This story is not about torn stockings, a misplaced manuscript, or fumbling through a sermon. Although true to my experience, those embarrassing and frustrating stories would be easier to tell than this story. This story is closer to my heart and to the heart of the gospel. It is a story of rejection.
This theme is repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments. We feel sorry for Joseph, rejected by his brothers, and David, rejected by his predecessor, Saul. We express understandable pity for Leah, rejected by her husband, and Hannah, rejected by her womb. We rush to the end of the story—where the triumph is— because that makes us feel better. And it sounds better.
I don’t hear these words of rejection spoken about much in churches. But they are there–even written in red in some Bibles: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36, NRSV)
These are the words of Jesus, who was also rejected. Isaiah prophesied of the future Messiah’s mistreatment, and the distance of thousands of years have made Isaiah’s words easier to read: “He was despised and rejected by others” (Isaiah 53:3). John the Baptist gave it a melody. It is a hymn now. Still, I have found it hard to say, much less sing, “He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:11, NRSV)
This story, this song is true for me. I was aware of the tune as it was rehearsed throughout my childhood and early adult life. I was not ignorant of the seemingly innate dislike, discomfort, and disappointment that my presence created. My mother told me that I was different from the start— in my abilities, my habits, my interests.
I was never like them, but not because I wasn’t trying to be. I simply did what was natural to me. I didn’t aid in this unspoken call to conformity when I confessed Christ or when I became the first college graduate or the only one from both sides of my family to receive a graduate degree. My goals have never been theirs, and for this reason, I have never belonged.
The discomfort of the women in my family became more pronounced at my grandmother’s funeral. Although I was asked to lead the service, it was obvious that I was not welcomed. As I stood over my grandmother’s body and secretly slipped one final letter into her casket, an aunt shouted behind me, “I don’t want her touching my mother.”
Well, her mother introduced me to Christ, and we had a bond that many in my family chose not to share. My full acceptance of their rejection that day was my best day in ministry. And it was my worst.
* This meditation was commissioned by and appears on the Baptist Women in Ministry website, published on September 2, 2015.