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Overcoming Rejection

Posted: 10/4/19 at 4:30pm. Column by Ed Jordan.

There is a lot of thoughtless rejection circulating today. Rejection—even that which is only perceived as rejection—hurts us deeply.

As children, we probably all experienced rejection to some degree. It starts early. Remember how you felt if you were the last one chosen to be on the team? Or not being asked to the prom?  

Even as adults, we feel better about ourselves when we are invited to special events and included in conversations rather than excluded. We enjoy being a part of the group rather than being the person to avoid at a party.

I am always amazed at how people react as soon as a pastor enters a social gathering or party. If the people are not churchgoers, the anxiety in the room goes up. When a pastor takes a seat at a table, the vitality of the conversation changes.

If the pastor is not careful, such reactions can communicate rejection of him or her as a person, when in reality it is merely an uncomfortableness about what to say or how to behave.

I remember Billy Graham sharing in Las Vegas that he walked through a casino and someone at a slot machine saw him next to him. The man looked up with shock and said: “My God!  You are Billy Graham; I have been caught!”

For any of us, when we feel personally rejected, we generally also feel devalued.

We can laugh about it, but if the pastor’s ego is already feeling bruised or wounded, such reactions can be interpreted as rejection.  

For any of us, when we feel personally rejected, we generally also feel devalued. It should not make any difference rationally, because someone else’s choices are theirs to make, and they say more about them than they do about us.

Nevertheless, our emotions come into play. We all desire to be liked, appreciated, valued, and to have our company sought.

Pastors are human beings as well. We strive to be mature, clear-thinking, and invulnerable. But all of us are vulnerable to the perceptions and feelings of others, whether we are a pastor, another person, or a group like a business or church.

Groups which are made up of individual people can also feel rejected, as people depart the group via death, relocation, or choosing another group. Or when a group does their best to be of interest to potential new members, and the efforts seem fruitless, the group can feel rejected.

So how do we overcome feelings of rejection and build up our sense of well-being even in the face of occasional, or persistent, rejection? The first step is to identify the problem.

To do this, you must shift from focusing on your subjective emotional response and focus on a more objective response. If people are disconnecting from you, or avoiding you, is it really because of something destructive you are doing?

Or is it about the other person’s reactions to something over which you or your group have no decision-making power? 

In the example above, regarding being uncomfortable around the pastor, is it because you as the pastor are obnoxious and offensive, or is it because the values you represent make people who don’t hold those values uncomfortable?

If you are being obnoxious or abrasive, ask God to show you and how you can improve your interactions. But if it’s just that your godly values make others uncomfortable, then stick with your values.

Jesus came to his own people, but they rejected Him (John 1:12). Jesus had many disciples who were following him, until he talked about total commitment to God. When he gave them hard teachings, many left the group and quit following him. Was that Jesus’ fault, or the fault of those who really didn’t believe?

In John 6:66 (The Message) we read: “After this a lot of His disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with Him.” Sometimes rejection is an affirmation of being right where we are supposed to be and of doing what God asks us to do.

Ultimately, as Christians, we need to get our identity from our relationship to God, not from always being liked. In the face of rejection, we as Christians are “chosen of God.”

God values us and chose us; he made us a part of his royal people. As God’s representatives, he wants us to reveal and proclaim the praises of Jesus, who called us out of darkness to live in his marvelous light. He took us when we were nobodies and made us into somebodies, who are now his own people (see 1 Peter 2:9-10).

When you are feeling rejected, look at yourself in light of God’s word, and make the changes God reveals to you that need to be made. As you do that, you will become content in whatever you do (James 2:22-25).   

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.