“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:7-11
About a week ago I suddenly realized the diversity of my friends. I have crunchy granola anti-vax home birth hippy momma friends, and I have others who, like me, have the pediatrician on speed dial and would have had an epidural for the entire pregnancy if the doctor had let us. I have friends who are right of Ted Cruz and friends who are left of Bill Maher. People who passionately believe like I do and people who just aren’t interested. To illustrate the diversity – one of my friends literally breastfed until her children could ask for it, and I laughed every single time. Who knew I’d ever be friends with a woman like that – me who snuck bottles to my kids when the lactation consultant walked out of the room in the hospital? And yet we are friends and she lights up my days. My friends are all passionate women – I am drawn to strength and my people have it in spades. We can soap-box for hours about the things that make us tick, but those are often fundamentally different opposing viewpoints. And yet we live in peace. We love each other. We don’t see eye to eye on some big hot-button issues, but I could still text them when I’m having a rough day and I know they’ll drop whatever they are doing and talk to me and pray for me, if prayer is their thing.
Taking stock of my friendships struck me for many reasons. First of all – it struck me because I realized what a rarity that kind of unity is, despite our differences. It really is an extraordinary gift. But it struck me also because it sounds strange, but I’m proud of myself that my friendships are so diverse. You see, in my past, I was rejected by people who did not agree with me on some divisive issues, and I lost them because of it. People who should stick by you. Big relationships, lost seemingly forever. To them, the issue was more important than the relationship, and more painful than that, the issue was more important than me.
But not so with my friends – and when I realized it, I had to admit that I let these friendships sneak up on me. For many years I would have guarded my relationships and only gotten close with people like me, simply because I feared the rejection that I thought was inevitably coming because of my past. But I had let them in and we live in peace and joy, and something in me is healing and shifting because they still love me despite my differences from them. I bear the scars of rejection, and scarred skin is always more tough than healthy skin, yet I had somehow let them past my defenses, and they changed my life.
For me, the theme of my life outside of Christ, the defining characteristic of my darkest memories, the knot in my stomach and the feeling of tears pressing behind my eyes can be summed up in one word: rejection.
You aren’t good enough.
You failed at that.
You behaved badly.
You are too much.
You are not enough.
You are not worth fighting for.
Have you ever thought about how much of the world we live in – our present reality – is marred by the sting of rejection? How many of our losses, the scars that mark our consciousness, the defensive walls we construct, are a direct result of the rejection of someone who was supposed to love us? Someone who should have been safe, but when we let them in, hurt us.
I think it could be the defining characteristic of this fallen world. Rejection. Because even if we are accepted in this world, it is usually only for a season. The other shoe almost always drops. Marriages break up. We stop performing at the right level at work and start being phased out. Our bodies decay. We just can’t seem to measure up to the expectations of that person who means the world to us. Someone decides they are done with us, and they (literally) turn their back.
This week it seemed like the rocks were crying out trying to get me to understand this lesson. Every experience somehow had meaning behind the immediate context.
Because, for me, Christ was revolutionary for this one reason. It sounds cheesy, I know, to my friends who don’t get the whole Jesus thing, but in Him I knew acceptance and unconditional love for the first time, in my life.** It changed me. It healed in me something that felt profoundly and irreversibly broken. I let him in, and now years later I am letting more and more people in. My friendships give testimony to the healing I have experienced,
My hilarious breastfeeding-wonder friend is a direct result of God’s work on my heart and in my life. She, and many others totally opposite of her, are walking talking evidences that I am being made new and that I am not walking in fear like I once walked.
Acceptance. I’ve experienced it and found it worth fighting for, worth risking.
**By the way – acceptance is at the core of the character of Christ. There was none righteous, so He became righteousness for us all. There is almost nothing in this world that makes me more angry than people who reject others and say it is in the name of Christ. Those who claim some people are beyond his love and redemption. That is not Jesus. Jesus accepts us. Jesus loves us. Jesus heals us. Anyone speaking “in his name” saying the opposite does not speak for the Jesus I know. The verse at the top of the post was written in response to people who were trying, 2000 years ago, to limit the scope of Jesus’ acceptance to a select few – and it still happens today. But Jesus accepted then and accepts now and confounds expectations every time, which is why I love him and follow him (I told you me and my friends could jump on soapboxes).**
Last night I went to an event where the speaker talked about scars that are on our souls- and I saw clearly that my scars are almost all from rejection. But she also talked about when you offer up those scars, when you are vulnerable and honest and let light in to those places of hurt, those scars become your story. You go from being marred to being marked for a purpose beyond yourself. And that starts when you take those scars, those hurts, those rejections, to Jesus. When you relax in the light of acceptance. I still have work to do in this area – still have things I need to release – but I think a shift in me is taking place where I feel and understand the acceptance of Christ more than the rejection of this world, and it is freeing.
Acceptance. Such a hard concept to grasp in this performance-based, rejection-riddled world we live in. But so necessary for freedom.
Tonight one of my girls lost it in a big way in a public place. And honestly, this behavior is not rare or unexpected – it just happens with her occasionally. I kept thinking about this lesson even as she raged, even as I had to isolate her, even as I sat down with her in her room after it was over and she was calm. These are the deep parenting waters that I have waded and sometimes felt I was drowning in, since she was a tiny girl. She has taught me so much about the Lord. She has taught me so much about myself. I know this is hard for her. I have been her. Tonight I kept thinking, as I handled the situation, “How do I show her love and acceptance, how do I impact her heart and her character even as I deal with behavior that cannot be tolerated for her own good?” Because I can’t revel in acceptance and show rejection. If it is the defining characteristic of my new life, it has to be on His terms, not mine. It has to be absolute. So I pull her close, we pray together, we talk about how sweet and beautiful and kind she is, and how I want her choices to reflect that. We talk about how much I love her even in those crazy moments (such a work of Christ in my heart because, let me tell you, I have not always felt that way). We talk about how there is nothing she can do that will ever cause me to not accept her, and how at any time, in any situation, she can pray and Jesus will listen to her because He accepts her too.
Because here is the truth, she lives in this world. She will face rejection over and over and over and over. She will be scarred by it. It will leave a mark and mar her in many ways I’ll never be able to prevent or anticipate. I myself will probably inflict rejection on her in ways I don’t recognize. Rejection will probably be the defining characteristic of her life outside of Christ, just as it was mine.
But the earlier and sooner and stronger I can help her grasp His acceptance – that will make all the difference.
Acceptance. That will be the thing that draws her to Christ. That will be the thing that cements her when the sand of this world shifts. I have prayed since birth over my girls “let them love you with all their hearts” and it is true I want them to, not because I want them to share my religion, but because I want them to love the God who accepts them. Who loves them with a perfect, everlasting love. I want that healing to begin in their hearts. I want them to know that acceptance. I want them to bask in the light of that love.
Acceptance is at the core of what I believe. It is at the core of what has changed me. And it is at the core of what I want to pass on in this rejection-happy world. May God help me live it and share it with those around me.