I know the feeling all too well—sensing someone's disapproval or disdain. Realizing I've been unfriended. Finding out I wasn't invited. The sting of disapproval and rejection cuts to the heart. I don't like to admit it, but I desperately want to be liked. And when I'm not, I'm left hurt and confused. I've had countless conversations with friends who have felt the same way. So what do we do do when we detect that someone may not like us?

Remember that people didn’t like Jesus either.

We read of Jesus’ rejection all throughout the Bible. He was driven out of the synagogue by angry mobs hoping to throw him off of cliffs (Lk 4). He was despised by people who were important in the world (Isa 53:3). There were moments that even his family didn’t believe the things that he said (Jn 7:5). While people didn’t like Jesus for different reasons than they don’t like us, we get the distinct privilege of having a friend and Savior who gets it (Heb 4:15). When we feel rejected, his posture towards us is compassionate and understanding (Ps 56:8). Not only that, he dealt with rejection perfectly (1 Pet 2), not responding with threats or judgment (like I’m so prone to do). And if we’re God’s children, we can trust that the same power that equipped Jesus to respond rightly to his accusers is alive in us today.  

Remember that pain is a gift that should lead us to Jesus.

For someone with an approval idol, the sting of disapproval and rejection is gut-wrenching. I want to be on every invitation list. I want you to find me funny, charming and irresistible. And when you don’t, it hurts. The suffering of rejection can lead me to two places—to self-loathing, self-pity, and isolation, or to the cross, where my approval was purchased by the blood of Jesus. Rejection becomes an invitation to worship God for choosing to clothe me in his son’s righteousness so that I might be approved of by the Father (Isa 61:10). It’s an opportunity to remember the sacrifice Jesus made so that I might never be disapproved of again.

Remember that there are things about you that are unlikable.

By God’s grace, I’ve had a brief moment of clarity to recognize that there are things about me that aren’t perfectly likable (insert face-palm). And the truth is, on this side of eternity, there will be plenty of things that you shouldn’t like about me—my selfishness, my greed, my gluttony, my temper, the me that I don’t share on social media. These and other blind spots are the areas in my life that God is calling to my attention and sanctifying. And while I’m confident he will be faithful to redeem and restore them (Phil 1:6), today, they’re not likable. When I feel rejected, I have an opportunity to ask God to continue to work out the areas that are not likable in my life and to trust his promise that he will completely restore every single ugly and broken area of my life, in his timing.

Remember that the things that are likable about you are gifts from God.

On the other hand, there are some likable things about me—my ability to make a stranger feel like a friend, my sense of humor, my ability to stand on a stage and teach the Bible. When I’m tempted to prove my worth by pulling out a list of credentials, I have to remember that every good and likable thing about me is a gift from God (Eph 2:10). Nothing good in me is of my own doing. On my own, I’m completely unlikable (Isa 64:6). But God has chosen to cultivate some gifts in my life that he’s using to draw people to himself and build up the body of Christ (1 Cor 14:12). Instead of leaning on those things to win you over, I’m convicted to use them as an act of worship and obedience so that more people may know the love of Christ. And if you happen to find those things likable, I’m called to give thanks and glory to God, rather than pat myself on the back.

Remember that God’s acceptance provides all kinds of benefits.

Because I have God’s acceptance, I can rely on his character instead of my own. When I’m not likable, when I fail in friendship, when I make problems instead of fix them, I can receive grace and help in my time of need (Heb 4). Relying on his character also gives me hope because seeing and knowing who he is gives me something to look forward to. As I behold God’s glory in his perfect character, I’m being transformed from one image to another into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18). This is shocking! It means that on the day of Christ, I’ll be perfect and complete, like Jesus already is (Phil 1:10). And it means that the process is already underway (1 Thes 5:23-24).

When the sting of rejection comes, may we be a people who use the opportunity to worship God for the acceptance the cross purchased. May we be quick to respond in repentance for the ways we fall short. And may we respond in faith that he will continue to transform us into his very own likeness.

Questions for Reflection:

+ Am I striving for approval? What do I think approval will get me? Am I wanting this more than I am wanting to please Christ?

+ What is my response when I feel rejected? Is it to seek Jesus for true comfort? Do I get angry or turn inward instead?

+ Are there things I can do to be more like Jesus when I’m rejected? What areas do I need to learn and grow to better handle rejection?

+ What parts of me are unlikable? What do I need to make steps to actively put off sinful habits and put on christlikeness?

Amanda Brown is a Women's Ministry teacher at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. She and her husband have three sons.