The late Marcus Borg, a well known New Testament scholar and theologian, once wrote that American Indians would often begin a story by saying: “Now I’m not sure all of this happened this way, but I know it is all true.”
“The Story of the Man Born Blind” in the Gospel of John is the story of a community cast aside. They were thrown out: unseen, unheard, unwanted. They were rejected by those whom they loved; and who they thought loved them in return.
…Rejection is less about the person being rejected and more about the person who is doing the rejecting. Rejection occurs because you do not fit the mold that another has sought to place upon you. This does not mean they don’t love you, but it does mean they do not know how to love you.
You cannot change how they see you and love you. But, you can continue to love them in some fashion, perhaps distantly, and give them the time and space they need to confront themselves and to learn that they need to grow and change, just as you have grown and changed.
There was a young woman I recently encountered through an online forum who had “come out” to her parents, only to have them seemingly reject her in some unhealthy and painful ways. She did not give much detail, but it was clear it was a painful experience for her (as many of my friends and readers have also experienced, or can imagine).
Here is the counsel I gave her (with some minor edits), which I hope may be of help for others who are also experiencing rejection. (…Though we must also recognize that there are many out there, especially those who are the survivors of abuse, for whom such an approach will only promote or increase the pain they are experiencing, rather than bringing the healing they are looking for.)
…From the tiny bit you’ve said it sounds to me like your parents are going through an identity crisis. They see you as an extension of themselves. (And we are all extensions of our parents in many different ways, aren’t we?) So, they are confused and distraught because their daughter has suddenly turned out to be someone entirely different (in their minds) from the person they thought she was.
This has shaken their own self image to the core, and they are probably reacting in all sorts of unhealthy ways because of it. I suspect they love you deeply, but are realizing – at some deep and probably unconscious level – that to love this person who is their daughter as deeply as they do means some major readjustments in their own life, with their relationships with you, and even with their relationship with each other and with their God, all of which is scary. They are no longer the parents they thought they were, but something else, some other kind of parent.
Speaking as the parent of an adult child myself, it’s a hard adjustment. Your parents have to learn to accept you as an adult, someone who has their own life to live. They raised you to be such a person, but didn’t really realize until now that raising you to be a strong and independent person resulted in you becoming a strong and independent person!
In a way, your roles have been reversed: you are now the adult, and they are the ones who need to grow up a bit more. They’ll need time and space to come to that place of acceptance, so don’t give up on them, but also don’t try to “make” them see and accept the truth of who you are, it is best to let that happen when the time is right.
Show them how to love you as you are, that you are a wonderful person in large part because of who they are – just as they hoped you would be. And, let the Spirit of the God you share with them give all of you peace as you weather the storms and adjustments that are taking place as they adjust to this new reality in their lives.
My prayers are with you all.
In my experience, rejection is less about the person being rejected and more about the person who is doing the rejecting. Rejection occurs because you do not fit the mold that another has sought to place upon you. This does not mean they don’t love you, but it does mean they do not know how to love you.
You cannot change how they see you and love you. But, you can continue to love those who reject you in some fashion, perhaps distantly, and give them the time and space they need to confront themselves and to learn that they need to grow and change, just as you have grown and changed.
Copyright (c) 2015, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)
God’s Covenant with Abraham has long been understood to reach far beyond the descendants of Isaac to include all humanity – as both he original narrative in Genesis and Paul’s references to it in Romans demonstrate. What we often fail to appreciate is how the narrative in Genesis makes it clear God’s Covenant with Abraham also embraces those whom we reject,and those whom we often do not “see” at all.
Our readings this morning touch on the story of Ishmael, one of my favorite characters in Hebrew Scripture.
Because we’ll be digging deeply into this story, I thought it would help to provide an overview …
Here we see the three revelations of God’s Covenant to Abraham in the book of Genesis. All three declare that he shall have an heir, and that his descendants will be an uncounted multitude. They all say his descendants will inherit the Promised Land. But, with each revelation, more detail is added; and the duties of each of the Covenant’s participants (meaning God, and Abraham’s family, and us) are more completely spelled out.
We won’t talk much about the first revelation, other than to note that it was ten years before the second one.
