"For I am sure that neither death nor life,
not angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come,
not powers, nor height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from
the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
My church has been covering a series on fear and yesterday the topic was the fear of rejection. It covered the story of Jacob found in Genesis 32:22-32. I loved the sermon because I have never met a person who hasn't been hurt deeply by rejection at some point in their lives. Some of us have experienced rejection when a friend quit being a friend. Some can relate to rejection by being left off the invitation list of an important party. Some can relate because we had a boy friend or girl friend decide the relationship was no longer working even though love was expressed and commitments were made. Some could relate to rejection because a bully rallied a class full of kids to ostracize one.
As adults we relate when we experience rejection when bosses over look us or women excluded us from girls night out. We relate when those in our church overlook our giftedness or choose to victimize us through gossip or slander. Some have experienced rejection when marriages ended and it wasn't just the rejection of a spouse that hurt. It was the rejection of friends choosing sides. Sometimes there have been rejections due to changes in life stages. Maybe friends without kids no longer wanted to socialize after our babies came or friends turned away when we were overwhelmed with a special needs child.
There are also those pesky little everyday rejections where spouses don't "feel like" loving or communicating. There are rejections experienced when children rebel or reject our values.
There are also some experiences in life that may be perceived or interpreted as rejections. They may be real rejections or may be we experienced them as rejections because of the way we interpreted them. Some of these types of rejections are when a parent, grandparent, or teacher seem to favor one child over another...something that could be true or something that could be a perception. Maybe it was being the last child chosen for sports teams. Those choosing may have simply wanted to win and chose those who played the best, but it feels like a rejection to the child who isn't best. Maybe it felt like rejection when a friend chose to go shopping with another friend for the day. In our heads we know it is okay and not rejection, but in our neediness it feels like that.
There is another type of rejection...where one feels rejected as a person. It may have been a parent silencing a talkative child or punishing a creative child for coloring outside the box, causing the child to believe the person they were created to be was not acceptable. It may have also been a parent withholding love as discipline or a parent not meeting the basic needs of time and affection that caused the child to believe they weren't good enough or were too much.
As I was listening to the sermon yesterday three other stories came to mind of people who had suffered rejection and how God met their needs in the face of that rejection. The first woman that came to mind was Hagar. She was the handmaiden of Sarah. As such she didn't have a lot of power or control over her own life. God had promised Sarah and Abraham a baby in their old age and it didn't happen right away, prompting Sarah to "help" God fulfill His promise. By following the customs of the day, she had Abraham lay with Hagar who conceived a child in her place. When it happened the women understandably have all sorts of feelings and attitudes towards each other and Sarah sends Hagar away. God sends Hagar back. After Sarah births her own child, she sends Hagar away again. Alone in the desert with the child she had born at her mistress's request, she sits down and weeps. God meets her there, speaking hope into her rejected heart and assures her that He will make her son into a great nation. Hagar ascribes to God the name El Roi, which means the God who sees me! God saw Hagar in the pain she was experiencing from rejection and He met her there.
The second woman who came to mind was the Samaritan woman who came to get water from a well. She came in the heat of the day, indicating she was avoiding social contact and Jesus surprised her by asking her for a cup of water. She was surprised because Jewish men didn't relate to Samaritans, especially those who were women. He engages her in a conversation as a way of revealing who He is to and in an effort to get her to own who she is. At some point Jesus asks her to bring her husband and she says that she doesn't have one. He tells her she was right in saying she had no husband and reveals that He knows she had been married five times and was now living with a man who was not her husband. We need to understand some things about the culture of her day. To be divorced she would have been taken to a public place where judgments happened and declared her unfit as a wife. She wasn't just rejected one time, she experienced the shame of this rejection five times. In addition, living with someone who chose not to marry her left her scandalized. Jesus met her where she was. I am not sure how much choice a woman had in those days, but today when women go through serial marriages, they are often looking for someone to fulfill the void left by rejection they have experienced. God revealed to her the love, acceptance, and validation humans show will always pale and always fail in comparison to the love, acceptance, and validation of our Great God. I remember one lady telling me that if she knew in her first marriage what she knew about God now, she would not be divorced for the third time.
Rejection hurts! It hurts enough when it is private and only know to a select few. But it has to hurt even more when it is so public and so shaming. Notice, Jesus sought her out and met her where she was at, just like God had done with Hagar. This is really significant, because sometimes when we are experiencing rejection by a human, the enemy does all he can to convince us that we are unlovable and rejected by God as well. It strikes at the very core of our heart where we wonder if we were too much, not enough, or both. But, rejections is mostly about the heart of the rejector and their inability to love well. When we fail to remember that God seeks out the rejected, we may be prone to seek out relationships independently of God to numb our wounded hearts. But, we, as hurting people, don't make wise decisions. In fact, we may choose relationships that set us up for a whole lot of rejection and pain.
The third story that came to mind was the story of Joseph. First, He was thrown into a pit by ten of his brothers.and then taken out of the pit and sold as a slave to some Egyptian men. We aren't told of a face to face reckoning meeting like Hagar and the woman at the well had, but as we read the story of Joseph, we see God had His hand on Joseph's life and Joseph remained faithful to God no matter what came his way. He was raised to a high place in the government and provided a plan that saved the nation from famine. He ultimately saved the lives his family and when they sought his forgiveness, he was able to grant it and tell them that even though they meant what they did for evil, God had meant it for good.
So, how do we live in the face of rejection? First, we want to remember that God meets us there. We cannot listen to the lies of the enemy that would tell us different. Sometimes, we'll experience Him directly and sometimes we'll sense Him through faith. Sometimes we'll experience Him through others sent to encourage us and at other times we experience Him through solitude and wrestling as we expose grieving hearts to His healing love.
Second, we want to remember that rejection by another person isn't proof that we have been neglected or rejected by God. He is ever faithful, no matter what others do. He has promised that nothing can separate us from His love, so by faith we can look to Him trusting His goodness.
Third, it is wise to take time to grieve and to ask God to teach us what we need to learn to grow through the pain of rejection. He may want to show us a fault we need to correct that drives others away. I believe Joseph resolved a pride issue, growing into a humble man who waited on God to fulfill His plans. God may even want to do a deeper healing of pain a current rejection surfaced, which I suspect was the case for the lady at the well.
Finally, when we look at Jesus, we can't forget that He was well acquainted with rejection. John 1:10-11 says, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own people and His own people did not receive Him." His own family didn't recognize Him. the nation rejected Him. A disciple betrayed Him while His friends denied Him. His heavenly Father even forsook Him as our sin was laid on Him.
Surely we can trust a God who willing experienced such rejection for us. Surely, we can and look to Him to minister to our rejected hearts and remember that His love is big enough to fill every void and to see us through the emotional pain of rejection. He is the One who will never, ever desert us. With Him we don't have to ever worry about being too much or not enough. He loves us at our worst and draws us to the center of His heart, freeing us to be our best. Maybe the journey of rejection is a journey that leads us to the love that never fails.