Rejection. Everybody faces it. Some more than most. My past is filled with so much rejection and abandonment that they are what I have come to expect in nearly every relationship. That’s right, I have an irrational fear—a phobia—of rejection and abandonment. It is the thorn in my side.
I would say it goes back to my parents’ divorce when I was 16-years-old. Now, fortunately, I never felt my parents rejected me as their child, because they didn’t. I have wonderful, loving parents. However, during the divorce, my feelings were abandoned. They didn’t do this on purpose; they weren’t aware of what they were doing to me as a teenager whose hormones were still developing and maturing, and a teenager who wasn’t yet emotionally mature.
Both of my parents were making the other out to be the enemy. My mother would talk of how aggravating my father was, and my father would then do the same about my mother. Shared custody made matters worse. Going between my parents’ homes every two weeks and hearing all the bad things they had to say about each other, I was like that little ball in the video game Pong. I was being bounced back and forth between each side, physically and emotionally, given no chance to rest and consider my own emotions because I was so busy being the emotional caregiver for my parents.
Instead of just being a normal teenager in high school, my parents parentified me and I had to take care of their emotions when it should’ve been the other way around. I wasn’t allowed to be a kid anymore. At sixteen, I had to learn how to be an adult, at least emotionally. It is no wonder why today I am so emotionally stunted and afraid of being vulnerable with people. Again, my parents were loving towards me during the divorce and did the best they could in the situation, but in such a sinful situation, I was not able to deal with my own emotions.
Because I was so busy taking care of my parents’ emotions, and living depressed as a result for so long after that, once high school graduation neared, college hit me like a brick. I had no idea what I wanted to do. What do I want to major in? What do I want as a future career? What are my skills? Do I even want to go to college? So, I decided to escape from home and all these questions by enlisting in the Army. I found out about the Army Bands and decided to audition. I passed the audition and left for basic training seven months later.
Whilst I escaped home, I did not escape my curse of rejection and abandonment. Unbeknownst to me at the time, whilst I was at basic training, my fiancé got pregnant with another man’s child and married him (I never met this man). I didn’t find out until a month after basic training. Her rationalisation was the following, “I thought you wouldn’t love me anymore after basic training.”
I reminded her of my intense love for her, “How could you ever think that? You were raped before we met, for crying out loud! I love you in spite of that and I even love your daughter, whom you were pregnant with after the rape! And I love her so much that I was going to adopt her when we got married! How could you ever think that?” She knew I was right, but there was no way we could legally get married, not to mention the trust she utterly destroyed between us. Her betrayal—her adultery—was catapulted into my heart and it broke me down.
But at least I still had my friends… Or so I thought. You see, I had recently come to faith when I was 17 (I was 20 at this point in the Army). I made some loving Christian friends, and they became my best friends. Even when I left for the Army, we talked on the phone and texted a lot. Then one day, they all stopped talking to me. I would call them, and they wouldn’t answer. I would text them, and they wouldn’t respond. I would message them on Facebook asking if they changed their phone number, and they never responded.
I wonder if it had something to do with one of our lay youth leaders. All of a sudden, he would send me hateful Facebook messages telling me how unchristian it is to be in the military, and he would state the same hateful opinions publicly on Facebook. My attempts at reconciliation failing, I was forced to block him due to his constant emotional abuse.
As one of the youth leaders at the church, who knows what he may have told my friends? He might have fed them lies, and they may have scooped them up like dogs looking for scraps. Or maybe they were just being kids in their early twenties—more concerned about partying and drinking, and not only was I no longer there to hang out with them, but I was also of a more mature mind that found those sorts of activities foolish and meaningless.
Whatever happened, they failed to maintain a good, Christian connection with me. I was very, very alone. My fiancé had just committed adultery, my closest friends left me, and now I had no friends, about to deploy to a completely different country where I would know nobody: South Korea. Of course, I made friends in the service, but after we left for our next duty stations, both of us failed in staying in contact. For the next three years of my life in active duty, I was constantly alone.
Fast forward to today, I faced numerous rejections, whether from new “friends” or women as love interests. “Friends” left me and hated me for my faith in Christ. Others just outright despised me for the same reason, not even trying to be my friend. Women I dated left me because the distance in the military was too difficult. Or even if things were going well, I would leave because I would become afraid that they’d end up leaving me anyway, just like my ex-fiancé did. So, I would leave so I wouldn’t have to deal with inevitable abandonment.
Then after the Army, I would be rejected for one of three reasons of my pastoral calling: 1) they weren’t “good enough” for me, 2) they’re afraid of people judging them as a pastor’s wife (an understandable concern, but c’mon, as if people don’t judge you enough already, especially as a Christian woman in a sexualised society), or 3) I have “more faith” than them (as if faith can be measured). Of course, I was rejected for being unattractive as well, which is not easy for anybody. And still, for (short) relationships that were going well, I would end up leaving because of my fear of abandonment.