You see here that Abram and Sarai’s names are changed to Abraham and Sarah as part of the third revelation. The names of everyone in this story are a metaphor, reflecting the nature of their relationship with us, with each other, and with God. So, name changes are very important – reflecting a change in the person’s relationships and position in the story.
To remain consistent with the narrative, you’ll see me using the old or new version of a person’s name based on where we are in the story.
We’ll be focusing on what happens between the second and third revelations, as shown here: the time of Ishmael’s birth and early life.
When God speaks for the third time, Abraham laughs and thinks to himself “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” and then says to God “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!”
Clearly, Abraham is concerned for Ishmael, and is remembering the second revelation of 13 years earlier, when he said to the Lord “’You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ And the Lord replied, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’
To fulfill the second revelation’s promise of an heir, and at Sarai’s insistence (since she was barren) Abram fathers a child through Hagar, Sarai’s slave. Sarai then feels that the newly pregnant Hagar is looking upon her with contempt and abuses her. Hagar then flees into the desert. There, an angel appears to her saying “return to your mistress and submit to her.” And tells Hagar she will have a son, repeating what seems to be part of the promise, saying “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted.”
When Hagar’s child is born, Abram names him Ishmael – as was commanded by the angel – a name which literally means “God Hearkens” or, to use more modern language, “God hears (and responds)” – a clear indication that Abram believes the child is the promised heir.
13 years go by, and now we’re in the time of the third revelation from this morning’s reading: God says the same things as before, adds a requirement for circumcision as a sign of the covenant; renames Abram to “Abraham”; then says “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and … I will give you a son by her … she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Abraham laughs (whether from joy or incredulity, we’re not sure – maybe both) and wonders at this, given his and Sarah’s advanced years. He then realizes that Ishmael, his only child, now 13 years old, is not the promised heir. What’s going to happen to him? So Abraham says “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” – pleading for his only son’s position, and maybe even his life.
After affirming that Sarah will indeed bear him a son to be named Isaac, God says “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous…. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.”
Afterwards, and as God commanded be done in observance of this new covenant, Abraham takes Ishmael and all the men in his household, whether free or slave, and circumcises them, including himself.
Now this is troubling. Ishmael, whom we thought to be the promised heir from the second revelation, was apparently confirmed as such by the angel who spoke to Hagar. And, Abraham names the child “Ishmael”, just as the angel commanded. He had to be the heir. But now, he is no longer the child promised as part of the covenant. It looks like he’s been rejected, and yet he is circumcised, meaning that he is part of the covenant.
Someone close to me recently “came out” and disclosed to their family that they are gay. This person’s parents have had a hard time dealing with this, and there has been a gap of I think hurt and anger between the parents and their child.
My views on alternative lifestyles are clear to those who have read other posts in this blog, which is that we are all God’s creatures, and that how we live our own life is between us and God, subject to whether our lifestyle hurts or compromises the lives of others.
In this light, my friend’s “coming out” really hurts no one. It does cause emotional stress for the parents, but only because they are not emotionally or intellectually prepared to deal with this new reality in their lives. Their reaction to this is (I think) a mixture of anger, hurt, and “how could my child do this to us?” They need time to adjust, and need to be willing to love, and to be changed by their love.
My advice to all those in such a situation is to remember that your child, particularly your adult child, is a child of God even more than they are your child. And, since they are an adult, it is no longer up to you how they live their lives; it is up to them.
As parents, when our adult children do something (like this) that we cannot comprehend, we need to be willing to realize that their telling us of it is a major challenge for them, because they know they are likely to be rejected, just as they have felt shame, hurt, oppression and anger all of their lives, trying to hide this inner self that they feel is an inescapable part of who they are from the world.
So, my advice is to remember that your son or daughter’s life is hard enough, living with this reality. As parents, we may not understand their lifestyle, or like it, but they are our child. As such, it is important to remember that our Father in Heaven loves us the same no matter what we do, and even though none of us are perfect. Regardless of who we are, we are called by Jesus to love others, most especially our children, in the same way. Even though they are just as imperfect as us, God sees the perfection that is within.
Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).