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Postcards from Seattle | This Pilgrim's Progress-2

Is it Wrong to Fear Rejection?

I fear rejection

Out of all the fears or anxieties I have, they all stand as creeping things in the foreboding yet tolerated shadow of my fear of being rejected. This fear is not just fear for being rejected, but encompasses the many concerns that stem out of it; the fear of being abandoned, forgotten, orphaned, unloved, alienated, disregarded, pushed aside, left alone.

However, my resolve to approach this fear is not founded out of my own desire; it is a challenge that has been raised by my mentor and has met itself against my hardness to heart, an unwilling submission and distrust with spiritual authority and feelings of despair.

Ugly Responses to Being Called Out

Being in an intentional, gospel centred discipling relationship is not always pretty. It is true of the proverb that iron sharpens iron. What we may unintentionally miss is that when two blades strike to sharpen one another, heat and sometimes sparks are produced; unnatural but productive sharpening happens. In these relationships, the rate of convicted sin in a man’s soul is compounded to a shorter and compressed space of time; emotional heat and firey sparks can violently throw itself around as I was soon to experience.

Even though history has taught not to allow sin to first overcome and maim me before crying out to the Lord, I have met this challenge with the self-destructive treachery of my own heart. I have found my heart unwilling to rid the poison of this fear that prevents me from living in the fullness of Christ.  Instead, I found myself reasoning against the own goodness that was spoken to me,

“I see no urgency to accept this challenge. Why should I deal with this now when I’m in a good place? Why stir up a struggle when I have just recovered from a bout of depression and despair? Why put to death this sin if it is not crushing or maiming me? Is it even a sin at all? Is it not okay be afraid of some things? Isn’t it normal, understandable and acceptable to be afraid that people could reject and hurt you?”

And then the onslaught of retort and defensiveness pours forth from the well of my heart;

“Who are you to tell me this?! How can I trust that the Holy Spirit indeed prompted you to raise this up to me? Has this been simply conjured from your mind and your feelings of obligation and self-righteous duty? Is this a personal attack? What do you really have against me?”

How unfortunate is our natural response, from the wounded pit of our pride, to lash back out in our uncovered shame with the pitiful covering of self-righteous anger.

Preparing your heart for hard work

It is true, of nearly all of us, that we do not wish to part with our enslaving tormentors, for we find false comfort with our captors. Being surrendered to this fear somehow allows us to remain in a tolerable discomfort rather than entering into the conflict and suffering that is needed to break out of the bonds that lead to true freedom in Christ.

Yet, in God’s mercy and grace, His Spirit, in tender firmness, abates the violence in my soul and invites me to take time apart from my emotive reaction to weigh my spirit against His living and holy word. History would also remind me that discernment of sin is much harder to weigh in the heat of emotion. Knowing this, I try to give myself the grace to allow the injured furnace of my heart to cool before dissecting it with the blade of His word.

Providing oneself some time to allow God to clothe your uncovered shame through the hearing of the gospel of truth will help till the ground of your heart to be more receptive of His life-giving word and prevent any crippling and despairing emotions that seek to undo the Spirit’s work of conviction and repentance.

Reminding myself of who God is, and reminding myself of my identity in Him helps. Reminding myself that I was chosen in Him before the foundation of this world and that I was predestined for adoption as a son through Jesus Christ; reminding myself that my full acceptance bought through the finished work of Christ. All these thoughts place my heart into a restful humility that can now weigh itself to see if there is any truth, any wrong, in my fears of rejection.

Why the fear of rejection is a sin, and why yours may be too.

Between licking my wounds and attempts to rationalise a defence for my fears, I concluded that only thing that could convince me that my fear was a sin would be the Word of God. So as I drove off to work, I decided, for some reason unknown to me, that I would play from my audio Bible the Book of Galatians.

I didn’t get far on my journey before the Holy Spirit highlighted these words to me:-

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 ESV)

The Holy Spirit loving gained my attention through these words. If indeed I were trying to abate the risk of rejection through people pleasing I would be enslaved in trying to attain the approval of man. My enslavement to the fear or man would not allow me to serve and love the Lord fully.

Further still, if I am trying to control my fear of rejection by trying to keep people liking, wanting or needing me, then I am elevating the approval or acceptance of man over the approval of God that has already been won through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As His word says, I cannot serve two masters; I cannot serve God and try to please man. If I fear the power of man over the power of God, I falsely place people above God which is sinful.

Servile Fear and Filial Fear

Luther differentiated two types of fear, servile and filial; the fear of rejection is a servile fear, yet the fear of the Lord is a filial fear.

A servile fear is the kind of abject fear a prisoner in a torture chamber might have of their jailer, tormentor or executioner. It’s a deep anxious fear that someone has over the clear and immediate danger they are in that is represented by another person.

Filial fear, on the hand, is drawn from a familial fear, as a child who has a great respect and love for his father and who is desperate to please him. It is the fear or an anxiety of offending the father he loves, not because they’re afraid of torture or punishment, but because he is afraid of displeasing the one who is the source of their security, providence, protection and love.

Understanding what it means to have the filial fear of the Lord, I am more enriched reading this following passage.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:15-18 ESV)

Fear the Lord that you might not fear anything else

Understanding that if I were to have the perfect filial fear of the Lord, I would firstly have to see the perfect, holy and good character of my Heavenly Father. Seeing my Heavenly Father for who He is will allow me to see what He does more clearly; He provides, cares, judges, protects, affirms, serves, secures and loves me. And if I could see who He is and what He does, then I could understand more clearly my identity in Him as a beloved daughter, made in His imaged, adored, rescued, being restored and redeemed. Out of all of these, I would be able to respond in the appropriate filial fear of the Lord.

If I were to know how fully affirmed I am in Him, I would need not seek affirmation elsewhere. If I were to know how real and faithful He is when He says “I will never leave you nor forsake you”, I would not fear being left alone or forsaken in any other area of my life.

Finally, Jesus exhorts and commands us not to fear people and to only fear God for the consequences of fearing other people are minimal to the catastrophe for failing to fear the Lord.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4-5 ESV)

My prayer for myself, and anyone else reading is that the Holy Spirit would examine our hearts and reveal to us through His word how our fear of rejection might impact our reactions and responses which in turn hinder us and prevent us from serving the Lord and living in His fulness of joy. My prayer would be that we see God for who He is and ask Him to make real His love, affirmation and faithfulness to us in ways that assure our hearts of our security in Him that we might not falter by seeking to pleasing men, but that our hearts would instinctively draw to Him.

How do you respond when someone has called you out? Do you struggle with a fear of rejection? How does your fear of rejection play out? Do you fear the Lord as you ought? And if not, what things to you fear because of that?

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  • I’m so glad I came over from Jack of All Trades. I just escaped from three years in a highly abusive workplace situation (of course preceded by family history of abuse as well, because that’s why we accept abuse in the first place, right?) and one of the things God is healing and removing from my heart as we speak is this people-pleasing sin. It’s so bad, and it gets so deeply entrenched in places in us we never even realized, right?

    Thing rang so true to me: “It is true, of nearly all of us, that we do not wish to part with our enslaving tormentors, for we find false comfort with our captors. Being surrendered to this fear somehow allows us to remain in a tolerable discomfort rather than entering into the conflict and suffering that is needed to break out of the bonds that lead to true freedom in Christ.”

    Thank you for posting this! I seriously desire to see all of us freed from this stuff and living in the fullness of life in Christ, and this post was another piece of encouragement I needed today. I’m going to save it to reflect on later as well. God bless!

    • Hi Kim,

      Thank you so much for stopping by again, and thank you so so much for sharing with me a little of your story. Sounds crazy what you’ve been through and knowing and trusting that God has, can and will heal and restore you that you might be able to love and serve Him freely.

      The Holy Spirit has very gently these past weeks enlightened me and shown me how my sin works out, and is slowly showing me the antidote to kill that sin, to restore my soul, and understand His love and affirmation. Not quite there, but I know He is at work.

      Would love to read about what God is showing you on this is if you have a follow up post :)

  • What a well written post! And totally convicting. I am becoming more aware of my hidden sins – fear, worry, stress – all of that not Trusting the Lord and relying on myself.

    “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest”

    • Thank you so much Elizabeth, and for your encouragement. Am slowly learning (like really slowly) to go to Christ in those moments. Thank you for reminding me ;)

  • This spoke to me, Lorraine. Each and every single word. Thank you for posting this.

    • Thank you Jess, am glad you were blessed by it, and pray that the Spirit would show you any roots of fear you might have and the gospel that will free you from it :)

  • I love this! Words of affirmation is definitely my top love language so the opposite (rejection, harsh words, etc) can seem so much worse to me than to others. I absolutely love what you have shared, now I have to analyze myself.

    • Yes, I realize I want to hear words of affirmation more than I realize. Seeing the absence of attention or affirmation definitely causes me to question myself. So hard to remind myself of who Christ is, what He has done and what it means for me in those moments :/ :)

  • wow – this is heavy stuff, but so, so good. i’ve been going through blogs this morning and commenting and reading – lots of fun stuff, but this is meaty. this stopped me in my tracks. i also have a deep craving for approval from other people. it’s like i tell God, your approval isn’t enough for me – which is a slap in the face of Christ.

    i also love the analogy of sparks flying – it means something good is happening. even if it makes us uncomfortable and there’s discord for a little bit, the Holy Spirit works on our hearts and brings us to a point of humility and reconciliation. so thankful for the love of other believers speaking truth into our lives.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments Whitney.
      Yes, it’s crazy how our desire for approval can work out. Trusting the Holy Spirit would show me some of the roots of where it’s coming from and trusting that He would free me from it that I might serve Christ in freedom. :) would love to hear what He’s showing you in this. :)

  • Kimberly Bonham

    LOVE this post! Would love for you to link it up on my blog today for others to see!! Love your blog! New follower!