I’ve never been particularly good with rejection. Which makes it tough to be a pastor.
In church life, people are always coming and going. Most of the time, it’s because their commitment to God tends to flag—depending upon their mood. They come for a while, and then suddenly disappear. They get busy and don’t prioritize their time properly. But as a pastor, you always wonder if it’s something you’ve done…or didn’t do.
To them, it’s rarely personal. For the pastor though, it always seems personal.
The toughest part is when someone walks away because they’re mad at you. In church life, this isn’t always because the pastor has done something awful. Often, it’s just because he didn’t do what they wanted. But we do fail sometimes, and I’ve noticed people tend to expect perfection from a pastor. The minute they find a flaw in him, they shout, “See, I told you he was a fraud!” Because if God is perfect, surely the pastor ought to be too.
I always thought my love for people would overpower any flaws they might find in me. You know, that they’d say something like, “Gipson really is a goofball, but at least I know he sincerely loves me.” As long as they knew I loved them, they could overlook my imperfections.
But for too many people, being loved just isn’t enough.
More than loved, they want to be seen as “significant.” They want importance and influence. They want to be valued for their talents and wisdom. Love is nice, but it’s often looked down on with a sneer and a roll of the eyes.
“Is that all you’ve got to offer me?”
When someone gets frustrated enough with me, I’ve found they like to tell me off first before leaving the church. Unfortunately, this was the case once.
A person I’d put a lot of my time counseling and encouraging decided I didn’t quite appreciate his importance. He enumerated all the many ways I’d failed him, first to others in the church, and then finally to me. I could enumerate those things and rebut them here, but it would only be my side of the story. Let’s say I disagreed with his assessment, but told him I was sorry to have made him feel unappreciated.
Of course that didn’t help, and he walked away, anyhow.
I stewed over his departure like a little boy picking at a scab. The guy had taken up a lot of my time and attention, but now wasn’t my responsibility anymore. So I really couldn’t figure out why it still bothered me…
I was out walking and praying one night, as is my habit in the evenings. I rounded the big lake in the center of our development, talking to God in the dark. I have to watch myself when people come up on me suddenly—don’t want them to think I’m a crazy guy mumbling to himself!
Don’t get me wrong: I’m crazy, all right. Just not for that particular reason.
Anyway, as I walked, I asked God, “I know what he said about me was petty and childish. Yet, it still bothers me—it always does. Rejection is incredibly painful to me, even when the person isn’t that close to me. And now, I’d really like to know why.”
Then a funny thing happened. God answered me. No, not audibly. People really would think I’m crazy then. God speaks loudest when he speaks to the heart.
God said this, and I’m paraphrasing…
“Son, what if all the things he said about you were actually true? What if you’re not that great of a pastor? In fact, what if compared to other men you really are a complete and utter failure?”
“That’s what you’re bothered by—that someone looked you up and down and decided you were worthless! It bothers you because you believe your only value comes from how you compare to others and what you’ve accomplished.”
Exactly. In fact, I’ve been worried about that for most of my life.
Do you ever do this? Here’s what I do: I compare my very weakest points to the very best qualities and accomplishments of others. If I find myself lacking in one area, I see myself not measuring up. In my mind, I’m only as good as what my worst critic thinks of me.
At that moment, God reminded me of my newly adopted baby girl. Her name is Ellie and she was not quite two years old when we adopted her. And I can’t imagine loving anything more in this world than her.
“Why do you love her so?” God asked me. “What’s so special about her?”
What do you mean?
“What has she done to earn this overwhelming love you feel for her?”
She hasn’t done anything. I love little things about her. Her smile, her laugh. I love the way she crawls up into our bed at night and snuggles between us. I love listening to the squeaks of her sucking on her pacifier, sleeping peacefully.
Really, I love her just because she’s mine.
“Exactly. Her worth is not based on anything she’s ever done or ever might do in the future.
And then God gave me a picture in my mind of how he sees me. More than my accomplishments or attributes, mostly he sees me as a child. His child.
“Can’t you see… you are MY child, just as Ellie is yours. Even if everything your enemies said about you were true, it still wouldn’t matter one bit. The reason you’re worthy is simply because YOU ARE MINE!”
“Let me love you the way you love your child. Because of that love, you can live in freedom knowing that your mistakes will change nothing about your worth. Accomplish what you wish, but do so with the peace of knowing any failure is inconsequential. Nothing about you is on trial, because I love you. And nothing else but my love matters.”
God saw such value in us he would die to save us. And that value comes not from anything we’ve done or even from who we are—it all comes from whose we are!
I walked back to my house tonight, a few tears running down my face and feeling free. Drowning out the self-doubts in my head were the words of that little song I learned in Sunday School:
Yes, Jesus love me…the Bible tells me so.
Just like that baby girl I now adore for no good reason, realize you are the object of God’s immeasurable and unstoppable love. So you can stop trying to earn your way, or to justify yourself to your critics. God has already rendered the final assessment, and the price tag he hangs around your neck is enormous.
In opposition to the famous affirmations of Stuart Smalley, you don’t have to be “good enough, smart enough,” and it really doesn’t matter if people like you.
You are worthy and immeasurably valuable right now for no other reason than this…
You are his.