Moving Forward after Rejection

Mark 6:1-13 

RejectedHave you ever been rejected?

Sure you have!

Wasn’t it great?


Just kidding.

Rejection stinks.

I remember being rejected when I was thirteen. I wanted to sing. I loved music. I sang in the school choir. But my music teacher told me personally once, in front of some other students, that music wasn’t my thing. I wasn’t very good at singing. I should stick to other things.
I was demoralized. I felt like it was the end of the world. I cried when no one was looking.

And then, the worst part:

I started to believe it.

I wanted to quit choir and stop singing altogether. I believed the narrative.

Of course, that’s just a small, somewhat superficial example.

I cannot tell you how many people I know who have been rejected in big and terrible ways. People I care for deeply were rejected time and time again when they were young children. They were told that they were no good. When they showed enthusiasm for something, they were met with scoffing and sarcasm. Maybe they were rejected by family, friends, teachers, or even pastors.

So they stopped being enthusiastic. They stopped singing, or writing, or dancing, or drawing, or running, or showing random acts of kindness, or doing the things they loved.

Why do we remember rejection so much?
Why does it follow us for much of our lives?

Rejection deals a direct blow to our ego. The ego is the inherent part of the self which holds intact our pride, esteem and self-worth. So when the ego is bruised, a core element of our being is damaged. We automatically begin to blame ourselves, assuming there must be something wrong with us and criticizing the behavior that led to our rejection.[1]

And some follow-up questions.

Why do we seek approval of certain people, and not others?
Is it more difficult to be rejected by those who know us best?

Today’s Mark story is all about rejection.
Jesus of Nazareth was rejected and in his hometown, no less.

I would argue that this is what attracts so many to the person of Jesus—not that he was some supernatural force—but that he experienced failure and rejection just like we do.

Jesus, in the story, marvels at the way he his rejected by his family and friends. In typical Markan style, there are no details about what “marveling” meant, but I’m going to assume that Jesus was upset. And yet, he doesn’t overreact to the rejection or become defensive. He heals who he can, he does what he can, and he tries to model this for his followers.

Jesus’ response is simple: a Jewish custom: shake off the dust.
Shaking the dust off of one’s feet was a custom of pious Jews returning to Jerusalem after spending time in a Gentile, non-Jewish land. It symbolized separation from any clinging form of defilement. But of course, Jesus was constantly with Gentiles, and in Gentile land. So his mention of this custom served to be a teaching moment for his disciples. They were not to hold onto the feelings that come with rejection. They were to let go of any attachments that kept them from moving on.

Moving forward from rejection means accepting what we cannot change.

For Jesus, it was in accepting that not all the people he spoke to or dealt with would accept his message of love and mercy. He had to accept [and I’m sure this was hard to do] that even some of his family and friends would reject him. That’s tough. But it’s real. And in accepting that, Jesus didn’t move towards resentment. He moved towards accepting himself as he was, and passed on that same advice to his disciples. I’m sure they struggled with it too, but it was good advice.

He told them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; only wearing sandals and a single tunic. Metaphorically, you probably get the idea. Don’t carry baggage with you, as much as possible. It will weigh you down in this life. As I mentioned before, this is about being free of attachments as much as possible, whether material or relationship-wise. This is becoming aware, but also stepping towards freedom and honesty. That’s why they told by Jesus to stay in someone’s home as long as they were welcome–to really stay. To appreciate the hospitality, the friendship, the connection. But if there was not an acceptance and instead a rejection, they were to leave without attaching themselves to the situation. In other words, don’t get defensive!

letitgoEveryone is different and looks at the world differently, do don’t expect everyone to think like you.

It’s great advice for us.

So often we focus on achieving someone’s acceptance. We do it at school, at work, in public, with friends, and at home with family. So when we are rejected, we take it so hard. But in order to move forward, we have to come to accept that not everyone will approve of everything we say and do. It’s just fact. Even our family and closest friends will not always accept how we live.

And that’s okay.

We are meant to live fully and wholly as we are. We are not meant to live someone else’s life or to fulfill someone else’s expectations for us. If we accept that about ourselves and about others, something wonderful can happen–albeit slowly as part of a process. We can find the capacity within ourselves to stop seeking approval all the time. We can just be ourselves and that is freedom. We won’t hang on to past rejections, giving them so much power in the present moment. We’ll accept ourselves and we’ll accept others. We’ll shake the dust off of our feet when necessary, and we’ll walk forward.

Friends, there is so much that we can learn from rejection.
First, that everyone is rejected at some point. It’s not just you.

Second, moving on from rejection orients us to see the world differently. For me, it meant that I would continue to sing, but under different circumstances. I didn’t seek the approval of my music teacher. But I didn’t stop singing.

Further, if people tell you “no” or “you can’t” that’s just them. You alone can tell yourself no or yes or what you can or cannot do.

Lastly, it’s not about you. People make subjective judgements about themselves and about others [including you] every day. And those judgements change in the blink of an eye.

When somebody rejects you, they are acting on their own insecurities and fears. It is encouraging to consider that the person who rejects you is dealing with his/her own personal issues; most likely you did nothing to cause them to reject you.

Moving on from rejection can mean beginning a new day and finding new opportunities.

[1] Dr. Carmen Harra, “How to Deal with Rejection”, Huffington Post.

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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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