Rejection can lead us to form idols out of pain
Neuroscience has shown that social rejection sets off similar brain signals as physical wounds, so it feels just as real, but we will remember the pain of rejection more intensely than physical trauma. When unresolved and unconfessed, our painful memories of rejection can lead us to develop fleshly impulses that are contrary to God’s will for us.
Galatians 5:16-17 ESV But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
No one escapes social rejection, not even Jesus
Our need for social connection is as basic a need as food and shelter. But because we live in an imperfect world, no one escapes social rejection or abandonment – not even Jesus.
- Jesus was rejected by those He grew up with | Luke 4:28-29 ESV When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.
- He was rejected by those who didn’t understand who He is | Matthew 8:34 ESV And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.
- He was hated and rejected by the religious leaders who wanted to kill Him | Mark 14:1 ESV It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him,
- He was momentarily abandoned by God, the Father, separated from Him by taking on our sins | Mark 15:34 ESV And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We underestimate the real and painful effects of social rejection
Every one of us has been made to feel undesired and undesirable. Perhaps our parents were too caught up in their own problems to notice ours. Alternatively, they might have been overly demanding and critical. Or perhaps we did not have the desired looks, gender, qualifications or money. We might have been denied the right to speak our minds or were humiliated for our choices.
Early episodes of social rejection or abandonment are the most damaging, as they can imprint negatively on one’s self-esteem for a lifetime.
Because we only learn to understand, regulate, and express our emotions in our teenage years, we can carry emotional wounds from childhood (from birth until 12 years old) that we may not even be unaware of. Often, these wounds have been inflicted, unintentionally or intentionally, by our parents, teachers, and guardians.
If we were never taught to express our feelings as a child, we may still live with anxiety, helplessness, isolation, unworthiness or shame, because we did not know the words for those emotions back then and hence, never got a chance to address them. We may have also been taught that adults are always right, and instead of crying, we should be happy and thankful for what we have been given. As a result, we learnt that it was normal to feel bad, rejected, and unloved, and that we should accept everything as right. But if we were allowed to be honest, we would say that we felt socially rejected and abandoned.
While left unhealed, the effects of social rejection or abandonment continue to influence our decisions and actions for the rest of our lives. They become a subconscious but powerful driver of the things we do, which eventually determines what sort of tendencies we form.
God will not reject us when we seek Him with all our hearts
Praise God that He meets our deep need for connection 100% of the time. He will never reject us when we seek Him with our hearts. God promises to never cast us out. On the contrary, He will take us in, even if our own parents reject or abandon us.
Jeremiah 29:13 ESV You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
John 6:37 ESV All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Psalm 27:10 ESV For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.
- God hears all our cries | Psalm 22:24 ESV For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
- He is close to us in our pain | Psalm 34:18 ESV The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
- He will never forsake us | John 14:18 ESV “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
- He remembers our pain and tears | Psalm 56:8 ESV You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?
- He will manifest Himself to us when we follow His commandments | John 14:21 ESV Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
- He will console our souls | Psalm 94:18-19 ESV When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.
- He will heal our emotional wounds | Psalm 147:3 ESV He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
- He will meet our needs | Isaiah 41:17 ESV When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
- He will go before us and guide us | Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
How amazing it is to have a Heavenly Father who is all these things, and more! Sadly, many of us struggle to believe these truths deeply in our hearts because of lingering feelings of rejection.
Romans 8:31 ESV What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
The pain of past rejection can corrupt our hearts
Pain has an incredible power to drive believers in one of two main ways.
One, we can listen to and follow God and surrender our anxious and wounded hearts to Him for His full restoration and healing. In the process, we are freed from the traumatic aftermath of rejection and our bodies are relieved of our pain.
However, most of us listen to our pain instead because we don’t know better. Our pain begins to dictate our responses as our bodies remain enslaved to “obey its passions”. Consequently, we allow unresolved hurts to become idols that obstruct us from trusting God with childlike faith, as the following examples demonstrate.
Romans 6:6,12 ESV We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
Matthew 18:3-4 ESV and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
1. God’s Word: Lovingly correct and counsel one another
God made us to be connected to others. The sting of rejection doesn’t stop us from wanting to belong. We just become afraid to voice our desires. Deep inside us, we want people to like us and like being around us. Hence, some of us will do whatever it takes to make others happy. Some of us will not take well-intentioned and godly guidance and correction well because to us, it sounds too much like rejection – even when it is not. Our hearts have become hyper-sensitive and we take many things much more personally that we ought to. We may also find it hard to accept that God will discipline us for our own good, because we mistake His discipline for rejection or abandonment.
Colossians 3:16 ESV Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
James 5:19-20 ESV My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Ephesians 4:25 ESV … let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
2. God’s Word: Forgive one another for our grievances
Each new incident causes acute emotional pain. We are unaware that our pain is magnified only because we have not dealt with the previous, existing wounds. As a result of the magnified pain, we find it hard to see our own sin in the matter and to forgive others. If there is a problem, it must be someone else’s fault.
Colossians 3:13 ESV bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
3. God’s Word: Serve one another in love
We are attracted to church communities because they meet a deep subconscious need for acceptance. We may be unaware that our faith is more about the people we connect with at church than about connecting with God. We serve others out of our own desire for, rather than our abundance of, love.
