Recently, I had a rough night of sleep. I awoke at 3 AM and then lay awake for another hour before giving up and getting up. A couple of years ago, that was a common pattern for me. Life was very stressful and sleep routinely was fitful. However, that stress had long ago dissipated and I have since been sleeping well, particularly since the pandemic lockdown in mid-March. So I knew something was bothering me.
As I reviewed what had happened the past few days prayerfully, the stressor source was revealed. I had messaged several former students recently and received no responses. I mentioned in my last post the staff turmoil that I and my wife had endured two years ago. There was a lot of fallout from that, which included broken and bruised relationships with some students and former ones. The lack of response tapped into something I have struggled with much of my life—being rejected.
I have written much about my bent toward negativity and it comes into play with my need to be accepted. Here’s how it works: Over the years, I have had literally hundreds of students tell me how much they appreciate me and how my ministry has blessed them. Many of these former students now support my current ministry. Yet, it is so easy for me to forget this and to focus on the few who, over the years, have rejected me for one reason or another. My experience is no different from any other pastor. There are always a few who, for various reasons, get mad and walk away. But I have such a difficult time letting go of these rejections because I have longed believed one of the central truths of our faith is reconciliation. How can a believer claim to follow Jesus, the One who reconciles us to God, yet refuse to reconcile with a fellow brother or sister?
So this is what was disturbing my sleep the other night. After fixing my morning coffee, I read this out of I John:
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (4:19-21)
You might think this was just more ammunition for my argument that reconciliation needs to happen. Yet, what the Lord revealed to me was the bitterness growing within my heart because these folks and others have refused to reconcile with me. I have no doubt I am right in principle, but where I have been wrong is not trusting God to work it out. I have felt the need to focus on them, rather than myself. I have failed to remember how much the Lord loves me and these others. He cares much more than I do about us being unreconciled. And I have failed to see how my need to fix things had led to a growing bitterness. I also realized again how patient the Lord’s love is for us, and so should my love for those who reject me.
So that morning, I let go of these relationships and my strong desire to fix them. I finally accepted that it is not within my power. Only the Holy Spirit can convict with effectiveness. I acknowledge that I am lousy at it. I also was reminded that my validation is not dependent on what others think or say about me. My validation is solely based on my Creator’s view, and he loves me and does not condemn me.
Rejection hurts deeply, particularly when it comes from people with whom we have been close. But, it needn’t turn into bitterness because, while someone has rejected us, the most important One never will. If we fix our eyes on Jesus, then it is much easier to let go of relationships and entrust them to him. He knows what is needed. We can let go and let him handle it.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references from the New International Version, 2011