Five months ago, I lost my best friend and sister to broken communication, without a single word as she passed from my life. Three months ago, I graduated with two seemingly useless bachelor degrees and moved back home to struggle for work. Eleven weeks ago, someone I’ve always cared much about, reached out to me on Facebook after a year of silence.
As one now studying for marriage and family ministry, I’m always intrigued to read other’s thoughts on how people view love and commitment. There’s an article — two actually, that have recently been circling about my newsfeed. They’re beautiful articles filled with encouragement and truth concerning commitment to people who don’t really want to commit; one for girls particularly, “You’re Not a “Plan B” Kind of Girl” and another for guys particularly, “Men Are Not Made For Cages”, and both written by a fellow WordPresser, Ashlin Horne. I agree with both entirely (in their appropriate circumstances), yet I also come from a different perspective with different circumstances, and so I have a different sort of view on the topic they discuss. So, that’s to say, this is my response to those articles, not my rebuttal or argument otherwise — as the perspective is very appropriate for certain instances — just a different and complimentary way to look at the same topic. So, consider this my thoughtful and vulnerable response to certain words of encouragement, that, while good and true, are not universal, as most words aren’t.
“For who knows what is good for man
while he lives the few days of his vain life,
which he passes like a shadow?“
– Ecclesiastes 6:12, ESV
Let me first introduce myself. Three years ago I chose to wait for someone particular, I chose to commit to someone. However, I was sort of alone in that, as I committed to someone who was not ready to commit to me, but was and is, so to speak, ‘on the fence’ about me. I suppose you could say that I was put up as a ‘plan B’ guy. So, if you have read them, you can understand my purpose for writing in response to Ashlin’s articles. And yet, here I am, calling myself the man who still waits, and still, at the same time, this doesn’t mean I am a man in a cage. In fact, as foolish as my waiting may seem, I am going to say nothing bad about being that ‘plan B’ guy.
Firstly, I’d like to defend those who aren’t ready to commit. I don’t want to give off the idea that life is a battle royal of the committed against the ones who just don’t want to or aren’t ready to, because it’s truly not. Commitment is hard, and it’s especially hard to commit to people, people who change, people who act one way when they mean another, or say one thing when they mean something entirely different, which we all do at one point or another, sometimes often. Of course, I think there’s also ideals that we follow and that we commit ourselves to, which alter our push to commit. For instance, I hold dating and close physical contact on a higher scale of vulnerability and importance than most — I’ve never even kissed anyone and have only been on one actual date (I’m 25, so that’s not usual) —and I have well considered and understandable reasons for this, though it’s partially because I hold them as something truly designed to bring us to marriage. Overall though, what I’m saying is, commitment is a big thing, especially when you’re not sure about someone. We can try our best to get to know someone, but to see the inner workings of people there’s a lot of vulnerability required, and vulnerability is really, very hard and terrifying. So, have patience and understand that we’re all different and work in different ways. I purposefully waited a long time to allow myself to let any form of commitment shape me to someone, but that doesn’t mean everyone should follow me or that I’m wrong in what I chose. Commitment doesn’t exclude rejection, yet rejection also doesn’t falsify commitment. Rejection is not a dirty word, and neither is commitment.
I’ve been rejected a million times in a million different ways for a million different reasons. My best friend, who I hold as my sister, rejected me a few months ago without any explanation as to why, and I spent this past year with complete silence between me and the person I chose to commit to waiting for. She, particularly, has essentially rejected me numerous times in numerous different ways, and it’s honestly okay. Of course, most of my friends have rejected me at least once. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, said things I shouldn’t have, let my words get away from me, spoken what I would never mean, and have let clinginess take control. I’m flawed, like the rest of us. For whatever reason it is, whether justified or not, I’ve become sort of accustomed to rejection. Most writers are, if you understand publishing. I’m still hurt each time though, and sometimes I really don’t recover terribly quickly from it. Rejection is awful, and the less people you have in your life, the harder it is, the greater loneliness it creates. Rejection is far too much like death most the time, but I think there’s even something to be remembered here.
“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.”
