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A Conversation with Lysa TerKeurst about Rejection and Living Loved
1. What inspired you to write Uninvited?
Most of the time when I write a book I’m on the other side of whatever issue I’m tackling.
So, when I wrote Uninvited, I thought I was writing from the vantage point of looking back at past rejections to admit they were still affecting me so that I could learn to really heal.
I had no idea that the words I wrote in this book last year would be a pure gift from God I desperately needed this year. I didn’t know I would find myself curled up with the rough draft pages of Uninvited thanking God through my tears for the healing balm this message has poured over my soul.
Rejection isn’t just a complicated emotion. It’s an utter devastation of what we thought was real and safe and secure. And, it affects us all way more than we’d like to admit. We are all either trying to heal from a past rejection, deal with a present rejection, or fear that an unexpected rejection is just around the corner.
So, this book is about finding the acceptance and love we’ve always longed for and starting to pick up the pieces that we’ve been trying to put back together for years. I chose this topic because I want us to dig in to the core of who we are and expose and finally heal rejection’s deep infection.
It’s not a tidy process. But it’s honest. And it’s good.
2. What are the core fears that feed a person’s sensitivity to rejection?
As I did research on rejection, I discovered there are two core fears that feed a person’s sensitivity to rejection – the fear of being abandoned and the fear of losing one’s identity.
Being abandoned and losing my identity weren’t words I would have used when I was a little girl. But I definitely experienced those fears.
My home life felt very unpredictable when I was young. I had a dad who never wanted a girl, while I was desperate to be a treasured daughter. That’s a hard equation for which there is no easy answer.
My greatest fear was that he would one day stop coming home and I’d be no father’s daughter. I vividly remember whispering in the dark of night over and over, “God, don’t let my daddy leave me. Just don’t let him leave.”
And my dad fed my fears every day. He’d use the word divorce as if it were his freedom pass — not just from my mom but from me as well. He thought it no big deal to say whatever he felt. But because his words carried such weight for me, every threat of divorce was death breathing down my neck. Because if he did leave, then who would I be? A girl without a daddy felt to me like a girl without a place in this world. After all, if he couldn’t love me, who would ever love me?
When my dad finally did stop coming home, the last bit of what held together my security and identity splintered as he packed his things without so much as looking at me. Rejection settled deep into my heart. And I came to one earth-shattering conclusion: “I don’t matter. I am worth nothing to my dad.” And even more disturbing: “I fear I am worth nothing to God.” The sum of these feelings became my new identity. Who was Lysa? The unwanted one.
So rejection isn’t just an emotion we feel. It’s a message that’s sent to the core of who we are, causing us to believe lies about ourselves, others, and God. Lies that become a liability in how think about ourselves and interact in every future relationship.
3. In Uninvited, you open up about your relationship, or lack of, with your father. Why was it important for you to share that part of your story with readers?
Sadly, I know my experience isn’t an uncommon one. When a man is physically present but emotionally absent, a girl’s heart can feel quite hollow and helpless. This is true whether that man is her father, her husband, or even a man whom she deeply respects.
After my dad left, I tried to prop up what was left of me so I wouldn’t collapse into the broken place inside. Good grades. Achievements and accolades. Fun friends and good times. Boys who made me feel special. I tried to steady myself with anything that helped me feel better.
But it wasn’t just a better feeling that I needed; I needed a completely new way of defining my identity. I needed truth to inform what I believed about myself. Otherwise, what I believed about myself would become a fragile, flimsy, faulty foundation. The beliefs we hold should hold us up even when life feels like life is falling apart. So my old patterns of thought had to be torn out, and a new way of looking at the core of who I am using God’s truth had to be put into place.
Our identity must be anchored to the truth of who God is and who He is to us. Only then can we find a stability beyond what our feelings will ever allow. The closer we align our truth with His truth, the more closely we identify with God — and the more our identity really is in Him.
It’s been more than 25 years since I’ve seen my dad. That’s hard on a girl’s heart. But where he fell so short, God has filled in many gaps. I don’t have to be the child of a broken parent the rest of my life, I can be a child of God. Loved. Truly loved.
