Rejection is hard, and rejection is part of life, but rejection is not who we are. Ask Jesus, wielder of the hammer of love, to break down the wall of rejection within you.
My last Exploring Faith post focused on finding joy in the midst of suffering. Today I’m writing about another hard but hopeful topic, breaking down the wall of rejection.
We’ve all experienced rejection
Rejection. We’ve all experienced it, haven’t we? Kids on the playground wouldn’t play with you. A friend just walked away from you. You didn’t get the job. The boss let you go. Your husband or wife or another family member betrayed you. The medical system can’t cure your loved one. God doesn’t give you what you want. All these situations, as well as many others, are examples of outright rejection or situations that can cause us to feel rejected.
Rejection is hard
Rejection is hard. According to the dictionary, the word means “the act of pushing someone or something away.” To reject is to “refuse to accept” or to “dismiss as inadequate, inappropriate, or not to one’s taste.”
Rejection itself carries a really bad taste, doesn’t it? It strikes at the core of who we are and can turn our world upside down. In a moment of rejection, we are faced with the evidence that in someone else’s eyes – and often that someone is important to us – we are not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, not competent enough, or not engaging enough, just not enough. We don’t measure up. We’re not what they want. Or maybe we’re too loud or too quiet, too abrasive or too timid, too set in our ways or too wishy-washy. We’re just too much. Again, we don’t have what it takes. We’re what they don’t want.
Rejection can make us feel like a failure
Experiences of rejection can engender feelings of shame, sadness, or grief, and the perception that we’re a failure.
As a writer, I’ve received plenty of rejections, from magazine publishers, from book publishers, from CBC Radio, from reviewers, from readers who aren’t interested in or impressed with what I’ve written. As a scientist, my husband, Vilis, has also received plenty of rejections, from granting agencies and from research journals, which typically reject seven out of eight submissions.
When I receive a response to a writing submission, I’m always filled with a sense of dread. I don’t want to open the letter or email, and sometimes I leave it for days, until I’ve braced myself for the rejection that is very possibly lurking within that envelope or email. Writing rejections aren’t personal, but they feel personal. As well as being a blow to my ego, they’re a blow to my belief in my writing skills and the value of my work to others.
And then, there are the truly personal rejections. The friendships or romantic relationships that explode or dissolve, tearing open hearts in the process. The marriages that disintegrate, leaving lives in excruciating turmoil. The dysfunctional families whose members speak bullets at each other, hoping to hurt. The sports teams or youth clubs where coaches or leaders degrade young people or where those young people degrade each other, purposely jabbing holes in self-esteem. And I’m sure there are many more examples.
We need to feel valued
Where does it all lead? As humans with complex emotions, we need to feel valued, we need to know that our lives hold something of worth, both to ourselves and to others. The fallout of rejection is, at the very least, disappointment, and at the very most, violence against self or others. Rejection carries a negative power that can last a lifetime or can come back to haunt us even after we think we’ve gotten over the rejection experience. In an old Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown and the other kids are playing baseball. Lucy, who is rotten at catching fly balls, thinks she’s going to catch this one, but at the last moment, she doesn’t catch it. She tells Charlie Brown: “Sorry I missed that easy fly ball, manager. I thought I had it, but suddenly I remembered all the others I’ve missed…The past got in my eyes.”1
Rejection can cause us to build an isolating wall
The same can happen with experiencing rejection. If we receive rejection upon rejection, which we, like Lucy, might perceive as failure upon failure, each of those painful experiences can become a brick in an emotional wall that we build within ourselves, either consciously or subconsciously, to protect ourselves from future pain due to more rejection. A fear of rejection can cause us to lead a less vibrant life, to be unwilling to reach out to others, to be fearful of trying new experiences, or to hesitate to make the most of what we’re doing right now. The wall we build from rejection bricks isn’t so much a protective wall as it is an isolating wall, a wall that causes us to draw further into ourselves and reinforces our concept of ourselves as failures.
I have to say here that sometimes the rejection we experience comes from ourselves. Sometimes we’re the ones who tear our hearts open, we’re the ones who leave our lives in excruciating turmoil, we’re the ones who speak bullets at ourselves, and we’re the ones who jab holes in our self-esteem. Self-rejection is one of the most painful forms of rejection, and it can only be healed by self-forgiveness.
COVID-19 might amplify feelings of rejection
In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of rejection might be amplified by the general sense of anxiety and uncertainty about what the future will hold. Next weekend will mark one full year since Nova Scotia first went into lock down. Since then, we’ve had some breaks from the initial strict “stay the blazes home” measures, but we still have a long way to go to reach the end of the COVID tunnel, a long time during which anxiety and uncertainty can prey on our emotions.
On top of that, the measures put in place by our government, designed to protect our health, may themselves confer a sense of rejection, rejection of what we perceive as normal life, and rejection of the rich family and social interactions we enjoyed pre-pandemic. For some of us experiencing rejection of any sort, the pandemic might turn that feeling into a double whammy.
How can we break down the wall of rejection?
As Christians we are called to “encourage one another and build each other up,”2 the absolute opposite of rejection. So, how do we break down the wall of rejection? What tools can we wield against it? How do we combat rejection’s negative power over us and over others?
I believe the answer is one word: love.
