“The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” When I was about 12 years old, this piece of scripture brought me a lot of comfort, as I was living in the climax of pre-teen rejection that started about the time I began losing my baby teeth and showed no sign of letting up.
I was teased for years because of my bucked teeth, and once the braces started to do their magic, my hormones conspired against me and my frizzy hair and zits and inability to properly apply makeup left me feeling more vulnerable and uglier than ever.
I was teased because I was weird. I had a weird last name that sounded like a disease, and I had a weird way of dressing thanks to years of Catholic school uniforms and parents who encouraged me to be a child while I could be a child, especially in their choice of wardrobe for me.
I was teased because I was a “nerd” and got As and won writing contests and actually liked going to church and had a willingness to learn that far outpaced my actual academic ability.
I had trouble finding trendy clothes that fit my body or my mom’s box-store budget. And being moved into classes with the more gifted students opened me to a whole new arena of peer pressure in which I couldn’t compete. No longer was I being rejected by my peers; now, I was unknowingly rejecting myself. I’ve spent a good deal of effort during my late teens, early twenties and even into my thirties “un-being” the ugly, weird, nerdy girl. Ironically, it didn’t make me feel any better, just faker.
There was nothing like the pain of rejection to make me question my own worth as a human being. Paradoxically, there is nothing like the pain of rejection to make me realize that my worth as a human being has nothing to do with how pretty I am, how well I am dressed, how smart or sexy or strong or even spiritual I am.
This past weekend’s passage from John’s letter reminded me that rejection is an inevitable part of my life as a Christian. While it was my parents who made that decision for me when I was baptized as an infant, the Spirit must have taken root, because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that I was God’s child and a stranger in a strange land. “The reason the world does not know us,” John says, “is that it did not know Him.” At 12, and maybe at 32, I thought this distinction set me apart and made me somehow “better than” the pre-teen persecutors who sent me home from school in tears most days. I harbored fantasies of one day being a beautiful, talented, well-paid writer, while they wasted away in mediocrity and graceless aging.
But if John is right about persecutors simply being people who don’t really know and love God, the logical thing is to hope not for their continued misfortune, but for them to wake up and realize that they too are worth more than their beauty, brains, popularity or paycheck. I was rejecting them as much as they were rejecting me.
One of the best things about Facebook is that I’ve been able to reconnect with some of the people in my past whose teasing evoked a very natural reaction – disbelieving in my self-worth. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” For self-worth is not a feeling that can be robbed by anyone. It is a cold, hard fact that all of us have intrinsic self-worth no greater or less than anyone else’s. Today, I can see us as we are – as equals who have all felt the pain of rejection and have been changed by that pain, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Maybe they teased me because their own pain was even greater than mine. I’ll probably never know, but whatever our pasts may be, our shared experiences of learning or failing to learn to live life on life’s terms have become the cornerstone for common ground my 12-year-old self would never have imagined possible. It’s kind of hard for me to resent folks who behaved like children when we were, you know, children.
My little ones are on the cusp of that “awkward age” now. Already there have been incidents of teasing and tears. At one time I would have wanted to shield them from all rejection. I would have rejected rejection itself. Today, I see it as the cornerstone of which I would never want to deprive them. May it teach them, like it taught me, to dig deeper and know in their heart of hearts that they are loved by a God who would die for them and who lives for them and is so crazy about them that of all the places He could live, He chooses their hearts.
Rejection is the cornerstone in the foundation of my relationship with God, and for that I am grateful. Without rejection, I might never have learned that I can accept myself, or accept others. As for that weird last name, my initials “C” and “Y” made for a wonderfully creative name for my freelance graphic design business, and that oily, zitty skin is a whole lot less prone to wrinkles!