I want my readers to know that kind of hope and healing is possible. I want them to discover their true identity as children of God.
4. You also talk about how feelings of rejection often manifest themselves when a person assigns negative thoughts to others. Why do we do that? And more importantly, how do we avoid it?
I remember when I was sure that a lady at the gym hated me. She had been working out on the machine beside me when she suddenly abandoned her elliptical and huffed over to the treadmill. Apparently I had gotten on her last good nerve.
But then one day, she smiled at me. Like a real smile… almost as if she was wanting to encourage me. Suddenly I realized she had no crazy feelings toward me at all. It had all been a perception thing on my part.
So many times we assign thoughts to others that they never actually think. We hold them accountable to harsh judgments they never make. And we own a rejection from them they never gave us.
This is why we have to choose to “live loved.” It’s a phrase I saw an author friend of mine write in a book she was signing. Live loved. Not only an instruction, but a proclamation.
Live from the abundant place that you are loved, and you won’t find yourself begging others for scraps of love.
It’s not deciding in your mind, I deserve to be loved. Or manipulating your heart to feel loved. It’s settling in your soul, I was created by a God who formed me because He so very much loved the very thought of me. When I was nothing, He saw something and declared it good. Very good. And very loved.
This should be the genesis thought of every new day.
I am loved.
Not because of how terrific we are. God doesn’t base His affection on our wilted efforts. No, God’s love isn’t based on us. It’s simply placed on us. And it’s the place from which we should live… loved.
5. “At the core of who we are we crave the acceptance that comes from being loved. To satisfy this longing we will either be a grasper of God’s love or a grabber of people’s love. If we grasp the full love of Christ, we won’t grab at other things to fill us.” That is a staggering quote from Chapter 4. Please explain why it is so important for women (and men) to understand the difference between God’s love and everything else.
There are so many ways we can try to grasp for people’s love…
When you’re lonely and you see your ex-boyfriend post a picture with a new girl, laughing, holding hands, and looking like the happiest they’ve ever been, your flesh will want to grab at something. It’s hard not to comfort yourself by texting another guy to grab a little attention and make yourself feel better.
When you’re listening to other moms talking about all the progress their children are making in reading and your child can’t even identify letters yet, your flesh will want to grab at something. It’s hard not to throw out a statement to one-up the bragging moms in an area where your child is excelling.
When your husband isn’t answering his cell so you call his workplace only to learn he left early for the day, your flesh will want to grab at something. Paranoia seizes you, and by the time he walks in the door you all but accuse him of having an affair.
All of the things we’re tempted to grab at to make ourselves feel better? They won’t fill us the way we think they will. In the end, they only make us feel emptier and more rejected. But if we grasp the full love of Christ, we won’t have to grab at other things to fill us.
When we have Christ, we are full — fully loved and accepted.
This is true on the days we feel it and still true when we don’t feel Jesus’ love at all. If we live rooted and established in His love, we don’t just have knowledge of His love in our minds, but it becomes a reality that anchors us. Though winds of hurt and rejection blow, they cannot uproot us and rip us apart. His love holds us. His love grounds us. His love is a glorious weight preventing the harsh words and hurtful situations from being a destructive force. We feel the wind but aren’t destroyed by it. Ephesians 3:17-19 talks about this kind of fullness.
There is power in really knowing this. This isn’t dependent on what we’ve accomplished. Or on another person loving us or accepting us. Nor is it because we always feel full. We are full, because Christ brought the fullness to us.
6. You talk a lot about relationships in Uninvited – family, dating relationships, marriage, friendships – and the types of rejection that can occur within those different dynamics. But you make one thing very clear: relationships don’t come in packages of perfection – they come in packages of potential. Can you elaborate?
Relationships have the potential to be great. But they also have the potential to be hard at times.
Tangled messes seem to go hand in hand with trying to get different people on the same page. And I have found that different people with differing perspectives will find themselves in difficult situations unless they determine to discuss things well.
