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Through Lattice Windows: Thoughts On Rejection

"It takes honesty and courage to face one's untamed demons.'' writes Leanne Hunt.

I am currently reading an audio book called "Armchair Mystic" by Mark Thibodeaux, SJ on the subject of contemplative prayer. In a chapter on the biblical figures of Martha and Mary, it deals with the whole area of self-promotion and achievement as an impediment to intimacy with God. What caught my attention, however, was a particular story he told about rejection.

He had made his weekly visit to a prison to hold a prayer meeting for inmates, only to wait in vain for anyone to arrive. There were numerous men in the common room next door who had seen him and heard his invitation to join him for prayer, but they had all opted to continue watching television. Mark felt humiliated and hurt by their apparent ingratitude for the effort he had made, though he realised on reflection that what he was reacting to was a bruised ego. He might have felt very different if he had focused on the feelings of the men in relation to prayer or the working of the Holy Spirit apart from his ministry efforts.

This little story resonated strongly with me because I regularly experience feelings of rejection. A friend only has to cancel a coffee date twice in a row and I begin to wonder if she genuinely doesn't want to see me. My sensitivity stems from childhood, when I learnt that there were popular children and awkward children, and that I fitted into the awkward category. My mother called it "being backward in coming forward" and it soon cemented itself into a habit. To this day, the pangs of loneliness which assault me every time I feel rejected are hard to bear.

Of course, I recognise that such pain is a symptom of self-absorption, and that surrendering my love of self will set me free from suffering. Yet casting off the ego is easier said than done. In fact, it involves quite a lot of inner work. Not feeling rejection can, for example, simply indicate denial of deep woundedness. Developing a thick skin and not acknowledging my desperate need for love and acceptance may work for the most part, but there could come a time when I can no longer repress my inner loneliness and it bursts out in inappropriate ways.

It takes honesty and courage to face one's untamed demons. Delving into the psyche and encountering unmet childhood needs can be frightening. Particularly if one has been raised conservatively, the idea of even harbouring such unholy feelings can seem treacherous. Yet one has to admit the fact that they are part of one's make-up, the result of one's own personal background, and the legacy one carries forward into the future. If not dealt with, they will remain a threat forever and perhaps turn old age into a torment. So it is best to deal with them while one is relatively strong and well-supported.

The process takes several years and can continue for a lifetime, but once intentionally begun, it begins to yield encouraging results. In my case, I became aware of long-buried emotional injuries, which meant I could embark on a conscious healing process. I was able to seek out people who could help me restore my confidence and adopt habits that would keep me honest about my inner life. No longer was it good enough to sweep pain under the carpet in the name of salvation. I wanted to be transformed by the renewing of my mind and the restoration of my soul.

Only when this inner work is ongoing is it possible, I believe, to rise above feelings of rejection in the true sense. As I said earlier, this is not about denying one's feelings. It is about getting fully in touch with them so that one can transcend them. Feelings are real and, as such, are an important part of our human experience. The challenge is to integrate them with our faith to such an extent that they inform and enhance it.

Thus, I admit that it hurts when my friend turns me down for coffee. It reminds me of when I was a little girl, wanting to join in a game of "House" and being waved away because I had nothing to offer. Yet I also know that I am no longer that little girl. These days, I have a lot to offer, including a calm presence, interesting conversation, the ability to listen attentively and a lively sense of humour. But more than that, I know that my friend has her own responsibilities and commitments, as well as her own inner life, of which I know nothing. She is not answerable to me but to God, and love makes me honour her needs just as much as I honour my own. When I view things from this perspective, there is also a discernible easing of my inner pain. Love binds us together, even when we are apart, and where love is, rejection has no place.

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