I felt my body go numb as I struggled to make sense of his words. “The numbers are lower than we anticipated . . . We feel really bad doing this to you . . . We’’ll try to find a place for you.”
It was a few days before the start of a new school year. Just weeks earlier, I accepted a position to teach 5th grade and had been busily preparing my classroom for the arrival of my students. This job was an answer to prayer. My husband was in his second year of medical school, and in addition to his tuition, we had to take out a loan to cover our basics: rent, utilities, and groceries. This job would help ease the financial strain and provide us with good benefits. But, this job was meeting much more than a financial need for us. This job would be a life giving breath for my weary soul. This job would be a fresh start.
The previous year, I taught 3rd grade just inside the beltway of Washington D.C. Fresh out of college, I walked into a school where overcrowded classrooms, lack of qualified teachers, and fist fights at recess were the norm. As a white teacher in a predominantly black community, I struggled to connect with not only my colleagues, but my students and their families as well. In my class of thirty, there were multiple students with behavioral issues and some that I feared were being abused at home. I was at a loss as to how I could meet their academic needs when they carried such heavy burdens upon their small shoulders each day. It was an extremely difficult year, and one that I was so thankful to see come to an end.
This new job . . . this new school . . . this new community . . . they held the promise of a fresh start for me as an educator. So you can imagine my devastation when my principal told me that the classroom I had been given, my 5th grade students, was to be handed over to another teacher. They didn’t have the student numbers to justify all of the hirings they had done over the summer. They would honor my contract, but as the last hire, until they could find a place for me within the district, I was to serve as an assistant for this other teacher. I was asked to help her finish setting up the classroom, share the lessons I had planned for the first week, and then assist her in the classroom for at least the first few weeks of school. You see, this teacher was also a new hire. This was her very first year in education, and she had been preparing for weeks to welcome a class of first graders. Suddenly, she found herself being given a new grade, a new classroom, a new set of students, and now a new assistant. Those next few days were incredibly hard and incredibly awkward for both of us.
In the weeks to follow, I really struggled. I didn’t understand why God would give me a job only to suddenly take it away. Though I wanted to trust that He had a plan in all of this, it was hard. Did He really have a plan? Was there really a purpose in all of this pain? The answer was yes, but it would take some time for me to see it. As I leaned into Him, He began to reveal to me that in the midst of rejection there are gifts to be found. Small treasures that draw us closer to Him. Lessons that grow us and refine our character. Truths that remind us that we are loved and were created with purpose. How do we discover these gifts in the midst of the pain that comes with rejection?
We need to remember a few things about rejection. First of all, rejection is not an indicator of future failure. It can be easy to assume that once we’ve been rejected in a particular area of life that we will always be rejected in that particular area of life. I easily could have walked away from that job believing that my dreams of teaching were destined to forever be filled with heartache and that it wasn’t worth it. But, just because my first two years weren’t ideal, that didn’t mean that every year would be like that, and it certainly didn’t mean that I wasn’t gifted as a teacher. As I look back, I can see that there is so much joy that I would have missed out on if I had given up my dream of teaching.
Rejection tends to steal the joy of our present, doesn’t it? But, far too often we give it permission it to steal the joy of our future as well. We allow the pain of rejection to settle within our thoughts and dictate our next steps. We give up. We give in. We tell ourselves that things will never change.
But, what would happen if we chose to shift our perspective? What would happen if we chose to look at our rejection through God’s eyes? What if we chose to remember the truth that it isn’t rejection that determines our steps. It’s God. Proverbs tells us,
“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)
Rejection is not an indication of future failures. If something is meant to happen, I can promise you that God will move heaven and earth to see that it does. In the book of Isaiah God says,
“From the beginning I declare how things will end; from times long past, I tell what is yet to be, saying: ‘My intentions will come to pass. I will make things happen as I determine they should.’”
Isaiah 46:10 (VOICE)
Another thing to remember is that rejection doesn’t label you; it enables you to adjust and move on. With every rejection we face in life, we have a choice to make. We can allow that rejection to settle deep within us and become our truth, or we can look at that rejection as an opportunity to grow.
Lysa Terkeurst says, “People with a realistic view see rejections as a natural part of life and adjust accordingly. It’s not that they don’t struggle through the hard feelings. They do. But they don’t let them cloud their whole view of life. They are still able to see plenty of positive in themselves, others, and in God’s plan. Those with a pessimistic view, on the other hand, see life through the lens of their rejection. They feed their outlook by putting negative labels on themselves. When you feed negativity on the inside, it’s negativity that you’ll exude on the outside.”
In those first few days working with that other teacher, I could have easily made the choice to feed my hurt. I could have done only the bare minimum that was asked of me and been unkind in the process. But, what good would that have done? It likely would have made the situation much more difficult than it already was. Rejection hurts, yes, but don’t let that hurt consume you. Give that hurt room to grow you. Look for what God may have to teach you in the midst of rejection. James encourages us to,
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
James 1:2-4 (MSG)
Don’t let rejection define you. Allow it to refine you.
Next, be reminded that rejection can be an invitation to something even more beautiful. You see, there will be many times in life when things don’t work out as we had hoped. We walk down a path that we are certain God has for us and suddenly, the door before us closes. Closed doors can leave us feeling confused, hurt, and questioning God. When God chose to close the door to that 5th grade job, I was so hurt. Why? Was it a punishment? No. It was an invitation.
You see, God, in His infinite wisdom, closes doors that aren’t meant for us. That 5th grade door . . . it wasn’t mine. That wasn’t the path He had for me. It belonged to the other teacher. The path God had for me turned out to be exactly what I needed in that season; it was that as the district sub. I received a full salary with benefits and an amazing opportunity to teach in a variety of grades and buildings. In each classroom I served, there were different kids, different learning styles, different behaviors. I was exposed to different approaches to teaching and had the opportunity to work with and learn from other teachers within the district. I would not have learned as much or had the same experience had I remained within the four walls of my own classroom.
When God closes a door, He does so in order to lead us towards the one that is meant for us. In the midst of rejection, instead of dwelling on the what might have been, turn your eyes expectantly towards what might be. Jeremiah reminds us that God says,
“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (MSG)
God has a plan for each one of us. Rejection is often an invitation to live in the expectation that God has something even more beautiful ahead.
Rejection. It can break us or it can make us into the women we were created to be. Decide to rise above the rejection, and look for the gifts that can be found amidst your hurt. Gifts that grow us, refine us, and draw us closer to the One who created us. Place your trust in Him. He’s got you.
“With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment. Always let him lead you, and he will clear the road for you to follow.”
Terkeurst, Lysa. Uninvited Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely. Nashville. Nelson Books. 2016.