When a teacher of the law asked Jesus which of the commandments was the greatest, his answer was love – love for God, and love for neighbour3 – and he demonstrated both to the highest degree. In obedient love for his Father and sacrificial love for us, he died on a cross, and in doing so, gave hope to humanity.
Jesus knows rejection
Jesus knows rejection. He hung on that cross, rejected by the people he came to save, abandoned by his disciples, and for that moment, forsaken by his holy Father. He experienced the devastating emotional pain and grief caused by rejection, and yet, he loved. He loved so much that he forgave the people who put him on that cross. He loved so much that he died for us so our sins could be forgiven, and we could be reconciled with his Father. We celebrate communion in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice – the bread, his body, and the wine, his blood.
Christ’s love was the hammer that broke down the wall separating humans from God, and love is the hammer that we can use to break down the wall of rejection within us, and to help break down the wall of rejection within others.
Give yourself permission to love yourself
The fruit of the Holy Spirit, who is resurrected Christ’s presence within us, is love, and is also joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.4
Therefore, give yourself permission to love yourself and to know and truly believe that you are loved by others and by Christ. Do things that bring you joy, that speak to your heart and replenish your soul. Be gentle and kind to yourself instead of beating yourself up, so that you will be encouraged, not disheartened. Show yourself patience and understanding; after all, we’re works in progress. We all make mistakes. We’re all wrong sometimes. Be faithful to who you are. Believe in yourself. Jesus loves you, and you are of great value to him. You are a child of God. Give yourself space and time to feel the presence of God, and to find peace in his presence. Show self-control. Don’t give in to destructive thoughts or actions that will harm you or harm others. Comfort yourself, yes, but being good to yourself can also mean prodding yourself to get on with life. Your life is a gift to you from God. Strive to enjoy it with every beat of your heart.
Above all, don’t lose hope. Whatever rejections you experienced are in the past. The future lies before you, and you have help to navigate it. One of my favourite Bible passages, Proverbs 3:5-6, tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” So, don’t dwell on the past, and don’t worry about the future. The Holy Spirit will guide you.
Shine a light on someone else’s path
Sometimes the Spirit’s guidance is direct, and sometimes the Holy Spirit enlists people to shine a light onto our paths so we can see.
Most years, I find January and February tough months to get through. This year, COVID restrictions added a dark cloud to what is usually already a moody and emotionally low season for me. I spend a lot of time on my own, writing, and often feel as though my words are disappearing into the ether.
This year, however, an old school friend contacted me out of the blue in late January, jolting me out of my writing isolation. He had checked out my websites, bought my novel, and wanted to reconnect. That one joyous re-connection led to re-connection with other former classmates and with teachers who were reading my work and who appreciated it. This experience of renewed friendship showed me that what I write is worthwhile, and that there are people out there who care about me and want to support me. The same is true for you.
On the other side of the shining-a-light-onto-a-path coin, this week Vilis and I received a card from a friend thanking us for our support during a hard time. The card was unexpected and the words in it so heartfelt they buoyed us up. We had helped to shine a light on a friend’s path. In doing so, we were encouraged on our own paths by knowing that our relationship with this friend was truly valued.
Share the fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the Spirit is a rich fruit, a delicious fruit, a fruit that cries out to be shared. We all fight our own battles, but as Christians, we are also called to encourage and build up each other, and in doing so, help others in fighting their battles. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control can go a long way toward helping a loved one or friend or stranger in need of encouragement.
Rejection is not who we are
Rejection is hard, and rejection is part of life, but rejection is not who we are. We are more than “someone being pushed away” or “someone being dismissed as inadequate, inappropriate, or not to another’s taste.” We are who we truly are – children of God, a royal priesthood, the precious “someones” for whom God gave his only son so that we would not perish but could have eternal life.
We are loved and we are valued, and Jesus will never, ever reject us. He didn’t reject the tax collectors and the sinners. He didn’t reject the Roman centurion who in faith asked him to but speak the word and his servant would be healed. He didn’t reject the woman caught in adultery or the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. He didn’t reject his disciples after they had abandoned him, and he won’t reject us. He won’t reject me, and he won’t reject you. Jesus is our biggest cheerleader. He is our most loyal confidant and supporter. If we trust in him and “lean not on our own understanding,” he will pick up his hammer of love and help us smash down bricks in that wall of rejection we’ve built around our hearts.
Jesus, take the hammer
One of Carrie Underwood’s hit songs is titled “Jesus Take The Wheel.” I would add to that theme, “Jesus, take the hammer. Wield it. I can’t break down this wall by myself. I need you by my side. I always have, and I always will.”
Last week I finished revising a memoir that centers around a year of exploring the natural world on my doorstep. The book is important to me, but I don’t know if there’s a market for it, so I’ve decided to take a leap and enter it in a competition for creative nonfiction hosted by a Nova Scotia publisher. I know it’s a long shot and that I’m courting rejection again, but that’s what writers do. That’s what we all do.
The key is to never forget that we are members of a community called to encourage and build up each other, and to never forget that we are loved by Jesus, wielder of the hammer of love, breaker of the wall of rejection. He stands, rock solid, right beside us.
If you know someone who would be encouraged by this post, please share it.
- Charles Schultz. Peanuts. 7-7. 1989. United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- Matthew 22:37-40
- Galatians 5:22