There’s that break-up. You were passed over for that promotion. You called, no answer. You texted, no reply. There’s that peek at your social media activity, no “likes.” Only a fraction of the people you invited showed up. You joined months ago, no “matches.” You applied, then came that “Thanks, . . . however . . .” letter.
What is happening here and why does it hurt?
Rejection is what’s happening. And that “hurt” you feel? It is real! MRI scans prove rejection literally hurts. This is because the same areas of our brain become stimulated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain.
Evolutionary psychologists believe the emotional toll rejection takes on us originated during our time spent living in tribes as hunter-gatherers. Simply put, we could not survive alone. In response, we developed an early warning mechanism to alert us when we were in danger. This fear of rejection, as we understand it today, served as an incentive for people to change behaviors and stay committed to their respective tribes.
While the results of this theory are intriguing, the evolutionary psychologists’ who propose them were not the first to offer insight in the quest to better understand the impact and origin of rejection.
In 1 Samuel chapter 8, the Lord published some intriguing findings Himself on the matter.
By this point in Israel’s history, it is very clear that God has been Israel’s Savior and Deliverer. He had chosen to use Samuel, as He did with prior leaders, to communicate His plans for Israel: He, the Lord himself, is to be their King. Period.
Well . . . then chapter 8 happens! Israel asks for a king. A human king, that is. They did not want to be “led by the Lord through prophets.” They wanted to be “like the other nations.” They saw that Samuel was getting old and that his sons “did not follow in his ways.” They became impatient, worried, and forgetful and decided they wanted a human king who could “lead [them] and go out before [them] and fight [their] battles” (1 Samuel 8:20).
What is happening here and why does verse 6 say Samuel is “displeased?”
Rejection is what’s happening. And that “displeasure” Samuel expresses, is our invitation to dive in and learn from someone who, like us all, has felt the literal pain of rejection.
Verse 6 says Samuel responded with prayer. And after He prayed, the Lord responded with a solution.
The solution to Samuel’s struggle with rejection involved him realizing 2 truths about rejection:
- Rejection is not about you.
- Rejection is not new.
The Lord told Samuel to “listen . . .” He wanted Samuel to really hear what the people were actually saying. “All” of what they were actually saying. According to psychologist Guy Winch, “our natural response to being dumped by a dating partner or getting picked last for a team, is not just to lick our wounds but to become intensely self-critical.” And so it was with Samuel. The volume on Samuel’s inner critic speaker was turned way up! The Lord told him, to instead, turn up the volume on what was actually being said by the people. He would then realize that it was not about him. In 1 Samuel 8:7, the Lord told Samuel, “It is not you they are rejecting, but they have rejected me as their king.”
As real as it may seem, the idea that you are unlovable, unqualified, or unwanted was nailed to the cross at Calvary. God’s Word declares that you are chosen, loved, and wonderfully made. Any source that suggests otherwise is in conflict with the inerrant Word of God, not with you!
1 Samuel 8:8 says, “As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” Bible commentator Ralph W. Klein explains that here we see the Lord is not denying that the people have opposed Samuel, but he urges Samuel to see this opposition as a manifestation of their far more serious rejection of the Lord himself. Reject is not at all new. We have a choice, therefore, to learn from the examples illustrated here in this passage. We can, like Samuel, turn to the Lord who will, through His Words help us see the situation from an emotionally healthier perspective.
Once Samuel realized it was not about him and that he was not the first to be rejected, he received direction from the Lord to go ahead and “. . . give them a king.” Just as the Lord ordered Samuel’s steps, He will order ours.
The next time you experience rejection, acknowledge the pain or “displeasure,” pray, and listen. This will position you to really hear what is actually happening. As you realize the rejection is not about you and it is nothing new, you’ll have the clarity and comfort needed to make it through!
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*SSS: Spending the Summer In Samuel