Cooler Than I’ll Ever Be

If you know Jackie Wilson, you know how cool he is. If you don’t know Jackie Wilson, you’ll know how cool he is after watching him sing Lonely Teardrops (1958, American Bandstand). If you can keep your feet from shuffling under your desk trying to imitate his steps, you have more self-control than I have:

As I said in the title – cooler than I’ll ever be.


Growing up, I wanted to be one of the cool kids. I wasn’t, but at times it was what I wanted more than anything else. The guys played sports well; I was picked last or close to it for games. The girls threw parties that the cool guys got invited to; I hung out at home reading comic books. The cool kids were on the inside, and I was outside with my nose pressed against the glass looking in. If I took the time to look around, I’d notice that there were a few others staring in as well. I didn’t want to be with those people; I wanted to be on the inside.

Sad, isn’t it?

But I remember my childhood as a happy one. It was filled with friends I could trade comic books with, long bike rides up and down the coastal town I grew up in, a family that loved me and cared for me. I knew in my heart – even if I couldn’t put words on it – that I didn’t have it so bad.

As I got older, though, the line between the cool kids and the non-cool kids got blurred. I didn’t see myself as being on the outside so much. In fact, some of my friends in college told me at times that I was one of the insiders. Funny how I still didn’t see myself that way. I wonder if the cool kids when I was growing up had similar views of themselves, they didn’t know they were on the inside.

The Inner Ring

In his lecture “The Inner Ring”, C.S. Lewis 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 local Ring and the terror of being left outside.

This quest for Inner Ring membership, Lewis says, can lead people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do because that’s what being in the Inner Ring means. If you don’t do them, you’re not true to the Inner Ring. If you do them, you’re not true to yourself. And once you’re in, you become like the others and make it almost impossible for the next person to get in.

My longings as a kid on the outside looking in, my restlessness as I grew up, all of this stemmed from a desire to be in that Inner Ring.

The Real Inside

God knows we want to be on the inside, eternally secure in being with those who really matter. After all, he’s the one who “set eternity in the human heart” in the first place. (Ecclesiastes 3:11.) The amazing thing is that, unlike the denizens of Lewis’s Inner Ring who strive to keep others out,  God wants us to be on the inside with him:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10.)

Once I was not one of God’s people, now I am.

Once I had not received mercy, now I have.

Once I was on the outside, now I’m in.

I may never be as cool as Jackie Wilson – and I do admire his voice, timing, phrasing, dancing, and uber-coolness – but I am on the inside of the only ring that really matters, one with room enough for all. You can be too, “for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” (Romans 10:13.)

Come on in.

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18 Responses to Cooler Than I’ll Ever Be

  1. housewifetheologian says:

    Great article, I love that lecture of Lewis’. And I like your subtitle, “The Real Inside.” That longing is there for a reason, we just displace it on counterfeits. Speaking as one who was supposedly in the “inside crowd” in high school, I can say that I look back regretting the shallow nature of many of my friendships. There are so many that I wish I would have gotten to know better because they were truly cool people.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Aimee. I know what you mean about missed opportunities with the people around us. I try to remember that now, to see who it is that God has put in my life each day and what I can do for them or learn from them or just enjoy with them.

  2. I actually used to feel the cool kids were the ones who read the comics, but maybe because I thought my older brothers were cool kids and they had lots of friends, read loads of comics, and played sports. They weren’t popular at all though as they got older, and I saw that, but they were still cool to me. haha. It helped me realize that being yourself was always the coolest thing to be, so I embraced being unique and different, though it did hurt a lot to be mocked as a child and teen. I love that God knows that we will all search for ourselves and long for an identity and He says, “I give you identity. Be like me! I made you!” Awesome entry!! I really adored all you said so much!

  3. Had the “cool” talk with my son Pete this morning. He has cerebral palsy and he is at the age he doesn’t want to be different than the rest of the kids. He has a hard time gripping a regular pencil well enough to write legibly but he has refused to use the kind of pencil that works well for him. I told him this morning (we had conferences last week) that he was going to use the good pencil because I said so! He said, “Mom, that pencil isn’t cool.”

    Who would have thought a pencil can be cool or uncool?????

    I told him he was going to use it anyway, and then I proceeded to talk about Christians being martyred for their faith and I said, “And you are caring about a silly pencil?”

    He got the point….Maybe I laid in on pretty thick but it worked (and it is truth too).

  4. Jeannie says:

    Great message. I tend to think that at almost-50 I’m mostly past the needing-to-fit-in angst, yet when I observe my kids I see so much that I can learn from. My daughter is 14 and has Asperger’s and often feels like a misfit, yet I see how kind and accepting she is toward some of her friends who are disabled. My son is 10 and developmentally disabled — he has NO concept of in, out, or whatever: he loves everyone he meets and assumes they love him, and that’s all there is to it. There used to be this song by Amy Grant, something like “She’s got her Father’s eyes” — I see that in my kids and I’m awed by their open, inclusive hearts.

    • Tim says:

      It’s amazing what we can learn from our children. Jeannie. It sounds like God has a whole treasure-store of learning for you in them. What a blessing!

  5. cathyallen says:

    Your C.S. Lewis quote (possibly my favorite author!) was great and led me to the website. The website was great, and I’ll look around there when I have a little more time, thank you. I’ve never been cool a day in my life, and always aspired to it. Your message today made me realize that it’s been a very long time since I aspired to coolness, and an equally long time since I needed to. AND it’s for the reasons you articulated; thanks for making me think about it, Tim. God is good.

    • Tim says:

      I’m glad you checked out the link, Cathy. That is such a powerful lecture he gave, and I think it applies just as much now as then. Have you ever read That Hideous Strength? Lewis treats the subject at length in a full blown novel. He’s amazing.

      • cathyallen says:

        Thanks, Tim. I have not read it, but I’ve put the trilogy in my cart at Amazon, so it won’t be long before I do. Lewis truly IS amazing: he just makes so much SENSE! And he’s so EASY to understand. Even a ninny (not admitting anything here, ahem!) can understand what he writes. I’ve looked at the website a little more, and WHEW — It’s wonderful! Thanks again for that, too. God is so good!

      • Tim says:

        The whole trilogy is well worth reading (and I’ve read through the trilogy several times). He has one main story arc set in three seperate novel plots, and uses three subgenres of science fiction to do it in. The first book is straight old fashioned sci fi, the second is science fantasy and the third is more like gothic sci fi. All of them are excellent on their own and together they are almost unbelievably good. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have, Cathy.

  6. Mary Anne says:

    I had the great blessing of attending a sort of experimental high school devoted to education in the arts along with the general academic subjects. No one thought it would last more than a year, but it’s still there and thriving. Being in that environment where a lot of us were teenage nutbags (of whom I was chief, as Paul would say) took away some of the peer pressure I think I would’ve encountered and suffered from in a more traditional high school. It still cropped up in various forms, mind you, but a lot of the types of cliques who would’ve made life difficult simply didn’t exist; in fact, the whole school was a sort of inner ring for all of us who loved and enjoyed it and were proud to be part of it. And being there has shaped my thinking on the subject ever since.

    Here’s a link to the school if anyone is interested:

    MA (Class of ’78)

    • Tim says:

      Hey! I graduated HS in ’78!

      The way you describe your high school is like how I view my time as a band geek. I started off in concert band and marching band but quickly added jazz band too. After a couple years I became the drum major and then my last year I was student conductor. I guess you could say I made it into the inner ring of an outside group, but the whole band was a type of inner ring, much like your arts school. Glad to see your alma mater is still going strong 3 1/2 decades later, MA.

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