Rejection Drove Me in the Right Direction

Written By Joanna Tan, Singapore

As the youngest child, I’m often teased and called the little princess of the family. But the truth is that when I was growing up, it was often difficult for me to get my mother’s attention. I felt like my parents favored my siblings, who were both high performers in school and at church. By contrast, I was not as outstanding as them and my parents thought of me as the child who got into trouble more often than not.

Like all children, I desired to be loved, so my parents’ neglect really hurt me. I fought hard for my mother’s affections by trying to keep up with my siblings’ in school, and by doing all I could to become the “sensible child.” I made cards and gifts for my mother during special occasions and studied hard to get good grades in my studies. Yet no matter how hard I tried, my mother continued to compare me with my siblings, often telling me how I fell short. And even though I did well in school, my mother attempted to dissuade me from attending university simply because I did not match up to my siblings. No matter how hard I tried, it just wasn’t enough.

I was crushed by the futility of my efforts. But these years of trying and failing to earn my parent’s affections helped me learn to seek refuge in God. In moments of rejection, I would pour out my sadness and loneliness to God, and He was there to comfort me in my hurts. Our heavenly Father made His great love clear to me whenever I drew near to Him.


Rejected by Man, Loved by God

A few years ago, I came across the story of Leah. Leah was not the one that her husband desired, and time and again, she hoped to gain her husband’s affections by bearing sons for him. Each time, she was disappointed by the futility of her actions:

When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. (Genesis 29:31-35)

 Through the names that Leah chose for her first three sons, she clearly expressed her desire to be loved by her husband. But when she gave birth to her fourth son, she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Instead of placing her hopes in gaining Jacob’s affections, Leah chose to surrender to God. She rested in God’s gift of a son, praising God for what He had done for her.

Like me, Leah tried hard and failed to earn another person’s affections. Through that process, she discovered the unconditional love of God—one that she did nothing to earn. This deeply comforted me, reminding me that in spite of how I was treated by my family, God always loves me. There is nothing I need to do to earn His love—I already have it!

Many years of disappointment and pain as a forgotten child drew me to our heavenly Father’s unceasing love—a love which was present even before the world (and I!) began. Unlike the love of man, God’s love is unconditional and unchanging—He loves me in spite of my flaws and failures.

Even at our worst, at those times when we can’t even love ourselves, God loves us fully. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Through Jesus Christ who has died for our sins, God has given us the privilege to be adopted as His children, and we can call him “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 3:23-4:7). Finding my identity in Christ has liberated me, because I know that He loves us regardless of who we are and what we have done.


Let Your Circumstances Drive You Towards Christ

There are indeed moments when I wish my circumstances could be different—that I could have a perfect family and perfect parents. But as I look back, I realize that my circumstances have helped me experience the depth of God’s lavish love for me. Because I did not receive the love and affection I desired growing up, I turned desperately to God’s love. It was only through the painful struggles for affection and an identity that I have found the greatest treasure in our Father’s love through Jesus Christ.

As I have grown up, I came to better understand my mother and have developed a closer relationship with her. I now love my parents not because I am trying to gain their favor, but because God loves me, and my security is in Him. In fact, because of my experiences, I have been able to encourage my sister in her struggles, reassuring her of God’s unconditional love for us!

Our heavenly Father does not give us all perfect families, jobs, health, and relationships—as can be seen in the experiences of many characters in the Bible. Yet many of these characters, as well as many Christians today, continue to love Jesus faithfully despite their imperfect circumstances, and choose to give up their all to follow Jesus. Sometimes it is through difficult and painful situations that we appreciate more deeply what Jesus has done for us, which prompts us to give all that we have unto Him.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

Stop Trivializing Favoritism

Day 12 | Today’s passage: James 2:8-11 | Historical context of James

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Growing up as the middle child, I always felt that my parents favored my brothers. I wasn’t as good as they were in both my studies and swimming, and I would feel pangs of jealousy whenever my parents praised my brothers for their achievements and gave them first pick of the food and presents. I also felt the injustice of being scolded the most and forgiven the least whenever we made mistakes together.

