Recently I commented to a friend that I have a long history of rejection. For whatever reason, I don’t come to mind when people are thinking of people to recruit. In the workplace, I always had to beg for a chance and then work hard to prove it to them. No one has ever called me up and invited me to a baseball game or a concert or even to be part of any kind of team they are assembling. For whatever reason, I give off a vibe that I wouldn’t be interested. I seek out opportunities and find ways to get involved, but generally I experience it as a rejection even though I have a suspicion it might be someone else.
The first time I remember feeling this was in junior high when I had my first “girlfriend.” That mainly meant that, at some point, I wrote a letter that said, “do you like me?” and she said “yes.” After that we sat together at the basketball games and basically acknowledged each other in the hallway at school. I remember returning from vacation to find my friend sitting next to her. Something similar happened in high school and I remember crying but never really talking to anyone about it.
I’ve been trying to process this since I went through a dark night experience a few years ago. At that moment, I felt like my wife of 29 years was rejecting me, even though that was the furthest thing from the truth. It was the closest I ever came to committing suicide and it is still painful to talk about today. As I began to process this trauma over the next few years, I discovered that I had a long history of painful experiences that never really got processed or even discussed.
The way I compensated for this in the past was to work hard at fitting in. I was successful at being a church planter because I was good at fitting into religious communities. In all three churches, I found ways to blend into the community and be a part of them. They liked me until I started to challenge their ideas and I discovered they didn’t really want me for the team unless I was willing enable them to stay like they were. I also became even more invisible when I blended into the herd.
So, acceptance and rejection are labels that are confusing. Most of us live among thousands of people that all have their own agendas and ideas of how things should be. We all dream of how we want our world to look and we have ideas of who will be there with us as we experience it. Like the small-town churches I served, we generally want people who agree with us and look about the same. When I endeavor to start a team, by default, I reject scores of people.
Some will use perceived rejection as a fuel to do something of their own. Others, like me, might take it personally.
Lately, what I have been discovering is the joy of authenticity. I call it “being who you are.” Being who we are is such a satisfying way to live. I don’t have to remember what role I’m playing – I am just being me. But even though it’s a better way to live, I still may be tempted to feel sorry for myself when someone passes me over or doesn’t think I would be interested.
I have determined that rejection is real in the sense that they did reject me for the team. But what I am discovering is that is not a measure of my self-worth. It’s just a reality of other people making decisions that best suit themselves. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t always include everyone. And, often I am grateful later that I wasn’t picked for the team I once desired greatly.
More and more every day, Laura and I are learning to choose things that are authentically us. It doesn’t always make us popular and sometimes doesn’t pay very well. But it feels good to be operating from a divine sense of self. Someone said of me recently, “He is hitting his stride.” I hope that means that I’m finding my real purpose and living from that and not just fitting in.
In the world of Facebook “likes” and social media, we’ve become accustomed to instant feedback. But authenticity is more about a deep satisfaction that doesn’t even need applause or approval. When I feel it, it still surprises me that it is enough to simply be who I am.
I wrote about this more in my book Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity. I hope you will read about my journey through the dark night and eventually going deeper and learning to be. It even has a companion guide if you want to do some of the same work I have done.
Rejection is real and it still stings but sacrificing authentic self to fit in is still a hopeless pursuit.
“Be where you are” and “Be who you are” are the messages I want to shout to the world. I hope you will join me in this journey of presence and authenticity.
One last thought: Many times, while we are seeking to be accepted by others, we may be overlooking people in our life that already accept us and want nothing more that to just be with us. We may have already lost people dear to us because we were chasing something else. Apply as needed.
Be where you are, be who you are,
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!