Part I: On the Outside Looking In…When We Feel Rejected

We aren’t on the playground anymore, but feeling left out doesn’t always sting less just because we’re older. Even into adulthood, there are plenty of opportunities to feel like you’ve been picked last or, worse, not picked at all. Sometimes the people we love the most reject us. They misunderstand or judge us, and we feel the distance. That can be the hardest form of rejection to accept…

Accepting rejection. Hmmmmmm. Now, that’s a thought. Because rejection is going to happen. And we can’t force inclusion…as much as the hounds of political correctness try. So how do we accept it?

Rejected

Ever feel this way?

The hard part about rejection is that when we are standing on the outside looking in…it can bring up that negative narrative in our minds that we aren’t good enough. And such a narrative may be very rehearsed for us, because we have carried it around our entire lives, like a mixed tape from an old boyfriend we just can’t seem to throw away.

A dear friend reminded me this week that feelings of unworthiness and rejection can become so familiar they bear a strange comfort for us. We can use them as a security blanket when we want to lick our wounds.

I’ve shed my share of tears over feeling rejected, but I’m also learning some powerful things about it. Because if I stop feeling sorry for myself long enough to learn something, I find that being rejected can sharpen instead of cut me.

First, it helps to remember that Jesus was rejected. As that same dear friend reminded me the other day, Jesus has incredible compassion for my hurt feelings. He loves me and embraces me. But more than that, he understands. Because he was rejected, not just at the cross, but throughout his short life on earth.

It also helps to ask some heart-searching questions about rejection and the role it plays in our lives, like:

Why is “being accepted” or “included” so important to us? (This may apply generally or it may apply to a very specific situation.) Well, we’re human. So there’s that. But could it also be that we are placing acceptance and inclusion above other things that matter more? For example, I am experiencing an area of rejection in my life from people I have always sought to please. BUT, part of that rejection comes as a result of choosing to live independently of their approval. It stings when I feel they don’t understand or when I am on the outside looking in, but I have made the conscious decision to please the Lord first. Sometimes the desire for approval pulls us into all manner of dysfunction, because we would still rather do the wrong thing than feel the sting of exclusion. But this will almost always result in compromises we regret later.

Is it a relationship worth mourning? As children and teenagers, inclusion feels necessary at all costs, because we think being on the outside says something about us. But as adults, we begin to understand that rejection does not need to be personal. In fact, it often says more about the other person than it does about us. Sometimes we are so busy wondering why someone is rejecting us, we don’t stop and consider whether we should really care. I mean, why mourn a relationship with someone who doesn’t accept you or appreciate you for who you are?

Have we spent too long nursing our hurt feelings? I know the sting of rejection. And I’m not saying those feelings aren’t real, but at what point will we decide to stop giving them so much time and energy? It is difficult, because feelings surface, and that safety blanket is always within arms reach.

A few years ago, when I struggled with being included in a circle of friends I thought I rightly belonged, I wasted a lot of time questioning myself and them and then pacifying my feelings. Self-pity felt better than making some important decisions that would have stopped giving the situation so much power in my life. When I finally let go of my need to nurse the hurt, God revealed important aspects of this particular rejection that taught me a great deal about myself. (More on that in Part II of this post series…)

Is inclusiveness always realistic or necessary? All-inclusiveness works well on a cruise. But we can’t always expect people to be all-inclusive. Besides, not all exclusivity is unjust or harmful. Countries, governments, cultures, families and close friendships all have aspects of exclusivity that are healthy for survival. Our marriages, for example, are pretty exclusive. And we consider that a good thing, because it is!

Don’t misunderstand me. I believe, especially as Christians, we should not be exclusive in our dealings with others. God warns us against favoritism (see yet another future blog post). A church body (which is made up of individuals!) should be warm and welcoming to all types and not exclusive in their fellowship. BUT, we cannot force inclusiveness. We can only encourage it by word and example.

But then there are still those deep, heartbreaking kinds of rejection that should NEVER happen. And yet they do. Because we live in a fallen world. Many people were driven to the feet of Jesus as the result of devastating personal rejection. The woman caught in adultery. The demon-possessed man. The little children the disciples hushed and scolded. And Jesus was a the perfect example of loving inclusiveness.

I think it’s important to note, Jesus had a band of twelve close friends, so from his example we learn that the opposite of exclusivity is NOT the elimination of close relationships. It’s forging those close relationships while also making ourselves available to others. Jesus engaged and accepted anyone of any social or economic status, gender, age or situation. And his inclusiveness extended to the cross where he died for ALL…even the worst of sinners.

Feeling rejection on whatever scale can begin a beautiful process of learning how to courageously and compassionately model God’s brand of inclusiveness to others. When we stop nursing our own hurt feelings, throw away the safety blanket of unworthiness and allow Jesus to teach us the better way of dealing with our pain, we can find freedom and wholeness. We can begin to accept that we won’t always be accepted! And rejection loses its once powerful grip on us.

For Part II of this series: Go here!

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