Rejection: It hurts!

On February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York, a young man named Michael was born. His family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, when he was very young and he was one of 5 siblings. His father worked as a General Electric plant supervisor, and his mother worked at a bank. Young Michael, like many young men, loved sports but despite his attempts he failed to make his high school basketball team as a sophomore because of a “lack of skill.” Not swayed long by the rejection he continued to practice as if his very life depended on it and he made the team the next year.

His determination and resilience paid off. The same young man who “lacked the skill” to play 10th grade basketball not only finished out an impressive high school basketball career, but he also accepted a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina, where he played under head coach Dean Smith and became the ACC Rookie of the Year in 1982.

Obviously the Michael we are referring to is now acclaimed as the “best basketball player to have ever played.” He is Michael Jordan. He left North Carolina after his junior year and was selected by the Chicago Bulls as the third pick of the 1984 NBA draft. Before joining the Bulls, Jordan was a member of the Summer 1984 United States Olympic basketball team that won the gold medal in Los Angeles, California. Michael Jordan would play 15 seasons in the National Basketball Association and win various titles and awards.

A man that could have let his rejection define him is now known as one of the most clutch and iconic basketball players ever. He turned his rejection and disappointment into determination and later success.

There are numerous stories that unravel just like this!

  • TV personality Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a reporter because she was “unfit for TV.” She later became the host of her own program “The Oprah Winfrey show” which aired 25 sessions before launching her own TV Network. Oprah Winfrey Network.
  • Author JK Rowling was sacked as a secretary because she was a “day dreamer.” 12 publishers then rejected her after writing her first “Harry Potter” novel. That very novel would later make her a billionaire.
  • Director Steven Spielberg was turned down 3 times by the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television. Undeterred he carried on and earned his BA and became one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema with Academy Awards for Best Director for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He also achieved Box Office records for “Jaws, E.T, and Jurassic Park.”
  • Musical icon Elvis Presley was told by the Grand Ole Opry manager, Jimmy Denny, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.” Yet Elvis became an American singer and is now referred to as “the King of Rock and Roll.”
  • Lastly, composer Ludwig van Beethoven was referred to as “hopeless” in his early life by his music teacher. Beethoven would later become one of the most famous and influential of all composers whose best-known compositions included 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets.

The point of all of those stories is to point out that we all experience rejection, and nobody is exempt or immune to it’s countless forms. I personally believe at the core of all rejection is a desire to feel valued. We can’t feel rejection unless we first want something that we feel like we don’t already have whether it is attention, success, achievement, praise, perceived worth, confidence, to feel connected, etc… At the core of our desires is a longing for a sense of stability or feeling of importance. Rejection keeps us from what we want. We can turn rejection is the enemy, or that obstacle we can’t move past. We can allow rejection to define us.

Rejection wants us to give up… and if we do then rejection has won. It has defined us.

I found it interesting that in a recent University of Michigan study they found that physical pain and intense feelings of rejection “hurt” in the same way. The study demonstrates that the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection. This study went on to show that higher levels of rejection in a person’s life result in “more negative self-feelings and reductions of self-esteem.” Repeated rejection can literally change our brains. When we face rejection one too many times, our brain learns to protect us. How many of us have experienced this? We’re rejected and suddenly we’re afraid of trying again.

Everyone encounters rejection in this fallen world, and as painful as rejection can be, it doesn’t have to work against us. Rejection can actually work for us if we use the experience as a positive opportunity to create a new season of success in your life or allow God to speak to us through it. Our rejection, like our pain, is not meaningless. (You can find a previous blog on this topic here:

John Piper said this in a message on pain, but I believe it can be said about rejection as well. He said,

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at forty, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.

So… as leaders, church members, and believers in general we are guaranteed to experience rejection in one form or another. Rejection isn’t always easy to deal with, here’s a few quick ways we can respond when we experience rejection. Let’s think together.

  • Ask the right questions.

Most of us are well-acquainted with disappointment. All of us, at some point, will battle feelings of disappointment when life goes wrong. I think it is almost natural for us to believe deep down that because of our faith and salvation we should have a special immunity against trouble.

We see an example of a version of this thinking in Mark 10:23-31 where it says says,

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Peter tried to remind Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you.” Peter was asking the wrong question.

After all, it’s hard to ask the right question when you’re feeling disappointed! It’s hard to ask “what now?” or “what else?” when your dreams have been shattered or your heart hurts from pain, disappointment, or rejection. But I believe that our lives will begin to change when we start asking God, “What would you have me do now?” when we come up short or something doesn’t come through like we feel it was supposed to. Now obviously the correct question or response doesn’t and won’t take the pain away, but typically we will find that God is eager to show is what He wants us to do next.

Sometimes we need to stop talking and just listen and obey.

If you are like me, my natural tendency is to complain when I feel disappointed or rejected. But unfortunately for me, complaining to other people never helps solve the issue… typically it just makes it worse and intensifies the pain. But, in His grace, God asks us to take our heartaches to him.

Matthew 11:28-29 says,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Psalm 55:22 says,

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Philippians 4:6 says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Casting our burdens on God is wise because He’s capable of doing something about it, while we are not. God has the power to change us, our situation, or both. He knows all the facts, He knows the future, and He has the perspective that we lack. When we learn to respond correctly and ask the right questions when rejected or disappointed we will begin to have answers revealed to us.

  • Don’t allow rejection and discouragement to define you.

Life is a journey. In the same way many of our ideas, goals, and relationships are journeys as well. Rarely do we end up where we saw ourselves being twenty years ago. The problem with long-term goals is that they can change.

Many things take a process to get it to where they need to be… us included! If you had asked me 10 years ago if I ever envisioned myself working for a church I would’ve answered with a bold “no!” Having an idea turned down, a vision rejected, or a goal changed doesn’t mean we have failed. Ultimately it means that we have received feedback, guidance, or correction and we now can adapt and overcome by approaching in a different way.

We mustn’t allow ourselves to be sensitive when we get rejected. We must learn to not place your identity in what you create, or goals, dreams, or visions and whether or not they turn out or happen according to plan. Here is an exerpt from a previous blog of mine (you can find it here:,

Too often, people base their identities on what they do or in the acceptance of others, and the perceived expectations that come along with that acceptance… whether it is a job, hobby, relationship, or even positive or negative remarks from peers.

Traditionally, we’ve been taught to find the answer in one place…we are what we do. If I write, then I’m a writer. If I play music, then I am a musician. If I play a sport, then I’m an athlete. The world creates easy definitions of people and we look to those definitions far too often. We like to define ourselves based upon what we do. Somehow we have been deceived and allowed the things that, for the most part, we have dominion and control over to define us as people. We are allowing our identity and self worth to be found amongst the things of the world.

Are you being controlled or limited by the things that you allow to define you?

The truth is that God intends for all people to find their identity in Him alone. Our effectiveness as pastors and worship pastors is hinged upon us becoming comfortable with the people God has created us to be. Our identity is found and secured in Christ alone when we begin to follow him… we must simply accept that identity and pursue it wholeheartedly.

Ultimately, rejection is part of the process that we all go through in this thing called life. Don’t be discouraged when it happens. Understand that it’s not an attack on you personally, but use it as an opportunity to grow and develop. Allow God to guide and shape you. Don’t allow the things you control to define you. Take time to stop talking and listen to what He has to say.

One thought on “Rejection: It hurts!

  1. Thanks Tanner for this topic. Rejection is something that is very hard at times to move past, but I have learned to be able to go on I have to give it completely to God and just trust Him and listen for His guidance. This is not always easy to do.


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