What if God is calling us to make the most out of the pain in life’s most common experience?
Warren Buffett, known these days as the "Oracle of Omaha" and one of the most successful investors of all time, describes his experience applying to Harvard, the school of his dreams, as a very young man.
"I looked about 16 and emotionally was about 9. I spent 10 minutes with the Harvard alumnus who was doing the interview, and he assessed my capabilities and turned me down."
He was informed that Harvard’s mission was to make leaders and that he wasn’t ready to be one.
Living With the Sharp Sting
Rejection always hurts, whether you’re going through a job hunt fresh from being publicly fired, praying each day for the end of a drawn-out divorce or enduring the brutal meat processing plant otherwise known as high school.
Researchers using MRIs to measure brain activity have actually noted “that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain.”
If it’s such a terrible experience, some might say that Christianity should be the perfect solution as (ideally) a loving community.
However, Jesus promised his followers that they would be spurned by the world, then the New Testament writers set up rules for how to handle unfair exclusion within the church community (James 2:1-7)—thereby acknowledging that it would be a chronic struggle even among believers—and they even instructed leaders to dismiss church members under certain circumstances (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Titus 3:9-11).
Essentially, we’re told others will reject us then given instructions on when we should and shouldn’t do it ourselves.
None of this sounds like it eliminates rejection from the church.
Seeking to Be Rejected
Maybe there are times when not being accepted is good.
How many parents have felt a huge whoosh of relief and then pride upon hearing that their son or daughter got into a scuffle because they refused to join “the trouble kids” at school? How many heroic stories do we enjoy about people who were harassed for saving innocents in Nazi-run Europe or from other similarly oppressive governments?
Almost all of Jesus’ disciples were killed because they didn’t conform to government rules or societies’ standards that tried to keep them silent about the gospel.
Rejection can be the result of refusing to bow to social pressure and standing up for what’s right, for our belief in God. It still hurts, but Jesus said, “The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you” (John 15:19 NLT).
“Our security lies in Jesus,” Gary Wilkerson muses in his fifth 86 Seconds devotional on storing up treasure in heaven.The pain of dismissal can reveal our own priorities to us and also force us to rely more on God to strengthen us.
“With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can experience the same courage that God gave to the early believers, who were threatened by the very authorities who had arranged the crucifixion of Jesus…. ‘” points out Jim Cymbala in his devotional on fear.
Jesus promises that we can look forward to a reward in heaven for this kind of exclusion (Luke 6:22-23).
If we’re tossed out because we’re bringing heaven to earth, nothing could be better.
Finding Healing and Better Life
However, what happens when rejection comes from someone on our own team, a family member, spouse, friend, fellow believer, or just a person we trusted?
This kind of experience is heartbreaking and difficult.
In the middle of being shaken and hurt, it may be hard to see this as an opportunity, but it is. Rejection always stems from brokenness in relationships. It may come from old wounds or struggles that the other party is dealing with and may require you to forgive and set new boundaries in the relationship. Taking this step could allow you to help a loved one past the pain that is causing them to withdraw.
However, it’s equally important to acknowledge, as honestly as we can, that being pushed away may have also come from some brokenness in ourselves that has hurt the people around us. This opens up the chance to do some soul-healing of our own.
The worst response we can have is to ignore the importance of rejection.
“People who are rejected, rather than face the pain of rejection, what they try to do oftentimes is repress that pain,” Gary Wilkerson said in his sermon Getting Healed.
“The problem with repressing that pain rather than dealing with the pain is that your heart doesn’t have categories. If you shut down one part of your heart, it shuts down other parts… If you shut down the pain and you don’t face the pain, then you’re going to shut down love as well.”
Passion, ambition, our willingness to be vulnerable or engage with others will suffer too and begin to dim.
Drawing close to God and sensing his deep, abiding love for us, though, will give us the strength to not turn away from the aching injuries in our hearts. This rejection may be the way that God is seeking to heal either us or another person, and it’s our opportunity to grow in our relationship with our maker and others.