Some time ago, a story of a girl who helped her boyfriend commit suicide via text shocked the nation. In this sad case, the girl was aware of the boy’s intentions to end his life, and texted and talked with him on the phone when he was in the process of poisoning himself with carbon monoxide.
In the trial, the prosecutor noted that a motive she had when she persuaded him to commit suicide was attention. According to an article from US News and World Report, she thought by having a boyfriend who had committed suicide she could garner attention and sympathy as the “grieving girlfriend.”
Clearly, this girl’s need to have social acceptance was great enough that she was willing to encourage another human being to kill himself.
As her actions show us, social acceptance is a need that we all have. Often, though, we don’t feel accepted or loved, and in that place of rejection we can make terrible decisions that only make us experience more rejection. For this young woman, her decision brought more rejection by the community and her boyfriend’s family — and also a 15-month jail sentence.
While most of us won’t go to these lengths for acceptance, we may make poor choices in our desire for acceptance. However, even when we make bad decisions because of our desire for acceptance or attempt to hurt others who have rejected us, we can break out of those bad decisions and not be caught in a cycle of rejection. To look a little closer at how we do this, we can look at a story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10.
Zacchaeus: A Man Caught in a Cycle of Rejection?
Zacchaeus was a guy no one liked. He was a tax collector and collected beyond what was due. People hated him because he stole from them. Yet, Jesus had a different reaction to him. Jesus sought him out. In fact, Jesus knew exactly where to find him — in a sycamore-fig tree — and called him down from the tree and invited himself over for dinner.
Jesus didn’t act disgusted by Zacchaeus or give him a religious speech about how he needed to clean himself up. Jesus just loved Zacchaeus. He was willing to get close and personal in this man’s life. Though Zacchaeus was guilty of sin, he was searching. He was lonely. He was in need. Jesus knew that. Jesus knew what Zacchaeus needed to break out of his rut.
Zacchaeus was caught up in a sin cycle of stealing from others, but we also might say that it was possible that Zacchaeus was caught up in a cycle of rejection. What does that look like exactly?
I am basing this “cycle of rejection” definition on what Pastor Mike Riches defines as an offense cycle in Living Free. Basically, people who have been rejected have been sinned against. People have laughed at them or have been unkind to them or have mistreated them. In response, the person has acted in sinful ways in their anger.
Unfortunately, this sin response has plunged them into further rejection because their actions/sin gave a foothold, or place of access, to the enemy. Because they’ve given access to the enemy, behaviors that are undesirable have resulted: uncontrollable anger, bitterness, etc. This, in turn, has made the person experience more rejection because of their undesirable behaviors — and the cycle continues.
Could it be that Zacchaeus was caught in a cycle of rejection? We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible, according to one study, that as he cheated people out of money and became hated, he fought back by taking more money. Or maybe he was laughed at for his small stature. Maybe he had “short man syndrome,” and he attained an important job to show everyone how important he really was — only to find himself isolated in a big house, shunned by everyone in town.
Whether he was cheating others because of their rejection of him or just to get rich, Jesus’ love for him helped Zacchaeus break out of his sinful pattern of stealing. Zacchaeus broke out of his sin cycle by repenting and seeking restitution, choosing to do right to the people he had wronged. And, if indeed Zacchaeus was caught up in a cycle or rejection, Jesus helped Zacchaeus not only with his habit of stealing, but with the roots of his rejection as well.
We Can Choose How We React to Rejection
So what does this have to do with you? While we most of the time don’t have any control over the mistreatment or rejection that comes our way, we can choose how we respond. Chances are if we have been rejected, we may have turned to a sinful behavior as a way to cope or lashed out at the people who have hurt us.
However, doing so only gets us caught up in sinful cycle that puts us in bondage. With God’s help, we can break free. Like Zacchaeus, by utilizing forgiveness and taking steps of restitution, we can make right areas that we have wronged others. The following are steps based on those outlined in Riches’ book:
What We Should Do If We’ve Been Rejected or Are Caught in a Cycle of Rejection
1. Ask God to help you identify your wounds of rejection.
We may be able to point to an event or situation that caused our feelings of rejection. However, in some cases, we may have no idea how our wounds entered in or what the root cause of our pain is. Ask God to reveal to you what your wounds are so you can find healing.
I once had a series of dreams where God showed me people from my life that had wounded me. Though the people and wounds were real, the scenarios in my dream were not. They were fictitious, but each one illustrated the wound I was hurt by in each relationship.
After God revealed my wounds to me, I prayed that God would help me forgive each of the people who had hurt me. And, after that experience, I began to see the people and situations differently. In fact, the illustrations in my dreams were sort of funny. After processing through the pain with God, I began to laugh at some of the situations. What had been so hurtful ceased to hurt me any longer.
2. Forgive the people who hurt you.
Once you’ve pressed through the wounding events and are able to identify the wounds, ask God to help you forgive the people. Be specific: “God, so-and-so hurt me when they [fill-in-the-blank]. Help me forgive them for [fill-in-the-blank].” Give it over to God. If the memory pops up at a later time, refuse to give place to the thoughts. Shut reoccurring thoughts of anger down immediately so the wounds cannot take a hold of you once more.
3. Ask God to reveal your own sinful reactions to others’ sin.
This is a hard step. I am not going to minimize that, but ask God to reveal to you ways that you have wrongly reacted to the rejections and injustices done to you. Ask God to reveal to you steps of restitution that need to take place with other people. In your place of hurt, were there ways that you lashed out at others? Were there ways that you retaliated?
It may be awkward to approach the other person and apologize. The person may have difficulty accepting your apology. However, know that you are not responsible for their response — only yours. Give the other person time to come to terms with your wrongdoing and understand that the person may not wish to forgive you or have anything to do with you. However, know that when you apologize, you’re free because you took the right steps despite the other person’s reaction.
4. Stay close to God in the process.
Keep connected with God during and after this process of forgiveness. Satan will attempt to re-insert thoughts and memories about ways this person has hurt you if you let him. Even after you are healed from a wound, there will be the temptation at a later time to hold unforgiveness against a person. Continually make the choice to live free of emotional wounds and forgive others so that you don’t get caught up in a cycle of rejection.
If you are angry at a person in a current situation, remember that the devil is looking for a foothold (Ephesians 4:26, 27). Ephesians warns us not to sin in our anger for good cause! Any time you feel mad, take time to vent to God (not others!) and process through your pain. Every time thoughts of your offense surface, as Riches advocates, work vigilantly to ward off those thoughts rather than nurture them. Pray about ways you can actively bless the people acting as enemies in your life (Luke 6:27, 28).
Like Zacchaeus, you have the chance to break free from a cycle of rejection. Jesus’ love is enough to heal you of any and all wounds. As Riches outlines, you can adopt a new pattern of reacting to rejection in your life.
Rather than exist in a cycle of rejection or unforgiveness, you can adopt a new forgiveness cycle, as he says, that includes identifying and naming the hurt, confessing thoughts of anger, repenting and resisting sin responses and coping mechanisms, and blessing and releasing your offender.
This is an article in a 3-part series on rejection. Check out the first article in the series to find out more about dealing with rejection in a healthy manner. Also, check out the related links below the author bio.
To learn more about what restitution looks like, check out my journey to emotional healing that involved going back to several people from my past.