What is the worst pain of all? Is there a pain worse than death itself? I think there might be.
We have a few friends who have suffered the premature loss of a son, daughter or grandchild. I wrote about one of these situations in my previous blog. I can remember a series of funerals over the years, none of which I will ever forget. Grief of this nature is a pain that is almost unbearable. But there is another kind of pain that in a strange way may be even worse.
My thought comes from asking this question: where did Jesus experience the worst pain? There’s no doubt it was on the cross. But even greater than the pain of his physical suffering was the experience of rejection by the One he loved: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In that terrible moment, Jesus endured the pain of deliberate rejection which had to occur for him to carry our sin and extinguish the anger of God against it.
I can undertake challenges of faith and keep my head above water, but when someone with whom I have relationship does something to hurt me, it can come pretty close to sinking my boat.
There is a difference between being lovingly cautioned about something and deliberate rejection. Let me illustrate at my own expense. A friend who knows what he’s doing comes with me to the gym. He looks at the weights I am about to lift, and tells me with a worried look they may be too heavy for me. That may be slightly discouraging, even mildly damaging to my sensitive male ego. Yet no real harm is done -- more likely, harm is prevented! But what if he simply looks at me and says, “Who do you think you are, trying to do that? Give up, you’re a loser, you’re hopeless”? That’s different. That hurts.
Rejection is somebody else whose opinion matters to us trashing who we are. Rejection is crushing because it touches the very heart of our identity, our worth and our value.
Massive numbers of people suffer from rejection because in childhood they were told by a parent whose love they craved that they were worthless and they were treated as such. When people grow up like this, it becomes very difficult even to convey any kind of helpful advice to them, because they are so weak in their identity it comes across as rejection.
People with rejection often reject even those who genuinely care for them. Hurting people hurt people. The anger and pain of rejection is at least an energy we can control ourselves and direct outwards. It gives us back an identity - but not a healthy one! We even reject people who love us in order to try to force ever more extreme displays of love and care from them. And then we hit back so others can feel something of the pain we have lived in. It’s a terrible prison millions of people are incarcerated in. And it’s in leaders and churches. And sometimes, it destroys them.
Rejection operates most powerfully in a context of vulnerability in relationship. That is why church can be the most dangerous place for rejection. Almost all the arrows I have endured wound up in my back, not in my chest.
Jesus came to deliver us from rejection. He endured rejection in order to set us free us from it. The gift of our identity as sons and daughters of God liberates us from the prison we were cast into by being trashed by people who should have loved us but didn’t. He gave us the gift of infinite worth and value at the cost of his own life.
Here’s my advice. Rejection at some level is a problem for all of us, so do a self-audit. How do you react to criticism? Are you secure in your identity in Christ, or are you often threatened by comments others make? Do you hit back at people when you perceive criticism on their part?
We reject because we were rejected. But here’s the good news. We love because he first loved us.
The truth will set you free.