I have been pondering much about rejection, lately.
When I was pushing hard to be a writer, rejection was sort of the name of the game. You submitted work, sometimes to a hundred different agents, and you got rejected by the majority. Sometimes the rejection was silent and timed, like a bad test in school. Sometimes the rejection was harsh and jarring, like being laughed at, also in school. (School was not the time of my life in case you were wondering.)
My trajectory has shifted around writing. I am no longer looking at writing as a way to be independent of God nor as a shortcut to fame. (Can I be that honest here? I hope so.) I don’t know of a writer, a true writer, who has ever been able to truly give it up. It’s hardwired into our DNA. But I am changing how I think about writing and what I intend to do with it.
But one of the weirder aspects of my change has been in how I feel about the world and what it thinks of me. People say, “I don’t care what people think of me,” when they mean, “I don’t care what people who don’t like me think of me.” We have numerous sayings that even go so far as to define this for us, “Haters gonna hate,” being just one. Back when I was young and still remarkably uncool it was quite similar, but there was more neon color.
And this free spirit, devil-may-care attitude simply isn’t true. We are fine being rejected unless it is by people we respect, look up to, or possibly, love. And so on the internet we spend loads of time changing those groups and refining them. We have to exclude folks, at times, and sometimes we have to bring in new recruits we never thought would make the team. And this constant refining, this constant tuning and retuning of our social construct is all for one simple and horrible thing: to make us feel better.
“…happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right…”
See, we base a large percentage of our lives pursuing what my pastor calls “okayness.” And how I get that okayness is a big deal. Why? Because ultimately that’s what I worship. And we prove this by these sorts of groups that we build. So we’ll end up doing one of two things, in the end, to justify ourselves, our group, and our place in that group:
- I will change myself to better conform to the group.
- I will sacrifice my convictions, the truth, what’s morally or legally right, etc.
- I will change the group to better conform to me.
- I will ostracise the unbeliever or proselytize the potential adherent.
And when that acceptance, that okayness, is the ruling factor, both of those things are terrifying and dark. Because at that point it’s either people or their opinions that are really my god.
“But Gabe, what about being accepted is wrong? People just like being liked.”
Yes, they really do. But being accepted isn’t the ultimate reality. In fact, for the Christian, there is a definite tipping point of unacceptability. If everyone in the world likes you, you’re the best liar the world has ever known. If everyone in my own family liked me, all the time, I would wonder where I went wrong. I’m not talking about chasing trouble, itching for a fight. No. But I do mean that I should stand by something strongly enough that it makes some people not want to be around me.
Even people I like. Even people I respect. Even people I, daresay, love.
I should be unacceptable to people because, for me personally, being accepted is such a huge idol. I should love Jesus so much that some people accuse me of hating everything and everyone else. Jesus ought to be the fulcrum of my soul. And if I’m really being blunt: He isn’t as much as I want Him to be. I’m nowhere near unacceptable enough and in the darkness, the place I have to painfully expose to the light, I’m a craven addict of acceptance.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (ESV)
Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. (ESV)