Monday, April 27, 2015

How to deal with the fear of rejection

Being rejected is incredibly painful and neurology demonstrates it. MRI studies demonstrate that the pain we experience during social ostracism, or one might say rejection, activates the same region of our brain as physical pain. That is, our brain processes social pain the same as physical pain.*

No one likes rejection.

In fact, repeated instances of rejection can be devastating to us humans. Depression, anxiety, rage, and other powerful negative emotions will often arise. Of course, without healthy coping mechanisms, humans will do whatever possible to end those powerful negative emotions. This is typically the cause of numerous addictive behaviors, whatever you choose to abuse: alcohol, food, sex, etc.. Most people are desperate to medicate and numb those terrible feelings.

No one likes rejection. Rejection leads to loneliness. And prolonged loneliness is incredibly painful and destructive to humans.

This is so very important to recognize in your life. Why? Because whether or not you are conscious of it, you will make decisions in life in order to avoid rejection. You will make decisions to avoid being lonely. (And of course, being alone doesn’t mean you feel lonely—ask any Intravert. Yet, being alone for prolonged periods does cause loneliness.)

Now, this is true of nearly any realm of life in which we have relationships: friendships, acquaintances, business colleagues, and of course, marriages.

I am amazed at how many persons I know who put up with an enormous amount of toxic nonsense and even abuse because of the profound need to feel connected. In order to escape rejection and loneliness, they put up with behaviors that no healthy, rational human would tolerate. And typically, they don't value the things they're putting up with either! They're just too afraid of rejection to change what they tolerate.

Fear of rejection is a powerful motivator.

How many couples have I met who are constantly locked in the same daggum patterns that cause pain, grief, and even deep wounds because of a fear of standing up for themselves and losing the relationship? How many individuals have I met who are constantly stuck in the same pattern at work because standing up for themselves might cause them to lose their jobs? How many individuals do I know who hold superficial relationships with so-called “friends” who are actually horrible friends, but do hold on out of fear of rejection? How many women, particularly, have I met who continue to stay attracted to the same type of immature, loser boy-men types who they think they can change and fix just because those kind of boy-men types accept them?

Too many to count. It's sad.

Fear of rejection is a powerful motivator.

What do you do out of that fear? What do you not do out of that fear?
  • Do you withhold how you really feel with your family member/friend/spouse because you’re afraid they’ll cut you off? Leave you?
  • What secret are you keeping from that person?
  • What habit do you have that you won’t tell the person about because of what s/he might do?
  • What decisions do make in life each day that keep you locked in your position in life because you’re afraid of being rejected?
  • What decisions are you making at your job out of fear of being rejected by your boss? By your peers? By your competitors?
  • Who do you keep employed even though they shouldn’t still be paid, but do so because you don’t want to lose their friendship?
  • What routines do you have in life that you wish were different, but fear of rejection by friends and lovers keep you locked in those patterns?

What should you do about this?


If you think the following suggestions will provide some quick-fix pill for what ails you, then you don’t understand how growth occurs. Really. Reading some quick thoughts on a blog doesn’t fix it. The growth occurs when you put into practice these suggestions.

First, take the time to write the decisions you’re making concerning what to do or not to do due to a deep-seated fear of being rejected and becoming lonely. Be gut-level honest. Thinking about it is not enough. Healing begins when you get your thoughts and feelings out of you. Journaling, at minimum, is wonderful at this. A trusted counselor or friend is even better. And when you journal, pray. I personally journal like I’m writing to God. Many, many breakthroughs have come to me by God during my journaling.

Second, fantasize for a bit. Look over your list of decisions you are making (those things you’re doing or not doing—both are decisions). And here’s the fantasy: assume you’d have tons of love and support in whatever you’d really like to do (that is healthy). What would you do? What would you really like to say that you’re not saying to that person? You guessed it: write it. Journal your answer. What healthy decision would you make if there were no real danger of being rejected at all?

Third, get really busy forming healthy relationships with people who are safe and give you unconditional love. You only want to be close to people who give you permission to have your own view. You have a true friend when you can share your feelings of disagreement, in gentleness, and not feel disconnected in the relationship at all. The relationship—the commitment to each other—is in no way at stake, no matter how much you have a different view.

This suggestion is so very powerful because it will give you the relationship “nutrients” that you need, especially when you have to make decisions in some other relationships that might end when you stand up for your own views/feelings. This is like a safety net. Imagine your life like a river with several tributaries filling it in from various angles and with varying depth and magnitude. Most people only have one or two tributaries filling their river with water…and those two are probably weak, somewhat toxic tributaries (really, how many healthy, wonderful relationships do you have?). And with a deep-seated, visceral understanding of this fact, people carry a profound fear of rejection (“If those tributaries cut me off, no matter how toxic, then I’ll have no one!”). You need to have several, healthy, full tributaries feeding into you each week. And trust me: when you do, it will become increasingly easy to make the decisions you’re afraid to make.

