Steve's Story: Feeling Rejected
Excerpt from Rescued from Hell, Chapter 7: Journey to Healing
Feelings of rejection can be compared to a ten ton gorilla that likes nothing better than to sit on you. I'll take the gorilla every time! Nobody I know likes feeling rejected; it feels so terrible. Most people I know have a coping strategy for rejection. Some strategies work better than others; some are more socially acceptable. I had several which began in childhood: hiding out in shyness as I withdrew from possible rejection like a turtle into his shell; escaping into fantasy where I lived in dreams of a me that others would admire and never reject; seething and sulking in repressed anger, planning ways of getting even; and scrambling up the ladder of achievement to get my cup filled with "attaboys" instead of putdowns. By early adulthood some of these coping mechanisms were operating at industrial strength. For instance, although I never let anyone know it because they might have rejected me for it, I kept a Gatling gun inside me that found fault with everyone I met; their opinion wouldn't matter to me if it ever went against me.
There's a saying, "What goes around, comes around." Rejection operates by this principle, but it certainly is no merry-go-round in terms of being a fun ride. Because of the injustice and pain of rejection received, we may become rejecters of others. In learning to form judgments against others, it becomes possible to form judgments against ourselves and reject ourselves. This happens if we start agreeing with others' rejection of us or turn against ourselves because we can't find a way to avoid being someone people reject. In point of hard fact, rejection is impossible to avoid. Even Jesus couldn't avoid it and He was perfect! Being far from perfect I did a lot that was rejection worthy. I also speeded up the merry-go-round by rejecting others and rejecting myself. This hyper-sensitizes us to being hurt by the imagined rejection of others or imagining we've been rejected where none was intended. Round and round we go.
In the beginning, I never imagined that God would ever reject me - I was the hero of my story. Surely I would be vindicated in the end. However, once I rejected the true God, the day came when my new found god indeed rejected me. That was perhaps the only truth the "god of this world" showed me - Satan hates and rejects us. He will never turn from his fierce judgments against us. This rejection, because it seemed so cosmic and absolute, seared me completely. My own self-rejection reached its apex as I entered into total agreement with my god's final judgment and eternal condemnation of me. Damnation is deserved rejection for which there can be no remedy. It stung me to the core.
Isn't this, in a sense, what we all fear? It is not actual death, but rather "the sting of death" which is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). Who knows, we might die, and it may turn out to be not so bad? Perhaps we will awaken to Nirvana or simply drift off into the Big Sleep. But sin stings us with the painful truth that there will be a judgment to face, a judgment that no one is able to face without a Savior from sin. Isn't this what rejection by others plays into? The terrible, secret knowledge that there is Something Wrong going on deep inside, the wrong of original sin. We may not know ourselves as sinners in rebellion against our God, but we do know that we don't know Him like we should. We know that we are not the person we should be. We know that there is something we have Lost and cannot recover, the original innocence. Ultimately, we know one day we will have to face Him, and that we won't be able to give sufficient answer when we do. The rejections of other people draws its strength from this secret knowledge - secret only because we half-hide it from ourselves. If people reject me, might not the ultimate Person reject me? I had to live with that rejection for ten years, not as guesswork but as punishing, uncompromising fact. This left me with guilt-ridden feelings from past rejection and anxious fears of future rejection. Fearing rejection doesn't help. If only it did, I would have been home free.
Being a new Christian naturally brought my Doo Bee side out with flying colors. Of course I wanted to be good and to do right. That was genuine, but it wasn't the whole story. I didn't want to give God or anyone else a target to shoot at! Good luck. The math for keeping score on rejection is stacked against us - ten hard-won affirmations can be wiped out in an instant by a single off-handed rejection. Additionally, most of us have a backlog from the past. I carried rejection wounds from friends who betrayed me, from bullies who tormented me, from girls who jilted me. These were slight compared to everything else, but they had been the seedbed out of which the infernal vine had grown. It turned out I was still smarting from having been asked to leave choir in the sixth grade. The teacher had been very kind - it was a mercy killing and I even knew it at the time. I really couldn't sing and it embarrassed me to have to try. The thing is that it embarrassed me even more to be asked not to try; I was so thin-skinned. Thank God my heart is free of all this at last!