We also have to be careful about our expectations. Some of our biggest disappointments in life are the result of expectations we have of others that they can’t ever possibly meet. Unrealistic needs will never set a relationship up for success.
It takes work to make relationships work. And wrapped in between the wonderful and the work are inevitable times of imperfection and possible rejection.
7. Can you explain why so many people try to fix inside hurt with outside achievement – and why they should be seeking a different source of comfort?
Most of us have been made to feel like we don’t belong at some point in our lives. It’s a bummer to be left out, not chosen, and overlooked. Especially when someone of great significance in our lives makes us feel like our belonging is more of a question mark than a security blanket.
And in an attempt to find relief from the pain of rejection, many of us slip into a life of achieving and performing. Revving up our to-do list in the hopes of earning love.
We run at a breakneck pace to try and achieve what God simply wants us to slow down enough to receive. How it must break His heart when we walk around so desperate for a love He waits to give us each and every day.
Imagine a little girl running with a cup in her hand sloshing out all it contains. She thinks what will refill her is just ahead. Just a little farther. She presses on with sheer determination and clenched teeth and an empty cup clutched tight.
She keeps running toward an agenda He never set and one that will never satisfy. She sees Him and holds out her cup. But she catches only a few drops as she runs by Him, because she didn’t stop long enough to be filled up. Empty can’t be tempered with mere drops.
The tragic truth is what will fill her — what will fill us — isn’t the accomplishment or the next relationship just ahead. That shiny thing is actually a vacuum that sucks us in and sucks us dry… but never has the ability to refill. I should know, because that’s where I have been. There’s no kind of empty quite like this empty: where your hands are full but inside you’re nothing but an exhausted shell.
We need to reconnect with the One who knows how to breathe life and love back into depleted and dead places.
Jesus doesn’t participate in the rat race. He’s into the slower rhythms of life, like abiding, delighting, and dwelling — all words that require us to trust Him with our place and our pace. Words used to describe us being with Him.
8. How do we stop the cycle of rejection?
I have discovered great power in two simple phrases — “me too” and “you do belong.”
These are soothing statements that calm and heal, beautiful realities for us to receive from God personally and believe. And they are incredible truths to stick in our back pockets as gifts to be given in conversations with others.
We need to let our past rejection experiences work for us instead of against us by allowing them to help us sense the possible pain behind other people’s reactions. We can try to see things from their vantage point and think of how they might be hurting in this situation. Even if we don’t agree with their stance or their reaction, we can find a way to identify with their hurt. Most people are walking around with way more hurts from their past than we can ever imagine. Pretty much everyone has at some point been deeply hurt by someone. That’s our “me too.”
We can also make a list of good things we know to be true about the person who has hurt us. This doesn’t validate their actions in the moment, but it will validate their worth as a person. Even if we are clueless about the past hurts that could be feeding their reaction, we can still be sensitive to their obvious pain. We can be an agent of grace in their life as we whisper, “You do belong.”
Doing these things and choosing to cooperate with God’s grace will help us stop the cycle of rejection and hurt. In other people’s lives. And in our own.
9. Something fascinating you write about in Ch. 9 is that the pain we feel during times of rejection is scientifically similar to physical pain. Can you explain that?
I have always known rejection can be incredibly painful. But I was amazed to discover in my research how the pain of rejection actually mimics physical pain. Here is an excerpt I found:
“Rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain. MRI studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. This is why rejection hurts so much (neurologically speaking). In fact, our brains respond so similarly to rejection and physical pain that Tylenol reduces the emotional pain rejection elicits. In a study testing the hypothesis that rejection mimics physical pain, researchers gave some participants acetaminophen (Tylenol) before asking them to recall a painful rejection experience. The people who received Tylenol reported significantly less emotional pain than subjects who took a sugar pill.”
(From: Guy Winch, PhD, “10 Surprising Facts About Rejection,” PsychologyToday.com, July 3, 2013, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201307/10-surprising-facts-about-rejection.)
Strange facts like this fascinate me.