Today, relationships terrify me, whether they’re friendships or romantic. I’m terrified of making new friends. Just like my first new Christian friends, I think, “What if they stop liking me?” Or, “What if they don’t even like me at all, and they’re just tolerating my presence?” This is why I’m always so timid and quiet around new people.
When I go on dates with women, I think, “She’s just going to reject me anyway. Even if we date for a while, she’s going to find somebody more attractive and outgoing than I am and leave me for him anyway.” Just like my ex-fiancé did. And even, “If I open up to her about my dark past, she won’t like what she hears and she’ll leave me.” I’m aware that I’m doing a lot of judging and these thoughts are self-defeating, but these are lies I have taught myself to believe for almost a decade. I literally have to relearn self-taught behaviour.
So, what have I done? In my fear of rejection and abandonment, I force myself into isolation. With my need for human union and connection, I replaced it with a particular addiction (to be left unmentioned here). I found union and connection in my addiction, albeit false. My fear aggravated my isolation, which aggravated my addiction, which aggravated my guilt and shame, which in turn aggravated my addiction even more.
Fortunately, I am gradually coming to realise that this addiction is who I was, not who I am. I have been taking proactive steps towards recovery and sobriety, which my addicts anonymous group is extremely helpful for that (it’s not called “addicts anonymous,” but it does have “anonymous” in the title). This group is giving me that need for connection, and helping me become less afraid of connecting with people.
So, I’m sober from the addiction, but I’m still terrified of making new relationships, building relationships, and being vulnerable with people. I am terrified of rejection and abandonment, whether it’s in friendships or a romantic relationship. In fact, these days, my rejection tends to be my own fault because I will leave and become avoidant before rejection even becomes an option for people.
With my ex-fiancé and my so-called Christian friends, it was a “them” problem. Their rejection and abandonment had nothing to do with me. Today, it is a “me” problem. Today, I am the one who leaves because I don’t want to give anyone else the chance to leave, assuming they’re going to do it anyway. So, “why not save them the trouble?” Ironically, the abandoned one has become the one who abandons.
But there is hope. I have always known God is always with me and He will not abandon me, but I haven’t believed it. I knew it was true; it says it right there in the Scriptures. But I never believed it was true for me, which is ironic because I’m going into pastoral ministry. Yet a common problem amongst pastors is that they often forget to preach the Gospel to themselves. Pastors are often so focused on the spiritual health of others that they forget about their own. The Gospel is for pastors just as much as it is for believers and unbelievers.
So, I have come to rediscover the Gospel. Please allow me to share with you a few passages of the Word that God used His Holy Spirit to really melt the iron wall around my heart:
Psalm 9:10, And those who know Your name put their trust in You, for You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.
Psalm 94:14, For the LORD will not forsake His people; He will not abandon His heritage
Isaiah 49:14-16, But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.” It is unnatural for a mother to forsake her child. Although this is increasing today with abortion on the rise, God will not forsake me, His child. My name is written on His hand, and my name is written in the Book of Life.
Nehemiah 9:17, They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that You performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.” Even when I forsake God and forget about Him, even in my addiction, He does not forget me or leave me, ready to be gracious to me and forgive me.
1 John 3:20, “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.” I may condemn myself to rejection, abandonment, and self-hatred, but God is greater than what my heart says about myself. He knows all things, and He says I am His holy, beloved son, granted to me in my Baptism.
Matthew 27:46, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This has been the key Word for me. God forsook Jesus, His Son, on the cross. Jesus took the wrath of God upon Himself for me. I have always believed this, but I have not come to fully realise its ineffable significance for me. God forsook His only Son on the cross so that He will not forsake me, His son.
People are going to reject me. Yes, some may even abandon me. People are sinners, and we are bound to hurt one another. Despite what my heart may tell me, my identity is not found in their rejection of me. My identity is found in Christ, who died for me; it is found in my Baptism, in which God has adopted me as His son and has promised the inheritance of eternal life; it is found at the Lord’s Table, where Jesus invites me as a member of His family to partake of His body and blood to forgive all my sins.
People may reject me and abandon me, but the Lord never will. God’s wrath is the worst kind of abandonment, but because of Jesus I will not face this. The abandonment I deserve from God occurred on the cross—Jesus forsaken for me. And He also rose from the dead for me, the same resurrection promised to me in my Baptism (Romans 6).
As one who’s forsaken, forgotten, abandoned, rejected, bullied, misunderstood, ignored, an isolator, self-hater, and an addict, God will never leave me nor forsake me. Neither will He leave you nor forsake you.