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Overcoming Rejection, Part I
Rejection is a topic that we’re perhaps ashamed to discuss. It implies something’s wrong with us. Because it’s so common, however, handling it is essential.
An article published by Amen Clinics, Ostracism Causes Lingering Pain in the Brain, discusses how desperately we need acceptance. Rejection rocks our social foundation, leaving us insecure and afraid. It stimulates the brain area that registers physical pain.
The article defines three stages in the rejection process. During the initial stage, the acts of rejection produce harmful emotions. Next, the victim tries to find ways to cope. Finally, he enters resignation. In this prolonged stage, he feels hopeless and worthless. The article recommends counseling and the support of safe friends. In my opinion, it is essential to build this healing on the foundation of God’s unconditional love.
I’m not a trained counselor or a psychologist, but I can speak from experience. When my sons were two and four years old and I was pregnant with my daughter, my ex-husband left our family. This immediately followed our excommunication from a cult church, which terminated every friendship I had. My entire support system was gone overnight.
I quickly learned that, as a single mom, I was now a candidate for suspicion and rejection from some of my new acquaintances. My most tormenting thoughts, however, centered on God’s anger. The cult lies had convinced me that God had rejected my children and me.
Counseling and sound teaching led me to the riveting truth that God’s unconditional love is our key defense against rejection’s lies. Staring rejection down, I learned it is a paper tiger.
The Safety Net
Jesus assures us, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) God’s acceptance is based on Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, canceling our sin debt. We can do nothing to earn or remain in his favor; it is freely given. Gradually, I learned that God had not rejected us at all – in fact, he was right with me in our trial.
“If God is for us,” asks Romans 8:31, “who can be against us?” No mere human can legitimately pronounce us unworthy while God accepts us. From this foundation, imperfect, sinful people can fearlessly analyze rejection’s messages.
Rejection does not prove something is wrong with us. In fact, the person who’s rejecting us could be doing so because of their unresolved issues. Even God has been rejected. Isaiah describes the Messiah as “despised and rejected of men… we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:2-4) The rejections Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry culminated in a criminal’s execution. His followers have also known rejection and severe persecution, even martyrdom. The Bible calls them people “of whom the world was not worthy.” (Hebrews 11:38) Apparently, if we’re rejected for following Christ we’re in good company!
We are admonished not to fear this rejection or feel defeated when we encounter it. On the contrary, Jesus tells us, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12)
When We Are Broken
Sometimes, rejection does occur because we failed to love, however. The good news is that, provoked or not, rejection has nothing to do with our inherent worth. Even if a rejection contains some truth, we are not condemned. We are free to address the issue, by God’s grace.
Administered in the context of unconditional love, rejection can be a therapeutic application of healthy boundaries. Unconditional love explains the behavior that has prompted the rejection and spells out the requirements for readmission. A scriptural example is the man who was ostracized from the Corinthian church, in obedience to the apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians. The action was taken to help the man own his harmful actions, and it worked. Paul’s next letter exhorts the church to welcome the man back, lest he “be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). The behavior was judged unacceptable, but the person was respected and loved.
Not all rejection is intended to heal, of course. Much rejection wounds the spirit, because rather than judging the behavior, it judges the person. Its message is condemnation. It may or may not be tied to behavior.
Our Issues, Highlighted
When rejected, we can honestly measure our behavior against Biblical principles. Perhaps we were rejected because of unresolved issues; it’s no fun being friends with a controller or someone with an anger problem. Did we use someone to get what we wanted? Was our pride involved? We might have failed to see the situation empathetically, and the person reacted in hurt. The difficult step of confessing our part to God helps us grow past it. We also experience God’s forgiveness, which deepens our connection with him.
Note that if we’re prone to codependency, we’ll want to avoid accepting unearned blame in order to patch things up.
Once we’ve owned our part, we’re forgiven. The Bible instructs us to try to make peace, so it’s important to ask the offended party for forgiveness. We might also humbly bring their hurtful actions to their attention. These steps to reconciliation are effective if both people are willing to take them. If the other person refuses, we’ve completed our responsibility.
When Others Are Broken
Rejected for Choosing Christ
Unearned rejection can hit us from many angles. As we have seen, following Christ can earn us a place on the martyr’s list. Close friends may also reject us when we accept God’s salvation, because when God’s love convicts of sin, they must choose. I lost a close friend when I accepted Christ. It helped to know that by following Jesus, I was showing her it’s possible to be reconciled to God.
Rejection from Religious Groups
Religious groups can reject us. In John chapter 9, the outraged religious leaders throw a man out of the temple – the social hub of their day – for the irreverent crime of being healed by the Jesus they hated. Even the man’s parents keep their distance, fearing rejection. But Jesus seeks and connects with this man, offering his divine friendship. When we suffer rejection to receive God’s healing, we encounter Christ personally.
Rejection from Dysfunctional Groups
We can also be rejected by our dysfunctional family or peer group. A person seeking healing represents a choice to others: They might follow his example, or they might not. If they don’t, they will not feel comfortable around him. Neutrality is rare, because the friends of a healed person hear the unsettling call of responsibility.
Rejected When We Try to Help
A more personal rejection occurs when we try to help a friend address her destructive behavior. Of course, we want to avoid judgmentally picking at someone’s faults; but on rare occasions, love is compelled to intervene. Obviously, this is a delicate situation. We want to approach our friend humbly, knowing that we too are susceptible to sin. If the friend receives our words, the friendship is deepened. If we lose the friendship, at least we know we did everything we could.
Rejection from a Clique
Perhaps the most painful rejection happens when a person is targeted by a group for being different. Anyone in a socially vulnerable position is a candidate. Children with health problems, for example, can be excluded from school cliques, causing lasting damage to their self-confidence. This dynamic was also horrifyingly illustrated in the movie , the true and heart-breaking tale of Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man who endured rejection and abuse from all corners of society in 19th Century England. His story struck a chord; Elephant Man was a huge success, I believe partly because rejection plagues every life to some degree. Elephant Man
Our Loving God
Although rejection cannot condemn us and may be symptomatic of the other person’s issues, it feels intensely painful. If we’ve been rejected, it’s time to draw near to the God who cares and empathizes. His accepting presence, along with good counsel and safe friends, restores the wounded spirit.
Next, let’s look at the Biblical truths that confront rejection’s lies.