“Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.” (Henri J. M. Nouwen)
Few things hurt more than the sense or feeling of having been rejected. The pain can enter deep into the bone and marrow and it can ache for a long time, sometimes even a life-time. There are lots of ways which can conspire to make us feel like this: ranging from letters or emails which go unanswered, to losing out on a position for which you were ideally qualified, to being ignored by an old friend on the street, to not being selected in a sporting team, to being dismissed by colleagues and peers, to missing out on the love of a parent, to not having our affection or passion reciprocated. All this hurts, especially if rejection comes from someone we have loved and trusted or looked up to and admired. We are all afraid of rejection. It unconsciously conjures up sickening thoughts of what the word originally meant: “to throw” or “to throw back”. When we experience this emotion we can allow for it to make us feel ‘unloved’ and ‘irrelevant’. It is implied, we are not good, that we are not worthy of the other’s respect or attention and so we are excluded. We are, therefore, made to feel unimportant.
The results of rejection have brought to an end a great number of lives (there is more than one way that we can ‘end’ the life of another), and not surprisingly it is the common denominator to most forms of punishment. Nowadays, we also see this in cyber-bullying and other forms of online terrorizing, which includes the fickleness of ‘friendship’ on Facebook. The fear of rejection, particularly after we having experienced it, can stop us from moving on, it can leave us dead in our tracks. Self-esteem and self-worth can be destroyed. It need not be that way.
Many people from different walks of life have not only been able to rise above numerous rejections, but also to succeed in becoming illuminating signposts. The highest example for those who hold to the Christian faith is Jesus Christ, the GodMan, who was himself “despised” and “rejected” (Isa. 53:3) and during the darkest hours of his life abandoned even by his closest friends (Mk. 14:10-72). Afterwards this rejection would become the cornerstone for the theology of hope and the gift of eternal life (Titus 1:2).
Beethoven, arguably the world’s greatest composer was considered “hopeless” and “lacking in talent” when he was a young man, experiencing plentiful rejections at the hands of prominent music masters. The important lessons of self-belief and determination which he realized along the way would also help him later in life when he continued to compose after he had lost most of his hearing. Beethoven’s grandest work according to many and one of the most played symphonies in the world, Symphony No. 9 (“the Choral”), was composed when he was almost entirely deaf.
What do we learn from such extraordinarily resolute spirits? The lessons are not difficult to understand, and though it takes practice and perseverance to apply them, it can be done. That is, we do not give up; we do not lay down the arms. We refuse to surrender our future to those who might make sport of wounding our dignity. Of course, we are not Christ, and we might not possess the brilliance of Beethoven, yet both in their own very unique way were deeply and profoundly immersed in the potentials and possibilities of our shared humanity.
Rejection does not mean we are failures, often enough it might mean that we are different and “stand-out”. Being marginalized forces us to discover other ways to approach those things which we genuinely desire, and to reconsider afresh who and what truly matter. We learn that to be rejected does not define our identity or determine our self-worth (which can only ever be belittled or diminished by self-rejection). We no longer measure ourselves by another’s ‘yardstick’. Individual freedom is also re-defined. There are times, as well, when rejection is sent by providence to protect us from destructive influences. And importantly, we are forced to look more intensely into the great mystery of why we had life breathed into us in the first place.