“Is that…a diary?”
The words carried an unmistakable mix of disgust and amusement. I glanced to my right at two of my sixth-grade classmates. My mother, knowing my enjoyment of writing, had given me a journal a month earlier for Christmas, and there in study hall, I was about to share my heart on that first, blank page when the question surfaced with sneers.
“I asked you a question,” one of them growled. “Is that a diary? What are going to write in it?” Sweat broke out on my brow. My mouth went dry. The ridicule hurt. I closed the cover quickly.
“Birdwatching journal,” I said, before thinking.
“Y-yes,” I stammered, warming to the story. “I record all the birds I recognize in my birdwatching journal.” (May it be noted that at no point in my life have I watched birds.) I patted the book. His eyes fell to my hand. I forced a smile, still patting away. He stared and spoke again.
“Is that…Garfield the cat on the cover of your diary?”
This would not end well.
They began to laugh out loud. Countering as quickly as I could, I laughed an even bigger laugh and exclaimed nervously, “Ha ha! Yes! Garfield! How funny is that? No one would expect Garfield to be on the front of a birdwatching journal! After all, cats eat birds! Ha ha ha!”
They grew silent and didn’t seem amused any longer. Confused, yes, but not amused.
Flipping the cover open to the first page, I very deliberately and thoughtfully scanned every corner of the room as my detractors looked on. Finally redirecting my attention to the blank page, I murmured the words aloud as I wrote them, “No birds sighted today.” Giving a single, smug nod of my head, I snapped the cover shut. Garfield stared at me blankly, as did my classmates.
That was the only entry ever made in that journal. I was too embarrassed to consider writing anything else. The jeers did not stop me from writing; I stopped myself. The fear of rejection overrode the plans of my heart, all because I placed a premium on what others thought of me.
The fear of rejection and desire for approval influence many of our decisions. Even when confronted with truth, we often choose the more popular, yet wrong, option in order to gain acceptance. Life lived with the fear of rejection is a constant dance to music you hate, all the while hoping someone will clap for your performance. This is no pressure brought about by modern thought; it has existed for a very long time. Consider some of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day hearing him teach…
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God (John 12:42-43).
Fear silenced their confession. Frightened of the powerful Pharisees, the Jewish authorities closed their journals, cast a blind eye and murmured, “No Messiah sighted today.” But that won’t do; God always requires more than we bargain for. Jesus allows no division in loyalty. He desires to move us from cowardice to boldness as we follow him regardless of the cost. No one is half-crucified with Christ. We will never fully please God and fully please man at the same time, yet we try to do so.
In the context of preaching the Gospel, Paul draws this conclusion when considering whom to please: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). We must make the choice to please God and forget the rest, understanding that to do so will cost us much. After all, rejection may be a steep price, but we are in good company when we suffer for our relationship with God…
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Is. 53:3).
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him (John 1:10-11).
Jesus did everything perfectly, and he was still rejected. We, as his followers, will encounter suffering for our faith too. It sounds so very hard, but we must take heart. We may face temporary rejection, but we look to an eternal reward.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11-12a).
Perhaps you need to open some “closed journals” in your life. Some volume locked inside of you because of fear of future rejection or due to some stray insult from long ago. Maybe, on that first page of your heart as you begin again, you should start by writing this…
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).