Fourth, make up your mind that you will no longer make decisions based on the fear of rejection. Make up your mind. Really…you must decide that you will not spend the rest of your life in a self-constructed prison of intimidation and fear. The person you’re afraid of losing holds all the power over you. S/he is your warden. S/he is your god. And that’s scary. What a sad, sad way to live. So…make up your mind. Decide to do whatever it takes for the rest of your life to make decisions that help you grow alongside healthy people.

Fifth, once you’ve received some support from healthy, trusted friends, begin making decisions and having conversations that face your fears. Your counselor and/or friends might help you role-play what you’ll say. And here’s a tip: when you have that conversation with the person that you’ve been avoiding, tell the person what your fear is. Be vulnerable. Admit that you’ve not been forthcoming and why. “I’ve been meaning to tell you how I feel but I’ve been so afraid that you’d reject me. Will you reject me if I open up to you about how I feel?” Most people will receive that. If they don’t, then you certainly know that they are not safe. Begin to limit your exposure to such people rapidly.

I’ll stop there. This will get you started.

Nothing you do will make you start to like being rejected. It will always make you anxious to some degree. So be it. This is why we have healthy relationships with people who are safe. But again, no matter what, it means that you don’t make decisions based on the fear of being rejected. There are people who will like you. There are people who will accept you. God designed us for relationships and He will provide them for you if you look in the right places. If you keep changing to fit the other person's desires, then you don't really exist at all. And that's terrible! God designed you to be you, not for you to be someone else.

Don’t give up. It's time to be set free from the prison of fear and "what ifs" that plague you. Rejection is bad. But living a life of fear of that rejection, while making decisions that you don't truly value, is worse.


*If you’re philosophically-savvy: This is not to suggest that pain sensations are the same as the subjective experience of pain.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"If Christians have the Holy Spirit, why don't all of them want to grow?" -- A question from a friend

Why do some Christians seem to live with more spiritual sense and some never grow out of infancy? Why is the desire more profound than for others? Why do some people seem to have a deeper revelation while others speak of being a Christian but bear no fruit?  Free will I guess. I just feel like there is more to it than that.

What about regeneration? If our eyes have been open and we are truly regenerated then wouldn't there be a change in everyone? Maybe not at the same pace. I feel like the spiritual side of us is the only thing that can understand the things of God right? It's foolishness to the world. So if we are regenerated, would not the spirit have new revelation? In the parable of the sower were the ones that got choked by the thorns etc, were they never really regenerated?

These are great questions. Let me commence by exploring some points about the Holy Spirit. I do this because I wonder if you assume some roles to the Spirit that are not attributed in the Bible. (I've spoken elsewhere on what the Spirit does and doesn't do. Click here to read it.)

In the OT,
·         God’s Spirit can be the source of life to creatures (e.g., Gen 1:2; 27; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30; Isa. 40:13). It seems that God’s ruach (= “breath/spirit”) grants life by joining with a creature’s body (and after it does, they call it a nephesh = soul).

·       God’s Spirit can be the source of wisdom or knowledge to perform particular tasks God wants (e.g., Exod 28:3; 31:3; 35:31; Job 32:8; Isa. 11:2; Ezek 36:26-27). That is, God enables them to get His job done.

·       God’s Spirit can be the source of prophecy (e.g., Numb 11:25; 24:2; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 2 Sam 23:2; Ezek. 11:5). Remember, to prophesy means “to speak on someone’s behalf.” It does not mean “to tell the future.” Therefore, here, one of the roles of the Spirit is to use a human as a communication device, like God picking up a phone to speak to someone. Prophets are the telephone.

·         God’s Spirit can be the source of strength and courage (e.g., Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29).

In Second Temple Judaism (ca. 515 BC to 70 AD), God’s Spirit is almost always used in relation to a person’s capacity to prophesy.

In the New Testament, John R. Levison helpfully summarizes:

“The spirit teaches (e.g., Lk 12:12; Jn 14:25-26), speaks (e.g., Jn 16:13; Acts 8:29), testifies (Acts 20:23 [through prophets]; Jn 15:26 [along with the disciples]; Heb 10:15 [through scripture]), leads (Gal 5:18; Rom 8:14), reveals (e.g., Lk 2:27; 1 Cor 2:6-16), forbids (Acts 16:6-7), predicts (1 Tim 4:1), searches God’s depths (1 Cor 2:11), and participates in prayer by crying Abba (Gal 4:6), and interceding with wrenching sighs for those in a state of weakness (Rom 8:26-27). The spirit also functions as a leader by sending out apostles (Acts 13:2-4), appointing overseers (Acts 20:28), and distributing spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:11).”

