At the core of every relational demise reside hearts that have been either shattered by the reality of rejection or hardened by it. Experiencing the pain of rejection is an inevitable part of living in a broken world as a broken people who need a Savior in order to genuinely love. Before we can properly address that pain, we have to accept the raw reality of its existence without softening its devastation.
We do ourselves a grave disservice with anemically-defined judgments about what constitutes rejection, and we minimize the danger of its poison with shallow suggestions for recovery that offer hope apart from a Sovereign Healer. Without Christ, good intention in offering instruction about developing thick skin and bold confidence merely relegates the pain to space that carries no room to deal with the reality of it. No room to deal with the reality of living in a world that comes with ongoing wounding. No room to deal with the reality of inevitable rejection of thoughts, ideas & emotions that will never be free from deficiency. No room to deal with the reality of rejection of engagements, endeavors & exertions that will never be free from insufficiency.
Instead of kneeling in respect to the inevitable crushing pain of life, pride finds it easier to don an armor of steel and stand defiantly against a cruel world that will only ever surrender control to a Conquering King. An armor of steel that feigns humility even as it refuses to bow its knee to the wounding of having the heart disappointed, dismissed & disregarded. An armor of steel that clings to faith in self, believing healing can be found by rehearsing attributes faithfully enough and reciting contributions forcefully enough.
There's a reason those who experience abuse demonstrate difficulty entering into emotionally healthy relationships, just like there's a reason those who experience betrayal demonstrate difficulty opening their heart to the possibility of it being broken again. Rejection always leaves us scrambling for protection. It only takes hearing the sound of heartbreak once to know we don't ever want to hear it again. It's a sound not easily forgotten, one that often drives the drowning out of suffering's song with the hum of endless noise.
One of my favorite songwriters is Andrew Peterson, a gentle man who powerfully pens the gospel with a tenderness tough enough to reach the darkest corners of the heart. Every word of his album The Burning Edge of Dawn is beautiful, and the following line in the song I Want To Say I'm Sorry highlights the protective response to heartbreak that finds us loving others poorly:
When prideful protection has us denying our wounds of rejection, the well of the heart becomes stagnate with untreated poison. Relating with warmth to those content to cheer on the reflection of our armored self, we'll console ourselves with illusions of emotional health even as we coldly dismiss those having earned offerings deeper than our superficial charm. Preoccupied with safety, we won't even notice the recycling of poison that has us rejecting even as we have been rejected.
My intention in this article isn't to get us to focus on those who have broken our heart. Because regardless of the how and the when surrounding its breaking, the health of our own emotional waters is what is essential for healing. This is about facing the reality that we all suffer rejection, and that the poison of that rejection is introduced into every well. Whether that poison is unwittingly introduced in tiny drops or abusively dumped in bucket loads, there isn't one of us who isn't in ongoing need of having our hearts refreshed with the clean waters of transforming grace.
I have no ten-step recovery plan to offer to deal with the wounds of rejection that can fester within the heart― festering wounds that either leave us massaging them in insecurity or masking them with illusions of strength. I only have a single remedy, a remedy that requires our standing courageously over the well of our sovereignly-ordered waters in grace-wrought humility, bowing our knee to the reality of a fallen world that leaves us all vulnerable to the pain of cruel rejection from "life's first cry to our final breath."
It's a remedy that requires humbly confessing that we are not only sufferers of rejection, but also perpetrators of rejection. Not just because of indwelling sin, but because we are each born into a culture (family; church; community) that, no matter how healthy, always comes with its own unique way of introducing poison into the well. Poison that bends our heart toward rejection rather than love. Poison that prompts the same dismissing, devaluing and distancing that wounded us or that was used to wound others. Poison that cries for a Savior who delights in restoring what is broken.
In this life we will suffer from deep hurt and heartache. In this life the poison of sin will find its way into our well, even at the hands of the most sanctified and most well-meaning. And in this life we have to all deal with the raw reality that apart from restorative grace:
The rejected reject. The abused abuse. The bullied bully. The wounded wound. The hurting hurt. Why? Because sin is a dark poison that never fails to taint the waters that flow from the well of the heart.
We are left with two choices when it comes to dealing with the introduction of this poison. Either we don protective armor in defense while denying the severity of its wounding, or we bow a knee and confess need for a Great Physician. The former is a stance of pride that seeks steeling against the pain of humiliation; the latter is a surrender of humility that seeks salvation from the problem of sin.
This call to tend to our own well isn't about minimizing bad behavior, and it isn't about tolerating any form of abuse. It's the exact opposite. Because the beauty of tending to the well of our heart is that it hones our affections to better taste the tainting of even the sweetest of waters. In kneeling to a Healer who delights in pouring fresh waters of grace over broken hearts, we become increasingly unwilling to endure the toxicity of sin without offering the same loving calls for correction and pleas for repentance we're heeding ourselves.
This fallen world is filled with heartbreak. It's filled with suffering. Yes, it's filled with the pain of rejection. But for the Believer, it's a wounding that is intended to bow our knee and enter us into fellowship with our Suffering Savior. A wounding intended to help us better know the Righteous One so that our identity is shaped by the power of His death and resurrection. A wounding intended to leave us so transformed by God's love that the Cross truly becomes our only boast and Christ our only hope.