– Matthew 5:4, ESV
Rejection looks like hell simply because that is the mask it wears. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is a particular response to this, continually repeating the idea that ‘we fall in order to learn to pick ourselves back up,’ or to paraphrase it even more, we fall in order to rise, we enter darkness in order to come to the light. We train and sweat and bruise our bodies in order to defeat, to win, to come home with the golden crown, the desired cup. We are destroyed so that we might be rebuilt. I recently graduated with two degrees and immediately started to search for jobs, plans that would hold me through seminary. And, yet, this search is leading to no promises for careers; instead, in my hopeless search, I have found a growing love and desire to teach, to stand before a classroom of children and encourage them to life, to show them the beauty of the world, the beauty of words. I have been rejected various jobs, and yet I now find myself joyous of their rejection. I suppose teaching may seem like my ‘plan B’ now, but it was God’s ‘plan A’ all along, a plan I realize now that I had long ago been shown, yet forgotten in the search for my own plan. I marked it as ‘plan B’ when it was always a ‘plan A’, for sometimes being second is really just being promised as God’s first. You see, rejection sometimes realigns us to the tracks that we had forgotten, reminds us to love even more than we currently do. Sometimes darkness or simply rejection wears a mask of death, sometimes even a crown of thorns, yet beneath its porcelain cask is light, is hope.
Victor Hugo summed it well,
“You who suffer because you love, love still more.
To die of love, is to live by it.”
There are plenty of theories for how to respond to suffering, to pain, how to answer for God’s silence when we feel like crap, when no one else seems to care, and while there’s plenty that are true, there’s not really one that fully addresses all the pains of the issue. Generally, I find most comfort in knowing that Christ suffered with me, that He fully understands complete and total rejection and complete and total loneliness. Christ, after all, was our ‘plan B’ guy who gave His life for us because of His total commitment. So, in all of this, I even get to join Him in that pain and in that commitment, like a sharing of the Cross. However, while this grows my dependence upon Christ, it doesn’t really help me to know how to deal with rejection over and over again, for it seems as though I never leave Calvary. In regards to the topic at hand, the one that seems to fit best is the ‘soul-building theory,’ which essentially says that we grow in suffering. Yes, we grow in Christ, yet part of that growing is a growing of love. For you see, regardless of how much anyone rejects me, the deeply rooted unconditional love that has been built into the fabric of my being keeps me fully ready to forgive and always love those people again. I was created with a boundless commitment to those I love, and rejection hardens and strengthens it. I was created for the sake of the resurrection’s commitment. For my non-blood-sister, if we go ten years without speaking to one another, then that will not change me from holding her as my sister and lovingly welcoming her back into my life anytime, and being rejected has only strengthened that fact. For the one I wait for, in her various rejections of me, she has honestly shown me some of her worst sides, her biggest flaws (as I her), and yet this has only brought me to accept more of who she is, to love the flawed and perfect soul that is her. It’s been a good thing. She’s absolutely not a “plan B girl,” and the struggle to wait for her has only proven that more to me.
“There be some sports are painful, and their labor
Delight in them sets off; some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone; and most poor matters
Point to rich ends. This my mean task
Would be as heavy to me as odious, but
The mistress which I serve quickens what’s dead
And makes my labors pleasures.”
– Shakespeare, The Tempest
So, that’s all to say, she is absolutely a ‘plan A’ girl! She is an amazing woman: kind, smart, funny, beautiful and joyful even when she’s sad, and with a heart of love that truly cares for people. There are a million wonderful things to be said of her. Truly, they are both immensely amazing people, the two strongest and smartest people I’ve ever known. I believe and know for certain that anything is possible for them both, and to be honest, I have always felt sort of inferior to them. Of course, I clearly don’t mind bragging about them either, yet I would also only be blessed to have them back in my life; I was blessed to have them in my life at all, at any point. So, when the one I await reached out to me somewhat recently, I was terrified of two things: another rejection and letting my flaws, which are many, get in the way again. Therefore, after fighting to reconnect, I tried to prove myself in explanation and apologetical purpose, tried to be honest and somewhat defensive of myself, tried to give her reason to trust me, reason to give me more than a chance of a few days on a screen. I tried to defend against another rejection. Why do we feel a need to prove ourselves, to fight rejection? As if we are never good enough for anyone, as if rejection defines us, defines who we are? Why do we insist that rejection is that dirty word?