He omitted “exposes/convicts” (e.g., nonbelievers in Jn 16:8). So, the list is exposes/convicts, teaches, speaks, testifies, leads, reveals, forbids, predicts, helps in prayer, and giving wisdom in various church decisions.

Something missing from this list is any mention of “wanting to read the Bible or pray or do missions.” Nor is there any generalized mention of “wanting to grow at all.”

To say it again another way, I haven't found anywhere in the Bible where we're told that the Spirit makes believers want or desire to be more like Jesus. The Spirit seems to have nothing to do with desiring God or the righteous life.

(It’s interesting to me that the disciples beg Jesus to “increase their faith,” but Jesus doesn’t do it! See Luke 17:4-6).

I know I’ve been taught explicitly and implicitly all my life that having the Spirit will cause in me a hunger. The only problem is, it’s not in the Bible.

So, what does the New Testament say about maturing?

The NT assumes that growth is only based upon the teaching of the Church. It assumes that church leaders are to continue to pass down what they learned from Jesus and the Christian prophets (e.g., Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim 4:1-2; 3:16; Titus 1:9-14).

The authors of the NT very often beg their fellow Christians to listen to the teachings of the leaders  and live them out/grow (e.g., Phil 2:12-13; 3:13-17; Rom 6:11-13; Gal 6:9; Eph 4:20-32; 2 Thess 3:13; Heb 12:3; 2 Pet. 1:2-14; Heb. 6:1-2, 11-12). That is to say, the leaders assume that without their constant, deliberate pleading and exhortation to keep growing, their people would stop growing.

This is why the New Testament assumes that baby Christians can be spotted by their behavior: if they knew better they wouldn’t act that way (this is the precise point in 1 Cor. 3:2-3 and Heb. 5:12-14). The assumption is that you can tell a Christian by how s/he behaves, and that a Christian would know how to behave because s/he has been taught Christian doctrine from a leader.

Now, it is true that there are texts which speak of “growth” (= spiritual maturity? being more like Jesus?). Paul says that God is the cause of growth (not the desire to grow!) in 1 Cor 3:6-7 and 1 Thess 3:12-13. At other times, we’re not told what the cause of growth is, though it seems to be practicing the teachings Christians were taught by the leaders (e.g., 2 Cor 10:15-18; 1 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Peter 1:2; 3:17-18).

So, based on what I’ve just explored, I’ll respond to your questions…

Why do some Christians seem to live with more spiritual sense and some never grow out of infancy? It seems to me that the Bible doesn’t really answer this question. A few authors seem quite frustrated that their people won’t “grow out of infancy” (e.g., 1 Cor 3:2-3 and Heb 5:12-14; 6:1-2). Why is the desire more profound than for others? Again, we’re never told. But, I wonder if NT author might say something like, “Some persons’ desires are stronger because they understand the gospel more.” That “understanding” of the gospel—something Paul constantly prays for concerning his congregations!—tends to breed more desire (like, the more I learn about astronomy the more I want to learn more). Also, I think they’d say that if the person has no or very little desire, it’s a sign that the person isn’t a disciple of Jesus. Why do some people seem to have a deeper revelation while others speak of being a Christian but bear no fruit? Based on what I’ve explored here, I think they would say that some people have a “greater revelation” (= do you mean of who God is?) because of a special gift from God (e.g., the prophets were revealed things no one else received until the prophets told people). And concerning why a Christian might not bear no fruit, then I think they’d say with ease that it’s a sign that the person has never received the Spirit. Minimal fruit is quite different from no fruit. And if it’s no fruit, then that’s a sign that the Spirit isn’t there.

