She went on her way… – Genesis 21:14
At the beginning of this book, I shared with you the experience my husband and I had when we were rejected by our church. What I didn’t say was that the wound was intensified because it was piled on top of fresh, hurtful memories of previous rejection. A few months before my husband was voted out of his leadership position to the applause of the congregation, the board of deacons in that same church had voted to close the doors to the Bible class I had taught there for nine years. The reason? We used the Bible as our only textbook. This put my class of five hundred women in the cross-hairs of the political and denominational tug-of-war that the church was caught up in But God intervened on behalf of the Bible class — within a week of the deacons’ vote, another wonderful church of the same denomination opened its doors to us, so that we never missed a class. Even so, because the church that had rejected my class was my own church, I felt the need to respond in some way. But how? What could I do or say in response to such intentional rejection? I didn’t know But I knew God did, and so I cried out to Him, opening my ears to what He would say as I listened with my eyes on the pages of my Bible.
At the time, I was studying Jeremiah in my personal devotions. I was impressed that God often told Jeremiah to act out his prophetic messages. As I applied the Scripture to my situation, I wondered how I might act out a message of love to the church that had closed its doors to my Bible class. I didn’t know how to do that, so I simply prayed, God, how do I do that? What would You have me to do? What is the message You would have me act out?
I was reminded that I had been raised in a denomination that practiced a form of baptism my present church did not recognize — which meant the baptism I had experienced as a young girl was not recognized by the leaders of the church I was now attending. The thought came to me that I could act out God’s message of love by offering to submit to the form of baptism accepted and practiced by my present church. From God’s perspective, I knew I didn’t need to be rebaptized. But I wanted to honor God and identify with the people He loved, and I felt one way to do that was to submit myself to baptism by immersion.
So at the age of thirty-seven, after thirty years of living out a committed Christian life, I followed through on what I believed to be God’s leading. On a Sunday evening shortly after my class had been voted out, with my father in the waters beside me and my husband and three children in the pews in front of me, I was baptized by immersion as a demonstration of loving identification with the church that had rejected my class.
While I did not expect the church deacons to reverse their decision, I did think the church members would be disarmed by my action and receive me and my gesture kindly. Instead of being kindly received, however, I was shunned. In the weeks that followed, people turned away from me as I walked down the halls and avoided me when I entered the classrooms. Rather than softening hearts, what I intended as an act of love had actually hardened them.
While I don’t know why I was shunned, there may be two explanations. Either they did not understand my gesture of love even though I had written a public letter giving the reason for my decision to be rebaptized. Or perhaps my gesture had made them feel guilty for their rejection of my husband. Maybe I had embarrassed the congregation. Maybe instead of apologizing, they simply turned their backs, hoping both of us would go away. Which we did. While many good friends stood by us and stood up for us, we knew that we had obviously become a problem for the majority. So taking great care not to split the church by forcing people to take sides, we quietly left.
But the wound of their rejection hurt. Later I found comfort as I related to the rest of Jeremiah’s testimony:
My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground I remember my affliction
the bitterness and the gall I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness 1
Jeremiah obeyed God’s instructions to act out God’s Word, but his actions were not well received either. In the end, his heart was broken, and his life was taken by God’s people who stoned him to death. Wounded! But Jeremiah was obedient, even unto death. His trust in God and his testimony of God’s faithfulness still reverberate over twenty-five hundred years later. Not only are the words of his testimony the basis for a beloved hymn sung in churches all over the world today, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” but that hymn was the very one that our family sang to my mother as she left this world and entered into her heavenly Home.
As hurt as I was by the church’s rejection, my relationship with God was strong enough and my understanding of His Word thorough enough to know that being rejected by the church did not mean being rejected by Him. As we walked away from the church that had been our home for over fifteen years, I had the overwhelming awareness that God walked with us. Our tears were on His face, and He bore our shame and disgrace too God understands how it feels to be rejected by His own people. 2
As Hagar walked away from the home she had known for over twenty-four years, painful memories from long ago must have resurfaced in her mind. Cries and confusion, frustrations and fears, anger and agony, turmoil and tears — all long forgotten — must have come back in a rush. Did she flash back to a day twenty years earlier when she had fled into that same desert? Now it seemed to be happening all over again! Did Hagar choke on her sobs, her breath coming in ragged gasps, as she relived the painful memories of her past? It just wasn’t fair! Where was God?
