As we come to the end of our series, Daring to hope in an unstable world, it’s fitting to turn our attention to the good news that is the source of our hope. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing hope when we discover that we are frighteningly close to the situation that the Judean’s reached during the time of Jeremiah. We, too, can be rejected by God and left to the consequences of our bad choices.1
Yet, we dare to hope in an unstable world because we know that often what feels like rejection is not rejection at all. God allowed the people of Judah to suffer from the consequences of their choices. Faced with an increasing gap between the well-off and the poor in our country, we have similar choices to make. We’re also faced with how to dismantle systemic racism amid a resurgence of white supremacy threatening violence and empowered by political leaders. And the attack on the U.S. Capital illustrated for the world the urgency of our impending confrontation.
This week we explore our feelings of rejection to help us realize that God did not reject the people in Jeremiah’s time. God simply allowed them to suffer the consequences of their decisions, which took them to the place that those of us in privilege are uncertain we want to go. They lost their privilege. God always sides with the poor and marginalized. And while open carry laws might intimidate a lot of us, intimidation won’t change God’s mind.
Linda Graham is a marriage and family therapist. In a recent post on her website, she shared an exercise that helps us to identify how our body responds to the sting of rejection. The exercise goes something like this:
Allow yourself to sit quietly for a moment, eyes gently closed. When you’re ready, imagine yourself walking down the street on the sidewalk, someplace familiar to you. You’re fine, humming along, and then across the street walking toward you, but on the other side of the street, you see someone you know, and you wave hello – and they don’t wave back. They don’t wave back. Stay quiet for a moment. Simply notice what happens inside as you perceive and react to not being seen nor responded to by them. 2
Psychologists call what happens to us “separation distress response.” Our brainstem triggers an unconscious response that can quickly escalate into a conscious effort to try and make sense of what just happened. Linda Graham noticed that there is an endemic of “It must be me” in our culture that results in feelings of unworthiness among us.
This separation distress response happens at some of the most inconvenient times. Our fear of triggering this response can cause us to stay with a crowd beyond when we realize that we disagree with what the crowd is doing. Or to support a political leader or party that no longer represents our ideals to avoid rejection by other supporters.
Separation distress response holds us in unhealthy relationships and convinces us that we are the exception to divine grace. We are the rejected. Under such threat, otherwise rational people can conclude that they are sick and tired of feeling like they are the problem. And they rebel, finding justification for responses antithetical to the love stories found in scripture.
Sadly, there is pain in the world. And while much of our pain comes from disease and accidents, most of our pain comes from our decisions. We know that there is a connection between forest fires and climate change. We know that a virus spreads when given an opportunity. The people of Judea suffered because they turned to leaders and the machinery of war for their liberation. We, likewise, suffer for many of the same reasons. Pain seeks us out when we depend on human motivation and creativity alone.
British novelist C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” Pain gets our attention. Lewis referred to pain as God’s megaphone. When the world isn’t listening, pain stops us in our tracks and grabs our attention. And if we turn our attention to God, we learn how best to manage within the quagmire we created.
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Most of us suffer rejection more than once during our formative years. And these experiences, unless they are paired with contradictory experiences of love and acceptance, can dominate our response to totally different circumstances. The neural pathways in our brain may be stuck in a one-way superhighway that takes us to hopelessness. These pathways lead us to conclude, “It must be me.” When we visit this place often enough, messages of hope are shouted down by our other inner voices.
After the Judean’s were taken into exile, Jeremiah wrote a letter that shared God’s message of hope. “I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). This declaration by God to the people of Judah can be our declaration of hope as well.
We dare to hope in an unstable world because we know that God holds our hand during our pain. And while good plans work best when they become tangible, we know that God calls you and me to turn good plans into reality.
The source of our hope lies in the recognition that God loved us enough to live among people. And this love is a gift. We don’t earn it, and we can never be the exception that misses out. Unless we choose otherwise.
I pray that you will join us each Sunday at 10:30 am as we learn together from the successes and mistakes of Jeremiah’s community. Invite your friends to join us online or in-person.
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1 Some of the content for our series comes from Melissa Spoelstra. Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World. © 2014. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
2 Linda Graham. “The Neurobiology of Feeling Unlovable,” © Linda Graham-MFT.net.