Rejection is perhaps the deepest pain we can feel as humans. Years ago, before there were limitations on the kind of studies you do, they tested babies and the importance of human contact. In the study, one group of babies was fed and their basic needs attended to, but also held and nurtured. Another group of babies was fed and their basic needs attended to, but not held or nurtured with human touch. As the study continued, the group of babies that had the benefit of human touch thrived, whereas the babies that were deprived of human contact died.
Clearly, you can see why these types of studies are not allowed any longer! But the results of the study show us how our Creator intended for us to be loved and be in community with other people. When we feel rejected or unwanted by others, such rejection can have a serious impact on our physical and emotional health — and these impacts reach beyond the infant years.
In fact, if you take a look at the details of many of the high school shooters who have turned against their own classmates, you see a common theme: rejection. These individuals sought retaliation against others who had laughed at them or belittled them. So great was the sting of others’ rejection, they sought revenge with gunfire. The bizarre and violent retaliatory tactics utilized by those who have been rejected or feel unwanted aren’t limited to the high school shooting category. If you choose to investigate other crimes, you will see that in many cases, horrific acts of murder or harm against another person started with a rejection of some kind.
Clearly, then, its important that we take a look at rejection and how to react when we are rejected — because otherwise, we can fall into a cycle of unhealthy behavior that can have negative impacts on our physical or emotional well-being.
Individuals in the Bible Who Suffered Rejection
There is no better place we can turn to than the Bible for vivid examples of individuals who experienced rejection. Leah was someone who wasn’t wanted by her husband. In fact, her husband, Jacob, was tricked into marrying her by Leah’s own father. Jacob actually desired her sister and had been promised her sister, Rachel. So, after the wedding night when Jacob discovered that he hadn’t been given Rachel, but rather Leah, he demanded the sister that he had worked for. He did get Rachel as his second wife, but he never loved both of his wives equally.
Leah spent much of her marriage trying to earn the affections of her disinterested husband. In fact, she didn’t have much leverage in the relationship, so she clung to the one thing that would get her some measure of attention: she bore children. She birthed son after son in an attempt to win her husband’s heart, saying things like, “Surely my husband will love me now” (Genesis 29:32), and, “At last my husband will become attached to me” (Genesis 29:34). But her husband just loved her sister, Rachel, despite Leah’s attempts to gain his attention. At last, we see a reprieve in Leah’s striving when she says after the birth of her fourth son, “This time I will praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35). Here, she looks to God as her Source, rather than her husband. However, her rivalry with her sister didn’t end, and she did continue to have more children in an effort to “out-do” her sister.
Similarly, we see in the story of Zacchaeus a man who was rejected by his community. His rejection was due to the fact that he was a tax collector and cheated those he collected from, getting rich from the extra profits. However, although it doesn’t tell us this expressly in the story, maybe Zacchaeus’ rejection started long before he became a tax collector. Maybe Zacchaeus always felt like the odd man out because he was so short. Maybe he relished his power over others in his role as tax collector and liked being able to tax those who had rejected him in the past. Or maybe, as advocated in a study I read on rejection, each time Zacchaeus cheated someone, he was rejected — and with each rejection, he took money from the individuals who rejected him. Again, this is just speculation, but it is possible.
What both of these individuals show us is that rejection is painful, but people who are rejected aren’t without sin of their own. In the case of Leah, she got caught in a cycle of approval-seeking and people-pleasing, as each time she had a child she presented the child to her husband with hope that he would love her. She finally broke that cycle when she began looking to God for approval. Similarly, although we’re not expressly told this, Zacchaeus’ rejection by the community may have been that which contributed or even started his pattern of cheating others.
Getting Caught in a Cycle of Rejection
As I mentioned in my last post, in Mike Riches’ book Living Free, he talks about the idea that often in our rejection, we give the enemy access in our lives because in our anger over the rejection, we turn to ungodly reactions or fleshly coping mechanisms to deal with our pain. As the Bible tells us, we are not to anger in our sin and give a foothold [topos] to Satan (Ephesians 4:26, 27). As Riches explains, when we allow our anger to fester over a rejection and don’t resolve it, we may allow that anger to cause us to react in wrong ways to our rejection. In doing so, we give territory to the enemy.
In our wrong responses to others, which might include lashing out in anger, gossiping, talking maliciously about the person, etc., we may open our lives to the enemy and then continue to give him space to operate by developing patterns of thinking and behavior that become strongholds in our lives. These strongholds serve as obstacles in our Christian walk and must be demolished in order for us to walk in freedom (2 Corinthians 10:4). Not only that, but our ungodly responses can help us get caught in a cycle of rejection. I am basing this term on what Riches calls an offense cycle, but basically what the cycle looks like is this:
- We experience a rejection or hurt.
- In our anger, we react in ungodly ways in our thoughts and actions.
- By acting in wrong ways in our anger, we give topos to the enemy — a place of access for him to influence our thoughts and behavior.
- Our ungodly behavior — whether it be bitterness, anger, resentment, negative thoughts about ourselves, etc. — causes more rejection.
- When we are rejected again, we react again in ungodly ways in our thoughts and actions, and the cycle continues.
For those of us caught in such a cycle, we may wonder why we are constantly rejected and wonder what we can do to stop being rejected. However, as Riches says, most of us won’t be able to see the role we are playing in the rejection, and we’ll simply blame others for the rejections and take on a victim mentality. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, if we are willing to come to Him and allow Him to pierce through our defense mechanisms and open ourselves up to His help and healing, we can break out of the cycle of rejection that we are caught in. That doesn’t mean we won’t ever be rejected again, but it does mean that we aren’t inviting those rejections with our own behavior, and we’ll be able to handle rejection in a healthy way when it comes around again.
I’ll be discussing the particulars of how to break out of a rejection cycle in my next post, but to touch on it briefly, we can begin to break out of the cycle when we forgive those who have hurt us in our past and ask forgiveness of those we’ve hurt. In addition, when new hurts and offenses come up, we refuse to retaliate or turn to fleshly coping mechanisms, but instead turn to God for healing and choose to forgive those who hurt us — and even bless and do good to our enemies. Luke 6:27 says: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
I’m not saying that there is never a time that we don’t confront someone or call someone out on their behavior. We need the counsel of the Holy Spirit for that, but we do so in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1), and we do so in love (Ephesians 4:15). Blessing others and seeking not to retaliate against our enemies will help us avoid falling into a cycle of rejection. And, if we have already been caught in a cycle of rejection, we can find an out by choosing to take part in the steps of forgiveness I outlined above.
Living Lives Free of Offense
God wants us to live lives that are free (John 10:10). He does not want us to succumb to heavy chains of unforgiveness. The Bible tells us that “Satan prowls like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We can resist his schemes by refusing to get trapped in a cycle of rejection and instead taking the biblical response to offense. Although harder initially, this refusal to retaliate against our enemies and insistence on blessing and forgiving them keeps our mind and bodies at peace, and out of torment and distress.
Not only can we get caught in an unhealthy rejection cycle when rejected, we might also attempt to strive for others’ approval in an unhealthy way. Check out the following resources on giving over our relationships and stresses about our performance at work to God: “Learning to Depend on God” and “Spiritual Rest: Letting go of Trying so Hard in Our Work and Relationships.”