I once was an elder of a church at a time of crisis for the congregation. I believe the eldership tried its best to help navigate the church along a biblical path, but, in the end, the church split. I remember one member in particular with whom I had been on friendly terms for years. In the midst of the turmoil, I saw her at a community event and she wouldn’t speak to me. Later, I went up to her and pleaded with her to reconcile. She refused and never spoke to me again.
More recently, last summer I saw my neighbor outside and went to ask him a question. For the next few minutes he lambasted me for how I treated him and another neighbor weeks earlier when we were all doing yard work. I had made a comment which they completely misunderstood and took offense. I was totally unaware they were angry until that moment. I apologized and tried to explain what I had meant. He would have none of it. “We’ll just stop talking about it,” was his only response. He hasn’t said a word to my wife or me since, even when we’ve seen him out or have walked past him.
Rejection is difficult no matter the circumstances. I think we are hardwired to want to be accepted. That is why engaging in social media has become so toxic for many. On the one hand, we post and post so that we can receive validating comments or “likes.” On the other hand, when those comments are negative or when the post is ignored, then we feel a strong sense of rejection.
When we fear rejection, there is a serious danger of becoming enslaved to the opinions of others. Many adolescents get into trouble because they are pressured by peers to do something that they know is not right, legal, or just not in their best interests, but they will do it because they don’t want to be rejected by their friends. Many adults have found themselves in legal trouble because they go along with or perform illegal acts at work because they fear being fired by their employers if they do not. Sometimes, people can be in conversations which they know are not appropriate, but will not say anything out of fear of awkwardness or making someone angry. Fear of rejection can not only make us reluctant to resist doing things we shouldn’t do, but also hesitant to do the things we know we ought to do.
Jesus was very clear with the costs of following him. One of those was rejection by others.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23 ESV)
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)
Thus, if we fear rejection, we are in serious danger of losing our salvation. Pleasing people just so they will like us can come at a great cost if we claim to be Christians, because pleasing them can take precedent over pleasing the Lord. Rejection is just a part of following Jesus; something that instead of fearing and avoiding, we should embrace as a medal of honor.
This is difficult to do, particularly early in our Christian walk. I remember as a young believer being reluctant to read my Bible in public, such at the university library or in a restaurant. I wondered what people might think. However, the Lord is full of grace and I know he forgave me for my hesitancy to identify myself as his servant. He will you as well, but this can never become a pattern of life for us because his grace will eventually come to an end and all that will remain is judgment. If we have spent our lives essentially denying him, then, as he promises, he will deny knowing us.
The best way to overcome fear of rejection is to recognize and internalize how much we are loved by Jesus, and to pursue diligently a relationship with him. As we fall more in love with him and realize the depth of his love for us we will increasingly care more about pleasing him and less about pleasing others. This is how we will be able to embrace rejection. While it may not be pleasant, the knowledge and experience of his love will enable us to face it with our heads held high and our hearts full of joy.
© Jim Musser 2019