What about regeneration? If our eyes have been open and we are truly regenerated then wouldn't there be a change in everyone? I assume that by “regeneration,” you mean something like being “born from above/born again.” I think the NT authors would concur with your question/assumption: if you’ve been born from above, there is a change. Maybe not at the same pace. The NT authors would certainly concur. I feel like the spiritual side of us is the only thing that can understand the things of God right? It's foolishness to the world. That comes from Paul in 1 Cor 2-3. It seems to me that the chief/only “thing of God” to which Paul is referring is that a crucified Jesus is the Savior (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:2). I’m not certain if Paul has in mind here every possible thing concerning the Christian faith as “foolishness” and indiscernible to non-believers. Perhaps. But, it seems to me that Paul is suggesting that, against some arrogant people at Corinth who think they know better, it requires the Holy Spirit to allow us to see that a crucified Messiah really is good news. So if we are regenerated, would not the spirit have new revelation? I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking here. If you mean “revelation” in the technical sense, as in, a “new message or vision from God,” then the answer is: yes, for those who are called “prophets.” They receive those revelations/messages from God. I don’t know of any evidence that all Christians should expect to receive God’s revelations. In the parable of the sower were the ones that got choked by the thorns etc, were they never really regenerated? That’s a great question! See, this is a perfect illustration of the great difficulty of biblical exegesis. It sure seems to me that, in general, we should not read the Gospels in light of Paul or read Paul in light of the Gospels. And this is a great example of why. Jesus says nothing at all about His disciples receiving the Spirit.
·         Does that mean they didn’t during His earthly ministry? Perhaps. (Things changed radically after the resurrection!)
·         Does that mean that no Christian does now? I don’t think that’s true because the early church sure believed that you did receive the Spirit post-conversion.
·      So how do we resolve this? It seems to me that both views are compatible. Why? Because receiving the Spirit in no way prohibits Christians from sinning or from rejecting their faith altogether (e.g., Heb. 6:4-6; 1 John 2:1). Remember, when we explored the roles of the Spirit above, at no time do we discover that those who possess the Spirit can’t sin, can’t be tempted, or can’t reject Jesus (or even get possessed! That’s another blog). So, it seems to me that whether or not Jesus assumed disciples possess the Spirit or not, it is most certainly still possible to get “choked by the thorns” (Mk 4).

To perorate all this information: it seems to me that the Spirit is not in the business of helping people really want to grow. The Spirit isn’t a “hunger” in our soul that seeks to be satisfied. It seems that the reason why people don’t want to mature/grow, after having become a Christian, is either because
(1)    they are ignorant of Christian teaching, and thus, don’t know to keep growing/maturing or even what that means; and/or
(2)    they don’t have church leaders who are constantly exhorting/admonishing/teaching/leading them to grow.

Now, of course, I have known plenty of people who have a profound hunger and can’t get enough. That’s awesome. I’ve gone through phases of that too. But in no way does that mean that the Spirit has gone in and out of my life or that I must have been sinning.

Instead, if I were a bettin’ man, I’d say that desiring to grow has to do with a wide range of emotional, psychological, and spiritual reasons.

No matter what, according to the NT, I’ve got to get to work in the discipline of maturation (e.g., 1 Tim 4:7-8). I can’t sit back waiting on a feeling to arise before I do it or I’ll be sunk!

And to that end I hope you join me. J

In Christ,

David

Monday, April 6, 2015

Should all Christians expect to be persecuted? -- A conversation with a Friend

David,

I do not usually think about the possibility that I could be persecuted because of my faith in God and Jesus Christ. However, our study of Revelation reminds us that persecution for our faith is a very real possibility, and we are admonished to stand firm in our faith, even to the point of death.

This brought to mind an incident in our Bible study that happened a while back. I think we were still studying Hebrews at the time. The subject of persecution came up, and I made comments that were not well received by some in the class. I said that Jesus told His followers not "if" you are persecuted, but "when" you are persecuted. While I said I do not think about it all the time, I said that I fully expect I could be persecuted for my faith in God and Jesus at some point in my life. I recall that the response to that was that I should not be thinking that way, especially in the United States.

I do not think that there was anything wrong with what I said about possibly being persecuted for my faith at some point or that persecution of Christians could happen in this country.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks!

As always,

Friend



Hey Friend,

That’s a great question.

Jesus did tell his disciples that they would experience persecution (e.g., Matt 5:10-11, 44; 10:23; Mark 4:17; John 15:20).

The question then is: Who are the disciples to which he speaks?

Obviously, he was always talking to the Jewish disciples during His earthly ministry.

Then, the question is: Is everything Jesus said to His Jewish disciples during His earthly ministry applicable to all disciples at all times?

I’m convinced the answer is “no.” I think there are numerous things Jesus says to His disciples that only apply to His disciples at other times and places if their situation mimics the original situation in multiple respects.

And this is one such case. It’s not the case that all disciples will suffer persecution because some disciples live in cultures where we don’t get persecuted (and by “persecuted” I mean what they meant back then: getting beaten, imprisoned, losing property, losing business, and even killed). Jesus and the primitive church could not have imagined that there would be a time in the future when Christianity was the legal religion of the Roman Empire! (Not to mention the entire Western world becoming what it has become in its stance toward Christianity)

So, I understand Jesus’s statement to be applied like this: Wherever and whenever disciples live in cultures that oppose the teachings and behavior of Jesus of Nazareth, you will be persecuted

Of course, this persecution is a very real experience for millions around the world for those who live in cultures where Christianity is not tolerated.


That’s the way I understand it, at least.

In Christ,

David W. Pendergrass, PhD

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