All of us experience rejection, and it can begin quite early in life. We can be terribly cruel to one another, leaving deep wounds with the things we say and do to others. Rejection, real or imagined, can come from any quarter – family, friends, workplace, and perhaps most of all, ourselves.
Rejection does not come from God.
We can suffer rejection for many reasons. Perhaps you have found yourself rejected by friends or family due to your Catholic faith. Perhaps you are not pretty enough, strong enough, witty enough, you name it – and others have rejected you. Society gives us ample opportunity to become acquainted with rejection.
In my own professional life, I have struggled with rejection, but it was not always so. As a brand new college graduate with a 4.0 GPA in my major, and 3.74 overall, I was ready to conquer the world. I was brimming with confidence. In my early career, I was the #1 performer in my group, leading to my promotion to manager at the age of 26. I moved on to a major financial services firm, and by age 30, I was promoted to Director. Things seemed very promising.
But, at age 30, I had my religious conversion, and it caused me to question all my values up to that time. Climbing the corporate ladder lost much of its allure. I caught fire for the Catholic faith, entering the Church on the Easter Vigil of 1995, but the fire in my belly for the corporate world began to weaken. It’s a long story, but the bottom line is that I was laid off in 2002.
I can vividly remember how personally I took that job loss. In our culture, much of our self-worth is directly tied to what we do, or how much money we make. To go from being a top performer to someone who was now no longer needed was a difficult pill to swallow. I felt like an utter failure who was not providing for my family.
Praise God, I was able to find a job six months later, at almost the same salary, but now at the Manager level, not the Director level. Within two years of joining the new company, I was promoted to Director. But, several years later, my position was once again eliminated, as part of the wave of off-shoring US jobs to cheaper locations. Fortunately, I was able to find another position within the same company, but again at a lower title and pay.
So, I have come full circle once again. I am thankful to have a job, but the feeling of rejection still looms strong. We are often our own worst enemies, and I can be a merciless enemy to myself. I berate myself for letting this happen, for not seeing it coming, for not doing something more to prevent it. I tell myself I am washed up, a loser, a nobody, a failure, someone who never achieved his potential, and never will.
And Satan laughs.
He has me right where he wants me. Feeling discouraged, discarded, trusting in myself, and not God. I have to remind myself that discouragement is a tool of the devil, and I need to snap out of it.
I know that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing it (Matthew 10:29-31), so I know he is aware of my pain.
I know that He has a plan for me (and you):
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
But, the rejection I have suffered, real or imagined, pales to that of Jesus and others we read about in the Bible.
Joseph Sold into Slavery (Genesis 37)
Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age;
and he had made him a long tunic.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.
One day, when his brothers had gone
to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem,
Israel said to Joseph,
“Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem.
Get ready; I will send you to them.”
So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan.
They noticed him from a distance,
and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.
They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer!
Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here;
we could say that a wild beast devoured him.
We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”
When Reuben heard this,
he tried to save him from their hands, saying,
“We must not take his life.
Instead of shedding blood,” he continued,
“just throw him into that cistern there in the desert;
but do not kill him outright.”
His purpose was to rescue him from their hands
and return him to his father.
So when Joseph came up to them,
they stripped him of the long tunic he had on;
then they took him and threw him into the cistern,
which was empty and dry.
They then sat down to their meal.
Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead,
their camels laden with gum, balm and resin
to be taken down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers:
“What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood?
Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites,
instead of doing away with him ourselves.
After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”
His brothers agreed.
They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.
The brothers felt rejected by their father, due to the favoritism he showed towards Joseph, and consequently they rejected Joseph. And yet, where sin abounds, grace abounds more (Romans 5:20).
In a foreshadowing of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, Joseph was sold into slavery for twenty pieces of silver. In a stroke of irony, Joseph would be sent to Egypt (as would Jesus), and eventually would rise to a position of great authority under the Pharoah. The fateful decision by the brothers to not kill Joseph would later allow Joseph to be in a position to save their lives. In addition, Joseph’s dreams, coupled with his position of influence, would allow him to plan for the upcoming famine, and for many more lives to be saved as a result.
So, we can see here a very tragic case of rejection, and evil treatment of Joseph. God did not will it, but He allowed it. Had Joseph never been rejected, he would not have been sold into slavery. God used the rejection of Joseph, and the jealousy of his brothers, to carry out a much greater plan, but that plan would not become obvious until much suffering had been endured.
Rejection in Jesus’ Life
There was no room at the inn for the Holy Family, forcing the King of Kings to be born in a stable, surrounded by animals.
When Herod heard of the birth of the Messiah, jealousy motivated him to hunt down Jesus, so he could “worship” Him. When that failed, in a rage, he ordered the slaughtering of the innocents, in a fruitless effort to protect his position.
Later, in his adult life, Jesus experienced much rejection. In his own town of Nazareth, the miracle worker could work no miracles, due to the lack of faith of the people. To them, Jesus was just the carpenter’s son. The Pharisees would reject Jesus. They were jealous of Him, as he spoke with authority, and challenged their ways of doing things. His own disciples would reject him – when the shepherd was struck, they would scatter. Peter, who so impetuously professed his devotion to Jesus, would deny him three times in his hour of need. And in the ultimate rejection, the people he came to save would crucify Him in a brutal manner. And with every sin we commit, we reject Jesus as well.
If Jesus, who was sinless, suffered such rejection, can we really be surprised when we are rejected?
The Bible tells us that God can and does use all the circumstances of our lives, good or bad, as part of his plan.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
He can do the same with the rejection we experience.
Let us not lose hope, but know that:
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
(Psalm 34:17-18 )