In Mark 5, a brief encounter of Jesus with a non-Jewish woman is told, and I believe what we can take from here, answers on how to respond. A gentile Canaanite woman from the region that Jesus had just traveled to, came out to Jesus and was crying to Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer a word to her, and only ignored her (because she was not Jewish). And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is bothering us, crying out after us.” So He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But, instead, she came and knelt before Him, saying insistently, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Thus, she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus returned to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly (2). You see, the woman does not defend herself, does not try to reestablish who she is so that He’ll listen to her, nor redefine herself by God’s silence, by his seeming rejection of her — instead she embraces it and calls herself a dog. Jesus calls her little in the scheme of things, and she claims, “Yes, I am, so have pity on me!” The woman embraces the commitment of Christ, which drew Him to a seeming rejection of her, and thus embraces the mercy of God, the love of Christ — rather than being defined by such rejection. I suppose you could say that she rejoices in her trial.
I struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and seeing any value at all in who I am; in fact, I often feel that all the rejection, while very awful, is also very justified, for I’m not valuable to be anything to anyone. So yes, I struggle with what I’m speaking for. The Canaanite woman outdoes my faith immensely, for I fight to believe, fight to rejoice, fight to embrace my nails and push on. I fight to hope that either people I care about will ever truly accept me into their lives. And yet, the other truth is, I have never gone a day of my life, even before I was a Christian, that I was not absolutely certain of God’s concern for me. The truth is, the only thing that’s kept me going, kept me alive each day, is the fact that I know I matter to God. My faith is not my own, my belief is not my own, my hope is not my own, my love is not my own — it is all Christ’s, whom I lie upon. I hold to God’s commitment to His word, which He has remained entirely faithful to, even when it led to total rejection, to an agonizing death and eventual resurrection of Himself. I hold to God’s completely perfect fidelity and commitment, no matter any rejection that is thrown at me. I find all value in God’s promise through Christ to me; yet, I also find value in the fact that God cares so personally about my life, who I wind up as and how my life goes, that He would both die and rise for me, and would put it in me to call someone so amazing my sister, that He would put it in me to wait for such an amazing person as the one I do wait for. So no, I don’t find my value in another human, with flaws I know too well of, nor am I caged by that person, caged by the rejection, waiting upon them like some motionless bird. I fly entirely free; for, instead, I find my value entirely in God, in the One who made me and died for my eternal life, was faithful that I may be faithful, and the value of waiting for such an amazing person only strengthens that bond I have with Him — it does not weaken it. You see, in the ideal view of family and marriage for the Christian, these relationships work a little like the Canaanite woman and Christ; neither the wife nor the husband, the mother nor the father, are each other’s savior, but instead they ultimately reject saving each other so that Christ may in turn save each one as a sort of ontologically trinitarian family of salvation. The husband directs the wife to Christ and the wife directs the husband to Christ; the father, the mother directs the son, the daughter to Christ, and the other for the opposite. Together, the family always rejects each other for the sake of Christ.
“Holy places are dark places.
It is life and strength, not knowledge and words,
that we get in them.
Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water
but thick and dark like blood.”
– C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
So, the truth is, I am only the dog under the table, I am not enough, and neither are you or any of the rest of us. I am covered in faults, errors, mistakes, sins, and a million hurtful words that have driven away everyone I care most about; I am not close to being enough for anyone, even including myself. And yet, I was born, I live, I love, I reach out to people as best I can and pray as much I can that they will not push me away, that they may come to commit to me as I commit to them, as Christ has committed to us. My commitment in spite of the rejection may seem foolish in some ways, yet so does the cross. Prayer to the God of the universe, who committed in all ways, is all I have now, all any of us have now. By embracing the Man on the cross, watching as those I and Him both love walk away, feeling the scorn of those who do not love us back, we are together not enough. Me and God at my side, we stand as never enough for anyone, yet always enough for each other.
As someone smarter than me once wrote, I have freedom through love, a freedom that does not depend upon a woman or a man, but upon the God of the universe, and a freedom that allows me to joyfully wait for someone I care about, even if they reject me a few times over. So, I wait, as God has put a fidelity for waiting into me, without any cage, any plan B or C, or anything that could possibly belittle the value I hold in Christ. My waiting only draws me more into the character of God’s perfect commitment and love. I am not defined by rejection, for it is not the devil we hold it as. I am not enough for anyone on my own, yet by Christ alone I am enough for the whole world over. I wait with a joy in Christ, loving as best I can, as I am loved by the God who waited for me.
With genuine sincerity and care,
Cody Connor Kelley
Feel free to read my follow up post, 10 Days of a Twelfth Night.
Miranda (from The Tempest), 1916, John William Waterhouse
Liberty Leading the People, 1830, Eugène Delacroix
(believed to have inspired Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables)