The Pain of Rejection, Part 2

by Bruno Borges, Men’s Ministry Director

Rejection is painful. And that’s not just a platitude or turn of phrase. A 2003 MRI study revealed that the experience of rejection activates the same portions of the brain used to process physical pain.[1]In other words, we feel rejection as deeply as we would a burned hand or a broken bone. It’s no wonder that people use all kinds of coping mechanisms to assuage the pain associated with rejection. And Leah from the book of Genesis is no exception.

Last week we talked about the numerous levels of rejection experienced by Leah in Genesis 29. She was labeled as less comparatively beautiful than her sister (v. 17). Her father, rather than protecting her, forced her into a marriage founded upon trickery, sending the message that she would never be actually loved by another (v. 23). Her husband outrightly rejected her, announcing to all her family and friends at their wedding banquet that he loved her sister more than her (v. 30). The level of pain that Leah must have felt from these rejections would have been intense to say the least.

Whenever we feel intense pain, we attempt to ease that feeling in the most expedient way possible for the particular pain that we feel. We will reach for an aspirin if we have a headache. We will search out porn if we feel alone or stressed. We will hookup if we feel unloved. Yet even if these coping mechanisms succeed in temporarily lessening the pain, they often do not actually resolve the deeper issue. Case in point, Leah’s reaction to rejection.

According to Judaic primogeniture customs, one of the greatest blessings that a wife could give to a husband was a son. Sons were seen as one of the greatest representations of a man’s strength and courage. Genesis 29:31 says that God looked with favor on Leah and gave her a son, something she believed will take away her pain by removing her husband’s rejection. We know she made this assumption based upon her response to the birth of the baby boy: “now my husband will love me” (Gn 29:32). Yet it would seem that Jacob did not remove his rejection from her. We know this because after she gives birth to a second son, she comments, “because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also” (Gn 29:33). But even the birth of the second son did not remove the rejection of her husband because at the birth of her third son she exclaims, “now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons” (Gn 29:34).

Leah desperately kept believing that she needed an earthly solution to her rejection. But somewhere between the birth of her third and fourth son, she realized that she instead needed to take her attention off her pain and turn it toward God. After she gives birth to her fourth son, she declares, “This time I will praise the Lord” (Gn 29:35). And it was this child that she named Juda, the tribe through which Jesus traced His lineage. Through her act of worship, Leah became a part of the lineage of He who would also be rejected in order to conquer all rejection.

So, what does all this mean for us? We, like Leah, need to stop looking for the solution to our pain among earthly sources. Yes, rejection hurts, but the remedy for that pain can only be found in Christ. Though we are rejected by others, God “will not leave [us] or forsake [us]” (Dt 31:6). Rather than clinging to earthly coping strategies, we must turn our gaze upon Christ and worship Him. For in doing so, we reorient our hearts and minds to look at the eternal rather than the temporal. In doing so, the pain of rejection diminishes in light of his glory and grace for us.

[1]Naomi I. Eisenberger and Matthew D. Lieberman, “Why Rejection Hurts: A Common Neural Alarm System for Physical and Social Pain, “Trends in Cognitive ScienceVol.8 No.7 July 2004, 294-300.