How did it happen? How was freedom won? In every case I had to forgive the person who rejected me, whether real or imagined and put away those hard feelings. That thorn had to be completely removed and replaced with positive feelings for the offender. Then I had to find a way to give the hurt feelings to God. It helped to look toward something good I might have learned or some way in which I might have grown. This was putting Romans 8:28 to work: "For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Slowly coming to see that this promise was true in some instances enabled me to embrace it as an invariable rule in all cases. After a while I no longer needed to look for something redemptive about the experience of rejection, past or present, I just knew it was there. This was beginning to work most of the time.
What worked even better was using each instance of felt or remembered rejection as an opportunity to believe truth at a depth level. I would vigorously rehearse to my wounded heart truths from scripture that I had not known at the time or still didn't know well enough to protect me with God's armor. Truth is far better protection than walls, but you have to believe truth from the heart for it to be effective. When Nehemiah had the assignment of rebuilding the ruined walls of Jerusalem, he had the people working with their swords in one hand, for the enemy might attack at any moment, as they hoisted burned stones into place, which were painful reminders of past attacks. We build our new walls of protection, not with hard feelings but with truths; yet, we are building while still under attack and often by working with painful memories from the past in order to "fit" them into the new framework of Christian truth. The truths I was building with were "God has accepted me in Christ; God loves me as I am; God wants everyone to love me too; even I can love me. This has always been true. It will always be true." Repeat as needed.
All of this good training fell apart at a later date in my life, when it seemed that several people had rejected me without cause and were spreading rumors and falsehood. Most days I love what Mother Teresa wrote: "Why worry what others are saying about you? Suppose they knew the truth." The truth is I may not be guilty of some accusations, but I am rejection worthy - I deserved to die on that cross, not Jesus. However, I failed to see any humor in what I was going through at the time. I began complaining strenuously to the Lord, "I'm going to forgive them, but You just don't know how much it hurts!" Now that's comical - telling Jesus, who was put to death by His own people, that He doesn't know how much rejection can hurt a guy! I sensed the irony of it, but pursued my complaint just the same. Then I became suddenly aware of a Presence.
Jesus was standing right behind me and a bit off to my left. I couldn't see Him with my eyes, but His Hands were outstretched with palms up, and He was saying to me with a twinkle of humor, "So what am I to you, Steve? Chopped liver?" The Jewish delicatessen flavor to His question really cracked me up! I broke out laughing, "Yes, I'm sure You're right Lord. What was I thinking? You're the only one who ever died for me. You're always with me, loving me. You matter more than anyone else possibly could." Then I got it. "Oh, My God! I've got a bigger problem than I thought!"
In fact I had two problems. Rejection keeps you looking at what others did or said, as if that were your real problem. It never wants you looking at what you are doing or saying. Holding on to rejection is a double sin: it is the sin of idolatry of others because it puts their opinion of you above God's; and it is the sin of unbelief because you believe what your feelings are telling you, rather than what God has declared in His Word. Now check me on this: what was the chart topping sin on God's list of ten things never to do? Idolatry (Exodus 20:3). And what was the sin that barred the way of the Israelites into the Promised Land? Unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). Holding on to feelings of rejection had me sinning - without realizing it - in two very major ways.
Let's pause for a principle: all sin separates us from God, but not all sins are equal in their effects. Some sins have a small effect in us or on others (little "white lies" for instance); some have a more hurtful effect on others (adultery, murder); and some have a very hurtful effect in us (rejection for example). The power of the pain usually indicates the gravity of the disease. Holding on to feelings of rejection really hurts. It is a deadly dis-ease of the soul that needs a powerful remedy.
Immediately, I went to the Lord in prayer, confessing and thoroughly repenting of all my previous agreements with these two sins; I had Him pull my heart out of other people and plug it into Him. As I chose to believe the Truth with all my heart that He has unfailing love and acceptance for me, I felt my heart's need for acceptance come to rest in His own great Heart like a ship held secure in a safe harbor. The Father's total acceptance of us in the Beloved is the true antidote for every instance of rejection (Ephesians 1:6). As I let that greater Truth wash over me, all past and present feelings of rejection and fears of rejection fell away. Then I asked Him to let me be "burned as needed" if I started touching "the hot stove" of idolatry of other people's opinions again. Sometimes you have to apply iodine to the wound to be sure of the healing. The wound of rejection got healed that day. It has remained well healed ever since!
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