There are two things you and I were never designed to experience: death and rejection.
That is why they both feel so foreign and hurt so much: they are utterly contrary to what we were made for.
When God created the world, everything in it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Neither physical death nor the death of relationships were part of his perfect design. But when mankind fell into sin, both experiences invaded our lives (Gen. 3:16-24).
Adam and Eve rejected God and passed on a legacy of physical and relational death to their posterity. Cain rejected Abel as he slew him. Jacob rejected Leah and infected his household with jealousy. His sons rejected Joseph and broke their father’s heart.
And so the narrative goes throughout Scripture … including the dark night when Peter rejected Jesus as he walked alone to his death.
Rejection Always Hurts
Since we were not designed for relational rejection, it always hurts.
Like the time I went to tell a high school girlfriend that I thought we should stop dating. But before I could share my thoughts, she said, “Ken, I think we should break up.”
Was I relieved to know she had arrived at the same conclusion? Yes … but that feeling was dwarfed by the pain of realizing that she no longer wanted to spend time with me. Even though I planned to end the relationship, I cringed when she beat me to the punch.
Most of us have had experiences that hurt far more. A long-time friend turns his back on you. A stranger disparages your race or family. An employer demotes or fires you. A parent or child won’t return your calls. Worst of all, a spouse says, “I don’t want to live with you anymore.” The closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the more rejection feels like death.
Even if we avoid these kinds of “mega-rejections,” we’re often wounded more than we like to admit by interactions that still feel like personal rejection.
A married child vacations more often with her in-laws than with you. A pastor fails to visit when you’re sick or struggling. A church member says your sermons aren’t feeding him anymore. A boss dismisses a proposal or promotes someone else instead of you. A spouse prefers to work late, watch television, play video games or focus on his smartphone rather than enjoy your company. Or someone simply criticizes your words, ideas, looks or parenting.
We try to act like these things don’t bother us, but they do. Because they feel like rejection.
Yes, it’s also because we place unrealistic expectations on others. And because we depend way too much on the attention and affirmation of others. Any time we make an idol out of a relationship —by looking to other people for the meaning, approval, and fulfillment that only God can provide—we set ourselves up for grief.
But no matter how close we are to God, it will still hurt when other people reject us or things we value. David knew God intimately, but he was still devastated when a close friend betrayed him (Ps. 55:12-14). Paul saw Jesus face-to-face and consecrated his very life to him, and yet he was grieved over and over when churches he’d planted rejected his teaching (Gal. 4:19-20).
We are simply not designed to experience broken relationships, so every time they come, it hurts.
Rejection Can Be Reversed
Let’s look at an illustration of this dynamic. October Sky is a movie based on the real life story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner’s son who was inspired by the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 to take up rocketry. In doing so, he rejected his father’s wish that he follow in his steps as a foreman in the coal mines. As a result, his father pulled away from him, leaving Homer unsupported as he struggled to follow his dreams. Rejection often begets rejection.
But when Homer faced an overwhelming crisis, his father made a great personal sacrifice to help him win a national science fair. As a result, Homer received a college scholarship and earned a meeting with Dr. Wernher Von Braun, the father of modern rocketry.
When Homer returned home, he tried to reach out to his father, as this poignant scene shows. Watch carefully and you’ll see how difficult it is to repair the deep hurts of mutual rejection. (If a video screen does not appear below, click here. )
What did you see? A boy celebrating a great achievement and longing to share it with his father? A father putting up walls because he not only felt rejected but also jealous of the famous man who had inspired his son? A boy still trying unsuccessfully to bond with his father?
All too many relationships end this way. But it’s not inevitable, as the final scene in this movie illustrates. (If a video screen does not appear below, click here. )
The climax of this movie is not the flawless launch of a rocket. Nor is it a meeting with a famous scientist, a full-ride scholarship or Homer’s eventual career with NASA.
The climax to this story, like all great stories, is entirely relational. It’s a son making himself vulnerable by asking his father to affirm his dreams. It’s a father conquering his own hurt, jealousy and fear to support his son. It’s a son choking up when he sees his dad in the crowd and then walking toward him with a boyish smile to invite him to launch the rocket.
But the ultimate climax is a father overcoming his natural inhibitions, as well as the mistakes and pains of the past, putting his arm around his son, looking him tenderly in the eye and sending the wordless message, “I’m sorry for rejecting you; I was wrong. Let’s put it behind us and build a new relationship.”
The Gospel Reverses Rejection
It’s easy to watch a movie about reversing rejection; it’s far more difficult and even frightening to actually do this yourself, regardless of whether you rejected someone else or someone else rejected you.
Fortunately, God has given us a clear path forward. It’s called the gospel.
The gospel of Christ  is the greatest example the world has ever seen of how to overcome rejection. As Colossians 1:19-22 declares:
For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
Although mankind rejected God, God did not reject us. Even though each of us has sinned against God and gone our own way, he is a faithful shepherd. He sent his Son Jesus into this world to seek what was lost, to offer himself up as a sacrifice for all of our sins and to open a path for reconciliation with our heavenly Father.
Through the gospel, God has given us an example to inspire us to do all we can to reverse rejection. Through his Word, he has given us practical guidance on how to reverse rejection (see Rom. 15:5-7; Eph. 2:14-22; Eph. 4:30-32; Col. 3:12-15). Through his Spirit, God has given us power to overcome our judgments, fears and bitterness, and to clothe ourselves with the patience, humility, gentleness and courage of Christ as we do whatever we can to reverse the rejections we’ve caused or experienced.
Sometimes this will only require making a simple but meaningful effort to demonstrate that we want to renew a relationship, just as Homer did when he invited his dad to the launch, and as his dad did when he actually showed up. At other times, it may involve a peacemaking effort that involves specific confession and forgiveness (see Biblical Peacemaking -Breathing Grace in the Midst of Conflict ). And sometimes it may require the assistance of a trained conciliator .
We cannot control how others will respond to our efforts, but out of love for Christ, we can do all that we can to live at peace with others (Rom. 12:18). What they do in response is between them and God.
– Ken Sande
- Do you sometimes set yourself up for rejection through unrealistic expectations, or by depending too much on the attention and affirmation of others? How would drawing nearer to Jesus reduce the grip of these desires? (see Phil. 4:11-13; 2Cor. 9:8)
- What’s the most painful rejection you’ve ever experienced? Why did it hurt so much? How might God be using that experience to refine your character, to deepen your dependence on him, and to give you more compassion for others who have had a similar experience?
- Is there someone who may feel rejected by you, whether you meant it or not? How can you draw on the example of Homer and his father, and, more importantly, the example and power of Christ, to seek reconciliation? (Matt. 5:23-24; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 4:1-3; Phil. 2:3-4)
- There are times when we are legitimately compelled to disagree with others’ values or goals, to end a dating relationship, to quit a job or terminate an employee, or to leave a church. When doing so, what can we do to reduce the sense that we are rejecting others as persons, and to emphasize the fact that we still see them as being gifted by God and precious to him? (see Matt. 7:12)
- Some people will feel rejected simply because we give them little or no attention, often because we’re so preoccupied with our own agendas. One way to overcome this tendency is to develop the habit of constantly practicing the SERVE principle –when you walk into the office each morning, when you greet your family in the evening, and when you go to church Sunday morning (and are tempted to gravitate to your comfortable circle of friends instead of reaching out to others).
Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes, whether with a few friends or as a staff, ministry or church devotional.
© 2022 Ken Sande
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