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Luke 10:27 ESV And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
4. God’s Word: Accept and do not judge one another
To avoid rejection or being hurt again, we subconsciously set high standards for people. We are quick to pass judgments on them and find it hard to extend grace or accept people for their shortcomings and struggles. We criticize and talk about the faults of others, including friends and leaders from the church, without realizing that we are quick to condemn them because we don’t want to risk being hurt and letting imperfect people near us. However, that means we will never truly let anyone into our lives.
Romans 15:7 NIV Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Romans 14:13 ESV Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Ephesians 5:21 ESV submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Also, see The toxic effect of perfectionism.
Obstacles to receiving God’s healing
God wants to heal all of the unseen wounds that people have inflicted on our hearts over the years. He is nothing like the people who have hurt us. He is loving, gentle, kind, caring and perfect.
Matthew 11:28-29 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
God desires to free us from bondage to the pain we have suffered as a result of human rejection and abandonment. Yet many of us are held back by some misunderstandings.
1. Acknowledging the rejection
We can’t help how we feel. Our emotions can feel as real as a physical injury, and we cannot deny them.
If we have been hurt by people who mean well or whom we respect and do not want to blame, it can be hard to acknowledge to ourselves that we have been hurt. Acknowledging that we have felt rejected does not mean that we are accusing those who genuinely care for us of being bad or malicious. We are simply acknowledging the painful emotions that are still stuck within us. For instance, we need to be honest with ourselves if there have been instances where we:
- have not felt accepted for our genders
- have not felt accepted for our abilities
- have not felt accepted for our looks
- have not felt accepted for our choices
- have not felt affirmed
- have not felt encouraged
- have not felt guided and nurtured
- have not felt allowed to speak up
- have not felt physical affection
- have not felt protected and secure
- have not felt truly forgiven
- have not felt wanted
- have not felt validated as individuals
2. Trusting that God will not reject us too
If we don’t acknowledge that we have felt rejected, this underlying emotion will also pollute our relationship with God. We feel unworthy and undesirable before God, even though this is certainly not the case. Jesus considered us valuable enough to die for us.
Romans 5:6-8 ESV For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Tragically, we fall for the false belief that we ought to do more in order to feel worthy of God’s love and acceptance, and find it hard to believe that God is more committed to saving us than in condemning us.
John 3:17 ESV For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
3. Romanticising our pain
Certain poems, songs, and sob stories romanticise pain and suffering. We wrongly glorify stoicism, which teaches us to endure hardship without expressing our feelings or complaining. While this may help us cope when we relate to other people, it is not the way we are to relate with God. He wants us to pour our complaints to Him and tell Him all our troubles.
Psalm 142:1-2 With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
People under bondage to idols of pain tend to see things through dark lenses. Some people will fixate on the injustices of this world, replay past grievances as if they just occurred and live with a sense of entitlement that other people must make things right for them. Instead of living as victors through Christ who have learnt to overcome evil, they continue to live like victims of the brutalities of this world. They may even fantasise about revenge, unaware that they have fallen for Satan’s temptation to misuse their gifts of creativity and imagination.
We must not be overcome by such lies and temptations. Jesus came to heal our wounds and restore us to fullness, not to leave us wallowing in our past, romanticising our pain and drinking the poison and lies that Satan has poured into our wounds.
Psalm 147:3 ESV He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Also, see Please vent to God, not to people.
4. Doubting God will take our pain
God doesn’t want us to carry our emotional burdens one minute longer than we ought to – and gives us an illustration of chucking, flinging, or casting all our anxieties to Him. God promises to take away our heavyweights of pain. Many of us are too afraid to trust that He will do exactly what He promises. God’s Word reminds us of the need to humbly submit “under the mighty hand of God”, rather than our (wrong) preconceptions.
1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
5. Judging God
Those of us who have been badly hurt often seek a reason or someone to blame for our pain. Sometimes, that someone is God.
God did not create a world of suffering, mankind has. Human beings are prone to perpetuate pain and hurt others, instead of acting out of love and kindness. Otherwise, Jesus would not have had to come to earth to bring healing.
When pain skews our judgment, it can be tremendously hard to see things clearly. This leaves us vulnerable to being misled by Satan to judge God as being unjust, unkind and cruel. When we unwittingly fall for such false accusations about God, we choose to side with Satan. This is one of the greatest tragedies, because only God can restore, support, and strengthen us. Satan will only continue to destroy us.
1 Peter 5:8-10 ESV Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
6. Mis-using our gift of empathy on ourselves
God created us to feel deep emotions. Jesus himself was compassionate towards the hurting and the brokenhearted. He wept with those who wept. This gift of empathy is very powerful when we use it to bring comfort and loving care to those who are hurting.
Romans 12:15 ESV Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
John 11:33-35 ESV When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
This gift becomes corrupted when we focus only our own pain and other people’s offences, and neglect our own offences and other people’s pains. We fail to see that everyone suffers emotional pain at some level.
When we have not yet dealt with our own pain, we become afraid of feeling what other people feel. As such, we retreat to cutting off our emotions and killing off our gift of empathy. This leaves us trapped in perpetual unhealed pain that becomes an idol that keeps us from forgiving others and receiving God’s redemption. We can’t taste the abundant life that Jesus has promised us, simply because we have forgotten to go to Him for healing.
See testimony: Jesus reveals hidden pride to risk manager
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