4 Ways Missionaries Can Heal from Rejection
I still remember crying on my way home as I drove my gray Toyota Hilux truck through the red dirt streets of Gulu, Uganda dodging cows, and children, and potholes.
I sobbed my way through the whole story on the truck bed of our grassy compound while my husband listened. The sunflowers wilting in the late afternoon heat mirroring my heart.
I had a volunteer who I’d deeply loved and spent time training who wanted to leave and start her own identical economic project, bringing some of our women with her. I felt it had come out of the blue and it was a blow. All I could feel was rejection. After all the time we’d spent building something together she didn’t want to stay with us, with me.
Rejection is one of the deepest wounds we can endure.
Biologically we are created to belong, which is why rejection can be so devastating. Historically, as hunter gatherers, we lived in community for survival. Being kicked out of the group was essentially a death sentence.
Rejection can leave us questioning our entire identity. It can leave us afraid to trust ourselves or others. For humanitarian workers and missionaries, it is a leading cause of burnout.
“Often the real trauma on the field is feeling mistreated, bullied, or discriminated against by our fellow humanitarians, those who should be there to share the same values. It is the daily grind, bad management, isolation, and lack of peer support that often breaks people and leads to burnout, not necessarily one traumatic event.” -Alessandra Pigni, The Idealists Survival Kit-
It is these interpersonal hurts in relationships that rob our joy and whittle at our resolve. It is the betrayals that make it so hard to thrive in our life and ministries. Non profit leaders, missionaries, and humanitarian aid workers often struggle with rejection from teammates, or even the people they have come to serve. I still struggle day in and day out with real or perceived rejection by friends and colleagues.
The question is how do we move through rejection in healthy, healing ways and use these hurts as opportunities for growth?
Here are 4 ways missionaries can heal from rejection:
1. Know who you really are
A year and a half ago, I went through a mental health scare related to trauma and I lost many of my close friends because of it. I questioned everything about who I was. I experienced guilt, shame, and the feeling that perhaps I was just a bad person. I’d never experienced needing others or needing help like that, and it made me wonder if I was weak. Perhaps no one could truly love me, and therefore it seemed that made me unlovable.
I sometimes would have to sit for hours journaling God’s thoughts towards me, simply asking Him how He saw me and who I was to Him, just to get through the day. I had to make lists of things I loved and valued about myself. I went back through old journals and words of promises God had given me. I read a lot of Brene Brown and Shauna Niequist and went to a lot of therapy. I took long walks in nature feeling my solidarity with the world, knowing how good everything is God created, including me. I had to ruthlessly reject every self critical thought.
I had to get as much Truth inside me as possible.
What I learned is I cannot let the opinions of others change and shape who I believe I am or how God sees me @saritahartz
2. Work through your triggers
I started to realize every hurt was a big opportunity to do the work in my own soul to become more loving towards self and others @saritahartz
These rejections are an opportunity to say, “Thank you for revealing a lie I’ve been believing in my heart that I need to work through.” Time for some inner healing! A great way to do this is to do a “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet by Byron Katie and learn the “turnarounds” by recognizing the role you’ve played in creating your own suffering. For example, a thought like “She needs to accept me,” can be turned around to “I need to accept me.” Perhaps that is the greater work I need to do.
3. Take radical responsibility
One of the things that has changed my life came from my life coach who challenged me to understand that I create my life experiences. Things are not happening to me. No one else is to blame for my circumstances.The first commitment of the 15 commitments of conscious leadership is radical responsibility. There is even a worksheet. I need to ask myself 2 questions:
#1“How do I create and perpetuate this situation? ” #2: “What do I get from creating and perpetuating this situation?”
In the situation with my volunteer, I needed to acknowledge to myself that I had contributed to the problem. I was afraid of losing control so I became controlling. I also allowed myself to be treated badly because I didn’t believe I was deserving of more. I was also too afraid of losing a friend rather than gently confronting her about her about the motivations behind her actions.
When you own your stuff, you admit your vulnerability, your needs, your flaws, and the impact. You can apologize without feeling like a horrible person. You also don’t try to hero them by owning things that aren’t your fault. Some things are other people’s issues. What people choose to do with your apologies or your owning of truth, is up to them. I can’t control their reaction towards me, nor does it speak of my value. I’m learning not to blame and getting curious about how I perpetuated the situation.
4. You can do hard thingscalling to be a healer for other non profit leaders. There is a redemptive path if you can only allow yourself to see it. Rejection can be healed. It doesn’t have to be the end of your story. You may be able to love someone else who’s experienced rejection with more empathy.
How are you learning to heal from rejection?