Though I may have unfairly judged my parents then as a kid, this perception of being unfairly treated had significant negative effects on my emotional well-being—my self-esteem took a blow and I often felt inferior to my brothers and unloved. It was not until I became a Christian in my youth, that I gradually started to recover my self-esteem. I was convicted of the truth that regardless of how I performed, God loves me unconditionally.

Admittedly, I have also been a perpetrator of favoritism. In school and at my workplace, I have treated certain classmates and colleagues better because I liked their personalities more than others. During those moments, I did not consider what effects my actions had on those around me. When we are the ones being favored or the ones perpetuating it, we are likely to trivialize it.

James, however, reminds us that favoritism contravenes the royal law of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves. He even mentions favoritism in the same breath as murder and adultery, placing them side by side as violations of not just one component, but the whole law of God (v. 10).

When I look back at my past experiences, I realize that at the heart of favoritism is a glaring lack of brotherly love toward another. Isn’t that essentially at the heart of all sin?
As Galatians 5:14 tells us, “the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NLT)

When we show favoritism, we do not consider the feelings of the one who has been victimized and its impact on that person. Instead of loving them, we are hurting them.
This not only reduces that person’s self-worth and leaves a scar on his heart; it also denies his identity as a much-loved child of God and negatively shapes his character and future actions.

In the Bible, we read of accounts of favoritism which led to resentment and ultimately, undesirable outcomes. Sarah’s preference for Isaac and her ill-treatment of Hagar and her son Ishmael led to a break-up of Abraham’s family. Isaac’s unequal treatment of his two sons, Esau and Jacob, drove a wedge between them. And Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph led to his older brothers resenting him and selling him off as a slave.

Are we also guilty of trivializing this sin of favoritism? Do we cast a blind eye to this hideous sin when we commit it, not realizing its detrimental consequences?

Let us examine our lives and turn to God in all humility. Let us ask Him to help us attain an understanding of His law and of this subtle sin in our personal lives, so that we may live a life of authentic faith with the genuine love of Christ for our neighbor.

—Melvin Ho, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. In my home, workplace, church or other social circles, have I shown favoritism and trivialized the grievousness of this sin?

2. How can I love the poor or even my enemies—and treat them equally without favoritism?

While not an avid reader and writer, Melvin likes to explore questions people have about the Christian faith and Scripture, and discover the best answer to them. He realizes however, that sometimes he may be thinking too much for his own good, and needs to spend more time putting God’s Word into practice. Among his goals now are to learn godliness with contentment, love people equally without favoritism, and put their needs above his own. In his free time, he likes to run, watch Manchester United football games, and catch inspirational movies. Secretly, he hopes God can use his life as a missionary one day, fingers crossed.

Read 30-day James Devotional

Do We Favor the Rich?

Day 11 | Today’s passage: James 2:5-7 | Historical context of James

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

In the finance industry where I work, most dream to be rich. Most would therefore prioritize serving the rich over serving the poor because richer clients have more investable assets and can generate more revenue for the firm. It makes perfect business sense to serve the high-net worth. Conversely, that also means it’s a waste of time looking out for the poor client who may be in need but cannot benefit us much.

In the secular world, money talks.

This issue is magnified when we, as believers, live by this principle not just in the business setting, but also in our everyday lives. How many of us are guilty of showing preferential treatment towards the rich because of their socio-economic status? Why do we do so? Could it be that we’ve put our dependency on earthly riches instead of God?
As Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Noting this phenomenon among the early church, James presents two reasons why preferring the rich is actually irrational. One, God is especially concerned for the poor and has chosen them to be rich in faith and to enjoy full rights and privileges in His kingdom (v. 5). So, favoritism to the rich is wrong because it contrasts with the attitude of God.
Second, James pointed out to his readers that the rich were the very ones oppressing them (v. 6)—they exploited the church, filed lawsuits against believers, and blasphemed Jesus.

Times have not changed much today.
As we look at the extent of poverty, we can see that this is sometimes due, at least in part, to the exploitation and hoarding of resources by the wealthy. Many of the people suing others in court are also likely to be the powerful and the rich, as they are the ones who are able to hire the services of highly paid lawyers. And as we observe in some parts of the developed world, it’s the rich and powerful who openly show their disdain for the church and Christ.

