For the past few months I’ve had the awesome privilege of speaking to families of juniors and seniors in high school about what the next chapter will bring. College? Trade school? Gap year? We discuss the options and how to chart the best course for their soon-to-fly-the-coup offspring.
Recently, I was speaking at a session and during the Q&A portion, a girl in the audience asked a question that no one else was willing to ask (but was probably on everyone’s mind). The girl was getting ready to pour herself out on college applications to be judged worthy or not by admission boards, so understandably she wanted to address the elephant in the room. She asked, “What do we do if we receive a rejection letter?” Her question was sincere, and even though I wanted to hug her right then and there, she was looking for a practical answer.
So, I gave her one. Although probably not the answer she expected.
I said, “If you receive a rejection letter from a college, I recommend you do two things: Number one, give yourself a moment to feel the disappointment of thwarted plans. Number two, fall on your knees and thank the Lord for protecting you from whatever is outside of His plan for you. Praise His holy Name for clear direction through rejection.”
I could see the wide eyes in the audience as they digested the recommendation of thanking God for rejection letters. Weren’t those rejection letters supposed avoided at all costs? Isn’t that what all this hoop jumping, resume polishing and service-hour acquiring was supposed to fortify them against? Praising the Lord for a rejection letter…. It seemed like a foreign – yet oh so welcome – concept. A paradigm shift, if you will, and a realignment with truth.
It’s easy to see how being grateful in the face of rejection is a hard pill to swallow. The word “reject” is from the Latin word rēiectus, which means “to throw back.” We go to great lengths to avoid rejection. We will spend money we don’t have, forfeit sleep we desperately need, erase healthy boundaries, and quiet our own God-given intuition for the approval of others. Who wants to put it all out there only to be thrown back or rebuffed – much less thank God for it?
This week I have a birthday and so I’m waxing nostalgic about all that I have learned at the nearly (but not!) half-century mark in my life. The truth is, the audacious advice I gave to the high school students was built on the faithfulness God has displayed in my life – and much of that includes painful-at-the-time rejection. Looking back, God has used rejection as a protection in so many circumstances in my life. And I’m fall-on-my-knees thankful for them.
The relationships that didn’t work out; the dream job with no offer; the friend groups with impenetrable barriers to entry – viewing these memories through His lens has given me the gumption to see former snubs as not-yet-ripe blessings.
God has used rejection as a redirection from my plans to His will. Thankfully, the rejection in my life has moved me to trust His plans more than I trust my own. I’ve learned over and over — there is protection in the rejection.
I don’t know one person who doesn’t have a story (more like stories) of rejection. It seems to be written into the fabric of our humanity – as if being a part of this fallen world comes with a rejection clause. We may experience it in different ways and at different times, but we all have tasted the bitterness of rejection. But, we shouldn’t let rejection define us. Instead, we need to let rejection refine us as we submit to the Lord’s will.
And His will might include rejection.
It did for Jesus. The long-awaited Messiah was not welcomed with open arms. He was hunted at birth (Matthew 2:16). Opposition and disbelief followed Him (Luke 4:16-29). His authority was questioned (Mark 6:3; John 5:43; 6:64-67). He was spit upon, hit, and mocked (Matthew 26:67). It was the rejection, though, that paved the way to the cross.
His rejection led to our protection. We read about the Friday His body was nailed to the cross and we call it… Good. It is in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can be eternally accepted by Him. God has taken rejection off the table for His children. Instead, He is welcoming, accepting and inviting: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, emphasis mine).
Rejection is hurtful. It wounds our pride and breaks our hearts. And Jesus knew we would carry the burden of rejection in this world – as He did. Even as we face rejections of every kind on this earth, we can fall on our knees, thankful that His hand is on us, and He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Nobody’s life goes according to (their own) plan. We all face disappointments, hurts and low points. Maybe it’s a college rejection letter, an unrequited love, an absent parent, or any of the countless other ways we can be thrown back after putting ourselves out there. It’s in those valleys that God meets us and even offers protection in the rejection.
I challenge you to think back on rejection you have faced. Where have you found blessing in that rejection? Are there still parts of being rejected you need to invite Jesus to heal?
Dear Lord, thank You for never rejecting Your children. You have made us joint-heirs with Christ – which is a truth that I may never be able to fully grasp this side of Heaven. You tell us nothing can separate us from Your love (Romans 8:38). There is no rejection in Your presence. Thank You, Lord for every rejection we have faced as we know You waste nothing. We accept all pain that brings us closer to You. Your will be done on Earth and in our lives. We praise Your holy Name. Amen.