I would not prefer them, either. And when I walked in, I would see the edges. I would value the people who were brushed aside. I would enjoy their company, help where I could, and learn. I would see every person in the room as a person, and treat them accordingly.
I made this decision more than two decades ago, and have never regretted it. Although I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, I’ve found it to be one of the best decisions of my life. I’ve found friends, from all parts of the room. I’ve found freedom, because I don’t have to play by the unpredictable rules of people politics. I’ve found confidence, because I have a reason to be in the room, and the reason is not my own advancement. I’ve discovered the happy secret that it’s more fun to lift up others than it is to lift myself.
Over the years, there have been rooms where I’ve been granted a place in the Middle. And I’ve been there enough now to see that there is never just one Middle. There are layers, Middle within Middle within Middle. Each level seeks to pierce through to the next in a never ending pursuit of higher status and influence. Each layer looks in, longing for more, but I have a different goal: I want to keep my eyes out, seeing all the people around me and building them up. If some of them rise above me, I want to cheer for them. If I get a leg up over others, I want to use it as leverage for my hand, reaching down to help them. Isn’t that what Jesus did for me?