Today, as I turn 51, I find myself at the curve of life’s ascending summit to begin what many view as the dreaded descent. Like others here, I pause to reflect on the journey so far and its many takeaways.
One came recently in an article by Rod Dreher on the tragic life of Jeffrey Epstein, “It’s Not Paranoia If It’s True.” It illuminated not only Epstein’s sad saga, but what all of us can fall prey to, including those within the faith community, in desiring to be in the “Inner Ring.”
We see it in all spheres of society, and it’s an especially ripe season now as students return to school, and we recall our own introduction to this base reality. Memories of the school playground or cafeteria and wishing to be one of the cool kids bring us back.
We’re all drawn to being accepted and “in the know,” perhaps due in part to God’s design; we’re made for community not isolation. But the Inner Ring can also become illusory, leading not only to a frustrated life, but, if carried far enough — and in cases like Epstein’s — our own untimely deaths or downfalls.
I’ve met this temptation at different points in my own life. The pain of being on the outside can be an alluring force. I’ve also seen my children experience it when left out and have tried helping them see that while being on the inside might feel good initially, it’s not ultimately edifying; we can easily lose focus.
Having glimpsed life from both spots, I’ve discovered at this beyond-midway point that I can never be authentically free on the worldly inside. A nagging on my conscience inevitably wakes me to the realization that I’m there at the expense of others.
Especially in seeing all this through God’s eyes, I’ve found the Inner Ring a trap. For in seeking the Inner Ring of the worldly variety, we remove ourselves from the only Inner Ring that truly matters – God’s heart.
Consider the lives of the saints. Many were outcasts and misfits, yet they enjoyed a deep and abiding truth that made them, while not always accepted, free. For in choosing the interior of God over the Inner Rings of the world, we find a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Though I’m likely not done being wooed toward the Inner Ring of the world, I pray that in my weakest moments, I’ll be compelled more powerfully toward the divine. As Dreher’s article warns: “Woe to those who are within the Inner Ring, and who are more afraid of being cast out of it than they are of the truth, or of Almighty God.”
In pondering all this, I realize that life in the Lord, even at past-midway, is not a descent after all, but an ultimate and blissful ascent to the beautiful Inner Ring of God’s holy and eternal love.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Sept. 2, 2019.]