Did her flashbacks also include memories of God’s presence? Did she remember that God had been right there with her on the desert road leading to the wilderness? Hadn’t He put His arms of love around her and held her close to reassure her and quiet her sobs? But where was He now? How could this be happening to her — again — after all these years? She had repented! She had turned back and submitted to Sarah. She and Sarah had seemed to work out a cordial relationship. How had everything disintegrated so suddenly?
Once again, Hagar found herself on the desert road — and this time it was not her choice. She’d been given no opportunity to explain herself or to have Ishmael apologize and try to make amends. She had been given no chance at all to defend herself or her son or to even discuss the situation. She had just been thrown out of the family! And once again, she must have cried out in her heart, God, where are You? Where is the One Who Sees me? Are You looking the other way and are somehow missing what is happening here? Do You see but not care anymore? Do You see and care, but You’re somehow helpless to intervene… sacrificing me and my son for some greater purpose? God, are You on their side?
At this point, Hagar could have tossed her head, lifted her chin, and emphatically decided, “No, God is not on their side. The God I know would never have told Abraham to do such a thing. Their God is not God. My God is God.” And she could have begun to worship a god she made up — a god that suited her by accommodating her point of view.
I can’t help but wonder how many churches, and even denominations, have divided because of a similar attitude? Two factions disagreeing, with each side claiming God is on their side. In Hagar’s case, she was honest enough to see and accept the obvious — God had agreed with Sarah He was on their side!
As Hagar trudged down the dusty wilderness road with the water jug slung over her slumped shoulder, a parcel of food clutched in her hand, and her young son by her side, I imagine she stumbled. Her vision blurred. Her gait weaved in a meandering, mindless forward motion, not knowing where to go, just knowing she had to get out of there.
Surely all she could think was, God agreed with Sarah. God instructed Abraham to throw me out! The consternation must have been overwhelming. It no doubt clouded her thinking, dismantled her faith, and left her feeling utterly abandoned. Had she just been rejected, not only by God’s people, but by God?
Perhaps you have had similar thoughts that led you to a similar conclusion — that if God has allowed you or those you care about to be treated in such an ungodly way by those who identify with Him, then you want no part of them — or Him.
One result of my Bible class being removed from our church, and then my husband’s subsequent rejection from his leadership role, was that we heard from others who had had similar experiences. Our rejection seemed to stir up memories of their own painful woundings. One woman who had been an active Christian for most of her life wrote, “My most severe hurts and disappointments have come from Christian believers. Wounds from Christian swords heal very slowly.”
Wounds from a “Christian sword” heal slowly because they seem to hurt the worst and penetrate the deepest. Has your relationship with God been strong enough to carry you through the painful rejection? Have you hidden yourself in your Heavenly Father’s embrace? Buried your head on His shoulder as He has soothed your hurt with words of comfort? Have you felt the compassion of Someone who knows firsthand what it’s like to be rejected by His own people? Were you able to conclude that their rejection of you was really their problem and not yours?
Or do you find yourself feeling more like Hagar? In the face of rejection, her faith wilted and then evaporated, leaving her with what must have felt like incurable wounds. Hagar’s relationship with God, though established years earlier when she first ran away, does not appear to have developed into one that could handle this type of rejection.
As you read Hagar’s story, perhaps you are reflecting on your own. If God truly cares about me, why don’t I feel Him pursuing me? Where is He? Why don’t I hear His voice inquiring, “What’s the matter?” Where are His gentle instructions telling me what to do? Maybe this is the very reason you are reading this. Because God is pursuing you at this moment, coming to you through the story of Hagar. Don’t let your own tears blind you or your own thoughts deafen you to an encounter with Him. Right here. Right now. You may have been rejected by them, but you are not rejected by Him.
1 Lamentations 2:11; 3:19-23
2 John 1:11
Excerpted with permission from Wounded by God’s People by Anne Graham Lotz, copyright Anne Graham Lotz.
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Have you been rejected by people you thought were supposed to stick with you? What has that done to your heart? Has is made you suspicious of God and confused by His response? Take your wounded heart to him today and know that although they rejected you, He has not. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily