You ever tell someone how you are feeling, and then they try to reinterpret what your feeling or what you’ve experienced? Let me reassure you, when people do that they are usually wrong for doing it. The past month I have had a handful of conversations where people have been frustrated by my description of rejection and have tried to say something along the lines of, “you shouldn’t take this as a rejection.”
They are basically saying, “just lie to yourself until you feel better,” instead of what would be helpful. What is helpful when someone is rejected is to say, “how can you move past this with hopeful expectation so that this rejection need not be destructive to your identity or living well?” Granted that is a lot more to say but much more helpful than minimizing someone’s experience.
When one tries to reinterpret someone elses rejection as something other than what it actually is, it can leave the rejected person stuck. In hope for some immediate relief, we deprive someone of dealing with grief sufficiently even in the smallest disappointments. We can muddy things that are clear.
And honestly, I don’t blame them. Most people are not trained to deal with loss, disappointment, or rejection. Popular psychology and some churches proclaim a message where we ignore the reality of rejection or loss in favor of some kind of fantasy faith in which we are asked to pretend that if we are positive enough, and work hard enough, then wealth, health, and happiness will pile up. They manage to hold this position whilst ignoring other contributing factors or the exploitation of the unseen other in favor of keeping a plastic divinity.
That’s enough of that soap box. Suffice is to say rejection is a part of Christianity.
Luke 10:16 Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.
The word reject here is the Greek Word atheteo. And it means a lot of things, many of which are more gently phrased then you’d expect. It means: to un-place, to properly do away with, reject what is already laid down, to set aside, nullify, make void, to break faith, refuse to respect, to cancel, to disannul, to disregard, to pass over or to refuse to acknowledge.
Hopefuly in the extensiveness of the definition, you don’t lose sight of the point. It’s simply saying no to someone or to a circumstance that is put before you. It is laying aside what’s before you, asking it to move out of the way. It becomes harmful when we try to couch rejection as something partial, for instance, I want parts of a person but don’t want to deal with all of them. Or when we say, I want the icing and not the cake. One does not get the luxury of rejecting the part without rejecting the whole.
Wanting to say no to a person or opportunity and still wanting the good parts at one’s disposal is selfish. Saying no is agreeing to relinquish any hold. It would be like saying to Jesus, I want the benefits but not the bloody death. I want salvation or the person of Christ to be an invincible Superhero not a vulnerable God. When we project that onto others or opportunities which are always imperfect, we essentially rip a person apart when we are asking only for their best parts.
Don’t get me wrong, it is completely fine to reject or pass over on a person or opportunity. That is not as much the issue as the lack of self-reflection in being able to recognize why or even who you are rejecting. I don’t think most people think about this. I think most people think through the lens of will this hinder me from something or someone better. We are trapped by faith fantasies and avoid being careful or loving toward the person in front of us.
When we are presented with what’s in front of us, instead of taking the other into consideration we treat them like a mirror and immediately evaluate what we get out of this situation. And instead of giving them vulnerability or honesty, we condescendingly applaud their attempts, recount what led us to a particular juncture and secretly hope that everyone moves on or worse that things stay exactly the same. And usually we do one of the two. Humanity has proven resilient in the face of rejection. People recover.
With that being said, I’d like to offer advice when it comes to receiving and giving rejection. This blog is usually never practical but today it is.
1. Offer a why. Do the work of knowing why to the degree that you can honestly say you treated that person with dignity. Whether you’re an employer or a single person, treat people like you care for them without treating them like a child that went on the potty for the first time. If you know why someone is not what you’re looking for, maybe tell them (let it be known there is a scale, if a rando is asking you out or if the job is flipping burgers or there hasn’t been a human interview/interaction, I get it.
2. Be as honest as possible. Don’t leave anything on the table for a later conversation if it is within your power to finish what you’ve set in motion by rejection. If you are uncertain, also say why. Allow the person to speak to your reservations
3. Care for the person in front of you. Don’t pander to their manipulation if they are manipulating or trying to get you to feel guilty, but also don’t pander to what makes you most comfortable. Caring for someone else is a labor of love that does not go unnoticed.
4. If possible and within reason, point people to other opportunities. Honestly, if I was trying to hire someone for a job and knew someone had skills and interests in other things or knew someone who was looking for someone like this person, I wouldn’t want to deprive them from other opportunities especially if they are good. Now apply that same reasoning to relationships. Also, keep care in mind, don’t pass someone off to a trainwreck of a situation. Maybe you know someone who would be perfect for that person. And if you wouldn’t set up the person your rejecting up with their worst enemy then you probably don’t need to say that, but in some cases it might not hurt to insinuate that.
5. Don’t just have a generic email of “you were an extraordinary candidate but we went with someone else” because that is not helpful. A good metric to know what to say ususally corresponds with how long the interview process was. What did you put the person through prior to your rejection? The “I see you as just a friend” line is good for protecting you but not very helfpul if you have no reason for giving someone time to get to know them. Don’t feed someone a tried and true line that has worked for someone you met once. There are certainly exceptions to every rule, but none of those exceptions excuse you from in humility considering others better than yourselves according to the method of imitating Jesus laid out in Philippians 2:3-4, if one calls themselves apart of the family of faith.
I say all this to suggest there are bad reasons to reject people and opportunities. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to not think about the other people involved, and while I know grace covers it, we miss out on an opportunity to be conduits of grace when we are flippant about our rejection. I also say all this to suggest that rejection from humans is not the worst thing in the world but rejecting Jesus is.
If you’re rejected, Jesus invites you into good company. Accepting rejection and moving foward can free you to find new opportunity and new people who will perhaps treat who you are with tender love and care. I pray for your strength on the journey friends.