All of us, in one way or another, struggle with the fear of rejection. For some, it is a constant way of life, especially for those who are still fighting against the wounds of abuse, rejection, and abandonment from childhood. Fear of rejection can become overwhelming to the point that we cannot embrace and accept it; instead, we succumb to the perceptions, desires, and beliefs of other people, flee, or engage in self-loathing.
For others, this fear of rejection manifests in being a workaholic or in trying to be successful by worldly standards. We want to be noticed and esteemed by others. It may be that we are trying to prove a parent wrong, an old relationship, friends, co-workers, or any other person in our lives whose shadow we choose to live under. Perhaps we are trying to run from past sins against those people or their sins against us. We wrongly allow another person—in some cases, even those who have long been dead—to rule our lives.
Deep down, we are all battling a paralyzing fear of rejection. We are afraid to be seen by others because they will inevitably see our sins and our weaknesses. We also know that others will sin against us, which wounds us. This perpetuates a cycle of fear of rejection in our lives. The enemy constantly uses this fear to paralyze us, but Christ wants to set us free.
The agony of rejection
Servant of God Catherine Doherty called rejection a “crucifixion.” We have all experienced rejection in one way or another, so we know how deeply it penetrates our innermost being. Rejection is an agony unlike any other. Doherty writes in her book On the Cross of Rejection:
Rejection can hurt beyond any other state or emotion. To be rejected, not to be accepted, is to enter a dark, tragic garden that appears to be all evil. There is nothing about it that appears to be normal. No, it is all surrealistic. Not to be accepted, to be obviously and definitively rejected by one’s own, is, for those who love God, to enter into Gethsemane.
Rejection cuts so deep within us that we do everything in our power to avoid it. Some rejections hurt more than others, depending on the relationship, but they all hurt us. The widespread dysfunction in families and the rejection of children at the hands of their parents is producing a deeply wounded culture that cannot handle rejection in any form, which has led to the creation of “safe spaces.” This is how much rejection wounds us.
Even though rejection is one of the deepest pains, we experience in this life, Christ wants to heal us. It is through rejection that He often reaches deep within our soul to heal those wounds in order to strengthen us to follow Him. Rejection united to the rejection He experienced on the Cross and throughout His earthly life is redemptive. He allows this evil in our lives in order to transform our fractured vision into His vision of love and mercy. He helps us to see ourselves and others more clearly. Rejection teaches us how we have failed to love others as they deserve and how we must forgive those who hurt us through their sins.
We are all broken, sinful, and wounded. Our vision is fractured—much like a cracked mirror—and it is often prejudiced towards our own experiences, sins, difficulties, and relationships with other people. We have a tendency to reduce one another into very small boxes. We see one another superficially—even those closest to us—and think we can reduce another person to their sins, tendencies, and weaknesses. It is tempting to turn people into who we think they are, rather than who they are in actuality. We reject people based on our own fallen perceptions and they, in turn, reject us in the same way. In order to perpetuate this cycle, we surround ourselves with people who will confirm us in our beliefs because we hate hearing that we might be wrong.
All of us do this and it is evil. This is how cancel culture has arisen in our culture. We reduce other people to their political views, so in our mind, we can get rid of another person who doesn’t agree with us. There are absolutely some relationships that must come to an end due to abuse or major stumbling blocks that cannot be overcome. Relationships come and go in this life.
Regardless, we must be careful about reducing other people to their sins simply because they sin differently from us or because we are hurt. This is to fall into despair and to lack hope in God’s working in other people’s lives. It also leads us to become judgmental and to fall into the sin of pride. This is why Christ tells us to pray for those who hurt us. It’s not easy, but it is a battle we must wage within ourselves in order to love more like Him.
The good news when faced with rejection
We will experience rejection in this life both because of our sins and the sins of other people. Rejection reveals to us that Christ in His love and mercy does not reduce us to our sins or the sins of other people. He sees our innermost being and who we are made to be, even if no one else around us sees it. He calls us to bring our shame and sins to Him and He forgives us in the Sacrament of Penance. Christ tells us to begin again and again. He calls us to bring the wounds others have caused us to Him in prayer and the Sacraments, so He can heal us and in order to teach us how to forgive. Love requires forgiveness.
Once we come to see how Christ sees us, rejection becomes an opportunity for growth. It is a path to freedom; the freedom from other people’s opinions. This freedom comes through understanding our sinfulness and need to change when we sin against others, but it no longer paralyzes us. We no longer allow shame and the opinions of others who we have sinned against to rule us. We also stop allowing the sins and opinions of others against us to be the foundation of our identity. It is foolish to place our identity into the hands of fallen, sinful human beings who cannot fully see us as Christ sees us. Even if the whole world rejects us, He sees us, and that is enough.