Last night, something happened that hurt my feelings. What was said wasn’t intentionally malicious, and it wasn’t cold. But it exposed a reality that has deep significance to me, and in some ways, confirmed and reopened some yet unhealed wounds. Someone didn’t remember me. Someone who had been very important in my life. Introduced himself to me as if he’d never seen me.
Now. Even as I write of this experience, I’m tempted to laugh it off as, “it’s probably because my hair was different, it’s probably because he’d had too much to drink, it’s probably because I look so much older, it’s really not a big deal anyway….” But the point is, it hurt, and it reminded me that there is still pain embroidered into the very fabric of my memory of this person. I had so hoped that this person would be—and care—more for me than he did. I wanted something that he didn’t give. And last night, as I watched him hug and catch up with others who did experience that kind of relationship with him, I was reminded of the question I asked so many times; “Why not me? What’s wrong with me? Will you notice me?”
Almost immediately after the encounter last night, I began evaluating my options for how to respond and process the experience. Would I go home and cry? Would I be filled with anger and want to trash talk this person? Would I pretend not to care at all? Who would I tell? Who could I tell? Who could I trust with the embarrassing news? If I told the wrong person, he or she might validate my worst fear, the answer to my recurring question: “Of course he didn’t remember you. Why would he? You’re not worth remembering.”
During the season that I felt the pain of this man’s rejection on a more regular basis, I tried all of the above responses. I looked for reasons to write him off, to roll my eyes about him, to belittle him—all for the ironic purpose of feeling a little bit less hurt by his lack of interest in me. I pretended not to care some, too. Being above it all felt good (when I could actually convince myself that that was the case). Usually when that wore off, I cried. When nobody was around to see that I was really hurting, that I did in fact care, and that I did in fact want this man’s approval. Only then did I allow myself to feel the pain.
Last night, I felt tempted to do the same. To act as tough as nails while others were around, to laugh about it in conversation, to eagerly listen for others’ complaints about this man as if I, too, thought he was just a chump. And then, wait till everyone was gone, where it was safe to lick my own wounds. It was shame enough to not be remembered and to realize its implications. It would be quite another thing to relive that shame in the presence of another.
But as the night wore on, I realized that that is exactly what I’m called to do as a Christian. Having put my trust in Christ means actually trusting Him with painful experiences. It means telling Him the whole story, even if I’m afraid He’ll laugh. Even if I’m afraid His answer will be, “Well of course. You’re not worth remembering.” Facing God is, I have found, much more difficult when I’m allowing someone else’s behavior to dictate what God’s must be. But that is why I must do it anyway—because God gets to speak for Himself. What I found in coming to Him is that He didn’t laugh, He didn’t validate my fears, and He didn’t encourage me to get angry or even. He simply said, “I know. I’m sorry.”
What I realized afresh last night is that the Christian call in the face of pain and rejection is actually quite simple—to grieve it. When hurt, I’m called to admit my sadness over unmet expectations and dashed hopes—I’m called to experience the vulnerability of my humanity and live through it, not seek to get around it somehow with feigned indifference, or self-protective anger. And the reason I can have the courage to admit all that is because I don’t have to face it alone. I grieve loss in the presence of Christ, who has not rejected me. Christ, who has not forgotten me. Christ, who does not belittle my feelings of pain.
As a Christian, I am called not to try and get around the pain, but to grieve through it. And I do that in the safety of His love, His acceptance, and His comfort. Allowing God to speak for Himself and affirm His solidarity with me in my pain is giving me the courage to put down my weapons of anger, and put down my mask of indifference. It is giving me the courage to do what I need to do: feel pain and grieve loss.