Rejection stings. Like the spike of a bee through the skin, the message penetrates: “You are not qualified; you are not enough.” Whether the rationale is understandable or not, the dynamic is the same. You are no longer wanted, and that hurts.
But is that it? Is that the whole story? Or does the bee sting signal a honey trove only a stone’s throw away? Has the bee inadvertently alerted you to her plunder? Indeed she has. You would do well to find the hidden honey. It may not only comfort you for the sting. You may be surprised to discover you are actually relieved that you got stung. For if the rejection had not happened, you might never have discovered the storehouse of life-giving food that has brightened your eyes.
At any given point in time, the world may love you or it may reject you. If it loves you it may lavish its resources on you but make you quite busy in “the ritual of an artificial life,” as Sertillanges calls it. For that is often the cost of being accepted and loved by the world: he who pays the piper calls the tune. It is quite difficult to remain true to who you are while dancing the dance of obligations in return for resources.
It is therefore perhaps better that at some point the world rejects you, for when the world rejects you, you must fall back on your own resources, where God Himself supplies you with consolation, provision, and wisdom; a kind of experience that is never artificial and never fully reproducible in the life of another, for it is yours from God alone.
What you must understand is that His promises follow you into the new circumstance the rejection creates. The loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the loss of influence — whatever space the rejection has created is not desolate space. It is a new realm of possibility for the promise to come true in a form that only the Maker Himself can fashion.
Here is an example of what I mean. When my family and I lived in Herat, Afghanistan, two friends of ours were inspired to start a first-of-its-kind coffee shop in the heart of an old neighborhood. They trained college-age Afghans in the art of roasting beans (it is an art). They taught them the science of cash flow and profit margin. They developed an irresistible version of the comfort food known as the samosa. They decorated the walls with the beauty of local craftsmen and artists. And they supplied their coffee shop with the oxygen of the 21st-century: good wi-fi.
It flourished immediately. Afghans relaxed for hours over coffee, tea, and conversation — longer than we do, we whose lives are ruled by digits. Merchants made business deals. College students got their homework done. Friendships formed. Confidence grew in the fledgling Afghan staff.
But the elders of the neighborhood grew jealous, for to the darkened eye, success is a limited commodity, and another cannot be allowed to take it. The elders accused the coffee shop owners of corrupting their youth with Western iniquities. “Shut your shop down, or we will stir up a mob, and they will shut it down for you!” And so, our friends closed the shop.
A season of desolation followed, as it does for anyone who is rejected.
But after that season, prominent Afghan merchants approached our friends and asked them if they would re-open their coffee shop, not hidden in a neighborhood, but positioned nine floors up in the tallest building overlooking the city at the time. They did, and from that time on, Afghan leaders, foreign diplomats, and many a dignitary who passed through Herat enjoyed the coffee shop whenever they could. Customers enjoyed a panoramic view through sheet glass windows. Business deals took place that helped the city. Conversations took place that helped the country. Homework got done. Friendships formed.
And yes, the elders’ concerns were well placed, for what they feared did come to pass: several couples fell in love. But who could have stopped such a thing? Certainly not the Afghan staff. They served customers the best samosas north of the Khyber Pass, and the samosas worked their magic to bond people together, wooing young hearts and wise elders alike. They were irresistible.
For the calling of this coffee shop, the worst thing that happened to it turned out to be the best thing that happened to it. Rejection led to promotion.
It is in this sense that rejection is plunder. It is a boon, a windfall profit. For through the experience of being rejected, the Lord has an opportunity to display how creative He is. You can see the Lord at work much more easily in the emptiness of rejection than you can in the busy-ness of acceptance. For in the busy world of being accepted, the rain clouds of heaven compete with the hot winds of earth for our attention. We want heaven to guide us, but earth has so much to say! It is hard to sort through the voices.
In contrast, the empty world of being rejected makes it much easier to see the Lord at work. It becomes more discernible that He is faithful and true to what He has promised. It is a blank canvas for God to paint on, a great gaping cave mouth where the bees can build a hive and horde their life-giving treasure.
His promises show up on that canvas and drip from that hive. They follow you. They do so because they are not merely a contract of words, but one living Word who speaks them. One Person. He whose name is Faithful and True: the living one who has made promises to you, follows you. This is how resilient the promises of God are. They do not depend on the acceptance of the world. They do not depend on the acceptance of man. They depend on your acceptance of how the Lord pulls them off; of how creatively unique God will fulfill them, be it through glory or be it through dishonor. (2 Cor 6:8) You have to remember that the One who was “rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3) is the same One who “divides the plunder” (Isaiah 53:12). Rejection leads to the treasure trove. But you have to trust the Rejected One to get there.
Only losing heart can hinder this, only the throwing away of your confidence. The fact that you are still distressed at the possibility of losing heart shows that you haven’t lost heart. Your hope and confidence are still present; do not fear. For you would not be concerned if your heart had already fully hardened. It is only those whose hearts have turned to stone who do not apprehend the promises. And yet, even then, if a heart so chooses such a state, the Lord cannot be untrue to Himself. He will find another heart, however weak and trembling it may be, through which to fulfill His promises. Perhaps your heart.
John the Baptist knew a thing or two about how to acquire wild honey. The thought of increasing his immunity to local pollen allergens was the farthest thing from his mind. He needed that honey to keep his strength up and his eyes clear until those eyes would fall upon the One he was hoping for. Did he curse the bees and flail his arms as he made his way to the honey? No. Hot breath and anger would only incur more stings. Proud speeches would leave him fuming and hungry. Instead, there in the desert, John was silent. He was gentle. He was slow.
Such a way was a signal to the bees. It was a signal that he would not harm them. It was a sign the honey was meant to be shared. And so they let him, and so he ate. In quietness and confidence he became strong, so that, when the time came, his words would be rich in power for every kind of person who walked the earth, for any with an ear to hear.
Let us therefore enter into the cave mouth, the empty space of our rejection, and calmly expect to find the sweet consolation that will brighten our eyes. Let us discover, in a way we won’t quite be able to fully explain to others, the provision the Lord proclaims to us in our rejection:
“With honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” ~ Psalm 81:16
© Kurt Mahler
Sertillanges quote and the imagery of the plunder of the bee are from the 1946 edition of his book, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. By Antonin Gilbert Sertillanges (1863-1948). Translated from the French by Mary Ryan. I owe a debt of gratitude to anthropologist Dr. Pellegrino Luciano of the American University of Kuwait for introducing me to this book.
The building for the coffee shop also housed the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the time, and was about twelve floors, counting the ground floor. The ninth floor location is a recollection. It may have been slightly above or below that floor.Tagged as: creativity, flourishing, gentleness, joy, rejection