And while Tylenol certainly isn’t going to solve our issues with rejection, this research lets us know that the pain of rejection is a very real thing. Something we need to bring to God for healing.
10. The scenarios in life during which someone may feel a sense of rejection are endless – in the work place, at the gym, in your own household. But one thing you stress in Uninvited is the different between being set aside, and being set apart. Can you explain how understanding the difference can help us process feelings of rejection in a healthier way?
I remember when God first whispered to my heart about being set apart. Not too long after being uninvited to one conference, I received an invitation to a leaders’ gathering. I was so thankful. I just knew I’d be able to swap stories with the other attendees about their uninvited moments, and it would totally make me feel more normal… I took my seat and pulled out my cell phone, nervously waiting for my tablemates.
I waited. And waited. And waited. As the prayer for the meal concluded and the event got well under way, it was painfully apparent the others assigned to my table weren’t able to come for some reason. I’d be seated alone. Very alone…
And that’s when a very clear sentence popped into my head. You aren’t set aside, Lysa. You are set apart.
To be set aside is to be rejected.
That’s exactly what the enemy would have wanted me to feel. If he could get me to feel this, then I’d become completely self-absorbed in my own insecurity and miss whatever the reason God had for me to be at this event.
To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.
That’s what I believe God wanted me to see. If He could get me to understand this, I’d be able to embrace the lesson of this situation. And the lesson of being uninvited from the other event. And just a solid lesson for life in general.
The lesson was this:
Anything that infuses us with humility is good.
Even if it feels a bit like humiliation in the moment, the workings of humility within are a gift. I share more in Uninvited about the gifts that come with humility – the gift of being made less, the gift of being lonely, and the gift of silence.
I know it can be painful to be alone. And I know the thoughts of being set aside are loud and overwhelmingly tempting to believe in the hollows of feeling unnoticed and uninvited. But there is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to look past being set aside to see God’s call for her to be set apart.
11. No one can talk about rejection without at least mentioning the impact social media has on our current culture. Do you address this in Uninvited?
Yes. And it’s not that I’m against social media. But I do believe we have to be so careful how we use it.
According to a 2015 study I conducted in partnership with Barna Group, women ages eighteen and older in the United States go to social media looking to connect and feel better about themselves, but only 14 percent walk away feeling encouraged. That’s a whopping 86 percent who may be going about their day feeling emptier and more deprived than before.
Nearly half of women report feeling lonely at least occasionally after spending time on social media. And six out of ten women say they feel like they want to change something about their lives at least occasionally after looking at social media.
When I asked my Facebook friends how they would describe their experiences with social media, their responses lined up with the research.
Donna N. said, “I’m connected to so many, yet I feel lonelier. Isn’t anyone out there having a bad day, too? Life feels less honest somehow.”
Shelbie B. said, “I feel lonely and left out. It’s not right when I see women from my church posting pictures of themselves out having a good time and I have not been invited. I feel lonely all the time as I do try to make friends but everyone seems so disconnected. If I could just have one close friend it would mean so much to me.”
My heart aches when I read these brutally honest confessions.
Again, I’m not against social media being used in healthy ways. There are definitely good things happening there. But if it’s stealing your heart away from God’s wisdom, it’s filling you with something else. This is something I know all too well.
It’s easy to scroll and surf through postings — where people upload the beautiful, successful, shiny sides of life — and quickly get a jilted notion that maybe we’re not quite keeping up. We feel small. Unnoticed. Incapable.
One day I realized I had to stop looking at things spotlighting others’ successes until I had a better way of processing them.
I share more about how we can actually do this in the book.
12. What is the one main thing you want readers to take away from this book?
I want my readers to walk away knowing that rejection doesn’t have to have the final say. It may be a delay or distraction or even a devastation for a season. But it doesn’t have to be a final destination. We are destined for a love that can’t ever be diminished, tarnished, shaken, or taken. With Jesus, we’re forever safe. We’re forever accepted. We’re forever held. Completely loved and always invited in.
* * *
How have you faced rejection in your life and found full love and acceptance in Christ? Share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you!
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