Why then do we honor those who pit themselves against God?

This is not to say that all rich people are evil and that we should treat them unfavorably. Rather, I think James is making the point that it is inconsistent and absurd to despise our fellow poor believers and honor rich unbelievers instead.

Perhaps the next time we see ourselves showing favoritism to the rich, let us ask ourselves honestly: Why am I treating the rich better? Are not the poor people who have suffered under the rich also deserving of equal treatment as the rich?

—Melvin Ho, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. How have I shown preferential treatment to rich individuals at the expense of my own brothers and sisters in Christ?

2. How does today’s passage change the way I should view the poor and the rich?

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu

While not an avid reader and writer, Melvin likes to explore questions people have about the Christian faith and Scripture, and discover the best answer to them. He realizes however, that sometimes he may be thinking too much for his own good, and needs to spend more time putting God’s Word into practice. Among his goals now are to learn godliness with contentment, love people equally without favoritism, and put their needs above his own. In his free time, he likes to run, watch Manchester United football games, and catch inspirational movies. Secretly, he hopes God can use his life as a missionary one day, fingers crossed.

Read 30-day James Devotional

Do We Play Favorites?

Day 10 | Today’s passage: James 2:1-4 | Historical context of James

1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.
2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Although some 2,000 years have passed since James penned these words to his fellow Jewish believers, they still ring true for us today. We are guilty of judging others by what we see on the outside and playing favorites—more often than we realize.

Working part-time at a local French bakery, I meet customers who come from all walks of life—they differ in their physical appearances, mannerisms, vocation, social status, family backgrounds, values and the list goes on. No two are alike. If I were to treat the French-speaking lover of baguettes any differently from someone struggling to pronounce the names of the different French bakes, I would be practicing the very thing that James spoke so strongly against: Favoritism.

In layman terms, it means according someone special attention or privilege at the expense of another. Favoritism involves elements of discrimination, prejudice and bias. It would probably surprise us how much of our daily interactions with those around us are shaped by our hidden biases and subtle preconceived notions—much of which can be attributed to the culture, upbringing, and the environment we grow up in.

With that, we—knowingly or unknowingly—come up with our own standards of assessing whether someone is worthier of our love, attention and admiration as compared to another. Instead of abiding by God’s perfect standard of love, we apply our own tainted criterion.

Unlike us, God looks beyond the superficial and is most concerned with the state of our hearts. It is not our physical appearance, talents, accomplishments, reputability etc. that matter to Him but rather who we are on the inside (1 Samuel 16:7).

The truth of the matter is this: in God’s eyes, we are all equally broken, undeserving sinners who are in desperate need of His grace and mercy. This truth needs to sink into our hearts in order for us to stop practicing preferential treatment. As Scottish preacher, Sinclair Ferguson, said in his exposition on James, it starts with looking at the condition of our own hearts: “If I don’t see my own heart and my own need, then I’ll never be able to see the hearts and needs of others.”

As we allow God to gradually transform our hearts and take on His ways, only then are we able to look at others through the same eyes of grace and love that God looks upon us.

God plays no favorites and He calls us to do likewise.
Remember, how we respond reflects the true state of our hearts.

—Lydia Tan, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. How might we be guilty of playing favorites in school, at church, at work or among our friends and family?

2. Is there a certain group of people that we tend to be inclined towards, e.g. the rich (or even the poor), the academically gifted, or the established? Does it match up with how God sees them?

3. How can we guard our hearts against treating one group more favorably than another?

Lydia is an eternal optimist. Nothing seems to ever get her down, except maybe the thought of vegetables or needles. She’s happiest when she’s with people, puppies or preschoolers and appreciates the deep life lessons she learns while observing or interacting with them. She has a weakness for dark chocolates and pretty little trinkets (especially if they’re handmade!) and believes that there is beauty in the ‘impractical’.
A dreamer at heart, she is excited to be a part of God’s dream for the nations and loves tagging along with Him on the many adventures across continents. While not in action, she relishes in the simple slow walks with God in nature too.

Read 30-day James Devotional