by Susan Schneider
I was nine years old the day my parents left me at church. They hadn’t meant to do so. They thought I’d ridden home after worship with our next-door neighbors. By the time they realized I had not and drove back to get me, I had spent almost an hour being alternately angry, scared and sad. I felt abandoned and alone. The sense that I was not important enough to be remembered, cherished and wanted.
This experience was not the last—nor even among the worst—of feeling rejected, but the fact that my parents and I still remember the incident with such clarity is indicative of the strong feelings the moment encapsulates. It is why this plea for God’s rescuing presence resonates for me in times of stress and rejection: “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” (Psalm 27:9-10)
Scripture features a plentiful variety of prayers and poems in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. There are also many stories of people feeling rejected by God and one another. Consider the heart-rending tale of Sarai’s servant Hagar who, along with the son she conceived with Sarai’s husband Abram, was left to die in the wilderness (Genesis 16 and 21). Think of poor Leah, married to Jacob, who only ever loved her sister Rachel (Genesis 28-30). What about Joseph the dreamer (Genesis 37-50), sold into slavery by his brothers and later cast into prison by his master? These are just a few stories from one book of the Bible! Each of these stories includes characters calling upon God for consolation, courage, and deliverance.
Jesus knew what it was like to feel rejected by his political and religious opponents during his ministry. Unfortunately, he also experienced rejection by his followers and even his own family at times. We might imagine that Jesus would take such difficulties in stride—after all, he is divine! I find it profoundly moving that the only utterance the Gospel of Matthew records Jesus from the cross, where he is enduring public mocking and physical torture, is this prayer of agony: “My God, my God, why have you [abandoned] me?” (Psalm 22:1 as recorded in Matthew 27:46).
It’s startling to ponder that God Incarnate has experienced vulnerability and grief that resembles our own. While it is happening to us, rejection seems like evidence of a personal failure, so there is comforting solidarity in recognizing that Jesus genuinely understands how much it hurts. While we are taught that God never leaves us nor forsakes us, it doesn’t mean every one of us won’t “feel like a motherless child” sometimes, just as the old spiritual laments.
Feelings aren’t facts, though. When we suffer the trauma of rejection, we acknowledge the pain, which is as real as the pain of a broken arm. After we’ve allowed ourselves to grieve, it’s helpful to connect with others who will assure us of our value and remind us we are God’s beloved.
We also benefit from being reminded that God assures us that we are not alone in our struggle or as we recover our sense of worth. You may want to memorize and repeat Psalm 27:10: “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.”
1. What is one of your first/worst experiences of rejection? How did you recover?
2. How do you feel knowing that Jesus also felt rejected and abandoned?
3. Who or what helps affirms your worth when you are feeling rejected?
Vulnerable, tender God, we are thankful that you understand what we undergo when we experience rejection. Remind us that we have a permanent place in your family and are created in your own likeness. Surround us with comforters who can help us regain perspective and reassure us that you will never abandon us, even if we feel alone. Help us to assert this truth as we heal from rejection: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Amen.
The Rev. Susan Schneider is lead pastor at University Lutheran Church, Seattle, Wash. Her passions include pursuing art as a spiritual path and engaging in social justice as an expression of faith. She is passionate about ensuring a welcome for LGTBQ+ people and other marginalized populations–particularly within communities of faith, but also in general.