The Roots of Rejection

by Andy Wood on June 10, 2015

in Enlarging Your Capacity, Esteem, Five LV Laws, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Pleasers, Principle of Increase

Loneliness Concept - 3D

What did rejection look like to you on the school playground?  What about Junior High?  College?

What did rejection look like after you got married, or started a family?  What does it look like today in your workplace or your worship space?

Describing your experience with rejection is like describing an encounter with a snake.  Each experience is a little different, and the beast appears differently in every scene.  But in each case the result leaves a story to tell and an emotional experience to re-live or respond to.

I’ve had my own experiences, of course.  And I’ve seen it played out in countless lives…

Like the 59-year-old woman who said of her then-76-year-old mother, “Just once I wish I could hear my mother say I did something right.”

Or the only-child high school student who was rejected by his friends because he had a helicopter mother before the term was ever invented.  She meddled, and her son, whom she was trying to help and advance, was hated all the more.

Then there was the businessman who was rejected in the business world because he was part of a revolutionary approach to financial services, but was obnoxious about it.

I knew a pastor once who was rejected by the deacons in his church. After years of service, they felt that it was time for a change. So they gave him a deadline and asked him to find somewhere else to go. When he was unable to, they cornered him about resigning, and he turned the rejection tables back on them. Unbeknownst to them, he showed up one Sunday morning with has car packed, he got up at sermon time, explained that he’d been asked to resign, and walked out the door.  Ouch.

It may surprise you to know that some of the most memorable and powerful success stories in history are people whose lives arose from the ashes of rejection.  One of those stories goes way, way back, all the way to the days of the ancient Egyptians and a wealthy roaming family who lived in nearby Canaan (modern day Israel).

Now this family had it all, except for the permanent home.  They had wealth, family drama, intrigue, rivalry, scandal.  They put the “fun” in “dysfunction.”  No episode of Downton Abbey or Empire could rival the complicated and often-painful behind-the-scenes story of the house of Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham.  And the epicenter of all that was Jacob’s favorite son Joseph – the most rejected and forgotten man of his generation.

Joseph’s story is a classic case of a man rising up – literally – from a pit to the pinnacle of power in the civilized world.  And the thing that sent him to his personal pit of despair, slavery, false accusation, imprisonment, false hope, and endless disappointment:  Rejection.

We can learn some things from Jacob’s boy about where rejection comes from. In Joseph’s case you can trace five sources.  See if you can’t identify with some of these:

1. Uncertainties in Childhood

Beyond growing up in a nomadic family, Joseph lived in the shadow of a soul-crushing event.  Very early in his young life, his mother died giving birth to Benjamin, his brother.  Not only did he lose her, but his brokenhearted father turned all his affection toward Rachael’s oldest son.  Joseph went from 11th-son tagalong to Daddy’s pet.

Childhood trauma and chronic uncertainty can lead someone to live with a spirit of rejection, even when no true rejection takes place.  It can also unfairly set a child up to be despised by his siblings or peers. Like the high school student mentioned above, Joseph didn’t ask for special treatment, but had to pay for it when he received it.

2. Offenses – when you violate somebody else’s “rules.”

When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks. He worked for his half-brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. But Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing (Genesis 37:2, NLT).

Every culture had a code – a set of written or unwritten “rules” to define what’s OK and what isn’t.  Some of those rules are visible; some you don’t discover until you bang into them. But there’s one rule in everybody’s culture from childhood:  you don’t tattle!

To be honest, a 17-year-old should have known better. To be fair, maybe his brothers were doing some really bad stuff.  Either way, fair or not, Joseph transgressed the code and eventually paid for it.

3. Alienation – being in a position where you are singled out.

Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe. But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him (Genesis 37:3-4).

Joseph didn’t ask for this, but he didn’t seem to mind it either.  It feels good to be put on a pedestal – anybody’s pedestal. Just remember – human nature being what it is, the reason we separate people out and put them on pedestals is to give us a clearer shot!

4. Vision – when you dream of something that disrupts the status quo.

The rest of the book of Genesis is the unpacking of a series of dreams that Joseph had.  Each of them involved Joseph being in a position where his brothers and father bowed down to him.  And what did Joseph do?  He naively and glibly told his family all about it.

Uh oh.

Was Joseph accurate?  Yep.

Were his dreams from the Lord?  Uh huh.

But there’s something to be said for discretion.  After all, not all movers and shakers are received with open arms.  In fact, the world’s biggest change agents are without exception the world’s most hated people – starting with the President of the United States, regardless of his political affiliation.

Bottom line:  the higher your dreams take you, the thicker your skin needs to be.  Nobody ever rejected anybody for not rocking the boat.  But sometimes the boat still needs rocking.

5. Jealousy – when you have favor or blessing that others don’t have.

All this adds up to one primary thing.  Joseph was rejected because he had something his brothers wanted, but would never have – the favor of their father.  He no doubt also had personal qualities, including looks and intelligence, that won him favor throughout his life.

If you have ever been on the blunt end of somebody else’s jealousy, you’ll know it’s one of the most awkward feelings in human life. The temptation is to hide yourself – to try to be someone else or hide your gifts in order to earn the approval of jealous people.


I’ll explore more insights about rejection in the next post, but let me leave you with this:  If you spend your life trying to avoid the disapproval of others by denying who you are, you become the slave to someone else’s jealousy and manipulation.  Sure, there’s a wise and unwise way to reflect your gifts and favor.  But pretending you don’t have them is a sure ticket to mediocrity, frustration, and anyway-rejection.

Sometimes rejection is your fault. Often it isn’t.  But as long as you borrow oxygen from the planet, you will stumble into the snake somewhere.  And it will hurt.  But you will find in those ashes and that pain some building blocks to rise higher than you would have had others not rejected you.

Hey REE-JECT… the end of the story hasn’t been told about you yet.  Why don’t you agree to help write it?

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