The Dangerous World of the Inner Circle
It was Friday night in Petal, Mississippi. I was 17 years old and I decided to do something risky, something bold, something I had never done before: I drove up to a gas station. It may not seem an impressive feat to you, but this wasn’t just any gas station. This was the gas station, the Texaco — the central meeting point for the popular people from Petal High.
I drove by sometimes when there was nothing to do on the weekend, which was often the case, but I didn’t consider stopping. I didn’t fit into that crowd and I never would. They were the kings and queens of popularity, and I was just a wannabe. But that Friday night, I decided to go for it, to make a place for myself with the insiders at the Texaco.
Crashing and Burning at the Texaco
My arrival at the Texaco went pretty well, and by that I mean that I successfully parked my car between two yellow lines.
I got out, walked up with my hands in my pockets, and quietly approached. Although a couple of people glanced at me, most of them stayed focused on the popularity power brokers, the guys who could easily beat me up and the girls who liked me, but not like that.
The seconds ticked by, and I awkwardly stood there, gradually realizing I had probably made a mistake. And five minutes later, I slinked back to my car and drove off, feeling moderately humiliated. I couldn’t break in, and I felt like a failure.
There are Texacos everywhere, and they aren’t limited to high schoolers.
There are the insider soccer moms at the park, the employees who are the boss’s confidants, the Facebook friends who only interact with other popular Facebook users. There are the married people at church who don’t invite the singles, and the singles who don’t invite married people if they have kids.
Texaco, Texaco, Texaco. You can’t get away from it.
C.S. Lewis called it “the inner ring.” He said, “I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the [Inner] Ring and the terror of being left outside.”
Unfortunately, our fixation with the inner ring will make us slaves to a circle that has no lasting value. Lewis says:
“Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life. … If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an “inner ringer.” I don’t say you’ll be a successful one; that’s as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in — one way or the other you will be that kind of man.”
Getting Free from our Texacos
We need to identify the Texacos in our lives, those inner rings that give us a temporary sense of belonging and inspire us to withhold invitations from those who would bring down the value of our group. We’ve also got to be honest with ourselves when we resent other people who are on the inside of circles we’ll never break into. Because either way, when we fixate on the inner ring from the inside or the outside, we make ourselves beholden to a small world that constricts our ability to love others.
We’ve got to invite God into these gaping holes in our hearts, those places that give a false sense of security or a bitter sense of resentment. If we do, we’ll eventually find our desires change. We will find the inner ring that provides endlessly expanding circles of love where everyone is welcome, even us.