Part 2: On the Outside Looking In…The Blessing of Rejection

Soooooooo about that rejection you’re feeling…how could it possibly result in blessing?

I love the passage in Matthew 10, where Jesus commissioned His disciples for ministry and warned them about rejection. His advice to them is a bit shocking coming from the guy who also commanded us to “turn the other cheek.”

Barefoot

“Shake off the dust…” Photo Courtesy of Free Images

Jesus told them, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (v. 14)” Jesus was urging them NOT to waste time where they weren’t wanted. Perhaps because he knew the disciples would struggle for acceptance the same way we do.

Have you ever tried to foster a relationship with someone who was not ready to receive your love or friendship? Or who was too busy being critical of you?

It might be easy for us to look at one biblical example like this one to justify always walking away when we feel rejected. But Jesus provided other responses to rejection as well–all quite different. For example, and I am skimming the surface, when the Pharisees questioned him and his ministry, Jesus used everything from silence to strong words as his response. Then there was his ultimate act here on earth when he allowed rejection to take Him to the cross.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem…But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3, 5)

Jesus’ offered responses to rejection on a case by case basis. And because he was Jesus, they were always perfect for the occasion. As deeply flawed human beings, on the other hand, our responses are also often deeply flawed. But I think we can take away at least two things from his example. First, there are many (right) ways to respond to rejection. And second, that it is only through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit that we can know how to navigate each rejection scenario as it presents itself in our lives. (Because we know that it will…See Part I of this series)

I love what Jesus also said in that same passage in Matthew as he prepared his followers for ministry: “As you enter a home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. (12-13)”

So many times, when I feel rejected, I don’t let peace return to me. After wrestling and pondering and trying to fix the relationship(s) or prove myself worthy, I am still not at peace….especially if it seems my efforts have been wasted or, worse, misunderstood. At some point, we have a choice about how to accept the limitations of a relationship or situation. We can allow it to disturb us deeply, or we can do as Jesus instructed and take back our peace…no matter what the outcome.

As it did for the disciples, rejection can redirect us, re-chart our course…in a positive way. If we believe God can redeem any situation, then we must believe this…that rejection can be a blessing in disguise:

Rejection can protect us. Looking back, there are several situations where I wish I would have taken Jesus’ advice to shake off my sandals and leave. I wish I hadn’t wasted valuable time where I wasn’t wanted or appreciated. But, thankfully, I eventually got the hint. And later I realized that rejection was God’s way of closing a door I couldn’t quite close on my own.

For example, there was a woman I started a friendship with at a time I was struggling to find close friends. I was so excited for this friendship until, suddenly, it fizzled out. I never knew why. It bothered me for months. A few years later, I discovered some things that would have made our friendship very complicated and could have affected my family negatively. I truly believe rejection was God’s way of closing that door at a vulnerable time in my life.

Rejection can expand our world. In a very practical way, one home’s rejection would lead Jesus’ disciples to other homes and towns. Rejection can do the same for us. It can not only change our course, but broaden our perspective and our world.

My mother gave me great advice once when she told me…find the girl who feels like you. When you feel rejected, seek out others who also feel rejected. And really that is what we should be doing as believers, seeking out the rejected among us, not making well-worn paths with all the people who agree with us and give us that familiar sense of comfort.

Comfort feeds apathy. Imagine if the disciples had stayed at the same home forever because they felt loved and accepted. Their ministry would have ceased to exist. They would have stopped following Jesus’ command to preach the Gospel!

By the way, it is completely counterproductive to find those other “rejected” people and sit and wallow and lick our wounds together. Though it is tempting to say, “Can you believe how rejected we are? Can you believe what those other people did to us?” Yes, I have responded to life’s rejection this way. But isn’t it much better to find those people and, together, model the kind of love and inclusion you wish to see in others?! What a beautiful way to redeem a disappointing situation!

Rejection reminds us we walk among the wounded. We’ve heard it many times: Hurt people hurt people. Wounded people look to strike before they fall victim again. Do you know someone like this? They become hollow and angry. While it is easy to become defensive and distrusting, it doesn’t help.

If we step back from a situation that has wounded us and recognize the other person was bleeding first, the situation becomes a lot less personal. In this way, God can teach us too look beyond the offense and straight to the need, which is where real ministry can happen. I still haven’t consistently figured this out for myself. I would much rather pull away and resent someone for their abusive behavior than love them as God calls me to love them. But when we can do the latter, it is a true miracle that brings about powerful change…if only in us.

Rejection can teach us REAL love. Contrary to the popularly accepted notion that inclusion and tolerance equal love, they aren’t the same thing. There are plenty of situations where we refuse to accept something about someone…but we don’t stop loving them. This is probably the hardest kind of love, but it is still necessary. And we are called to do it. Jesus loved those who betrayed him, persecuted him, beat him and nailed him to the cross. Real love, the kind without strings, doesn’t just happen. It takes work. And discipline. And the power of God in you. But it IS possible.

For every abandoned child, every lonely man or woman and every bullied and battered soul, God offers a refuge. He offers something better if we allow our rejection to lead us to Him. His perfect plan didn’t include these bitter rejections. But sin collapsed the beautiful harmony of Eden and sent us spiraling into darkness. The whole world aches with longing for love and acceptance. God allowed His son to walk through the worst possible rejection…all the way to death on the cross…to provide the only true way to freedom and acceptance in the arms of our Creator.

There are rejected among us…everywhere we go. If we pray for deeper understanding and greater generosity toward others, loving them without the expectation that we will get something in return, then we do what Jesus did–we take rejection and turn it on its head. We give love the chance to win, and we allow our pain to become a blessing to us and to others.

If you enjoyed this post, but missed Part I: Here it is!

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