When was the last time you experienced the wounds from relationship pain? Most of us have experienced painful relationships, but it’s not something that is talked about very much. I recently had a conversation with Jessica Van Roekel, author of Reframing Rejection: How Looking Through a Different Lens Changes Everything, about painful relationships on Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast. If you missed it, you can listen here [Relationship Pain: Finding Hope and Healing for Wounded Hearts – Episode 227]. We will all likely experience relationship pain at some point. It stings in a different way than any other kind of pain. In this post, Jessica Van Roekel shares about the relationship pain she endured when an unexpected and unwanted email ended a longtime friendship. Through this experience, she began her quest to reframe rejection and live free from rejection’s pain.
Shattered Friendships & Coffee Mugs: Living Free from Rejection’s Fear
By Jessica Van Roekel
I grabbed a coffee mug from the dishwasher to put it away. As I realized which one it was, I felt my grip on the handle tighten. I wanted to watch the coffee mug crash to the floor. I wondered what it would be like to feel the power flowing through my arm if I threw it. I looked at my white-knuckled grip on the mug and glanced at the tile floor. It’d take weeks to clean up the shattered mug. I let the anger settle into my heart, where it would take years to gather the shards.
I wish I had thrown the mug. I wish I had gone through the physical motion of sweeping the pieces into a dustpan and dumping them in the garbage. I wish I had acknowledged how much I was hurting. Instead, I put the mug in the cupboard and closed the door. If I ignored it, I wouldn’t see it and be reminded how my heart bled.
The surprise email that ended a longtime friendship
The email from my dear friend and fellow sister in Christ took me by surprise. Unknown to me, she had built a coffin for our friendship, and her email was the final spike. I knew we disagreed over a few issues—how we raised our kids, the judgment day, and the Holy Spirit—but her opposing views didn’t devalue her in my mind. God used our differences to sharpen me, and we were two pointy-headed women. I was grateful, it helped me figure out why I believed what I did. God guides each of us in this life, but when we both want the same thing—to follow God, to know him, and to glorify him—then friendships can make it through the difficulties. But according to my friend, I was graceless simply because we didn’t share the same convictions.
I should have known better than to try to have a discussion over email. I couldn’t see her face, and she couldn’t see mine. I couldn’t read her body language, and she couldn’t read mine. How did our longtime friendship get reduced to mere words in an email? Surely, she didn’t mean it. Surely, I read a tone of voice into her words that she didn’t intend. Surely the hours and days we’d spent together laughing and crying counted for something more than an unwanted email that ended our friendship. It wasn’t a mutual parting of ways. It was I’m done with you, and you don’t have a choice. I felt controlled, powerless, and that my voice didn’t matter. Then to make matters worse, she cited the apostle Paul rejecting John Mark as her justification in ending our friendship.
Drawing a parallel between Paul, Barnabas and John Mark
I’ve read the story. Yes, there’s a sharp disagreement, but there’s no name-calling and there is hope for reconciliation. These people were on the same team with the same purpose. It wasn’t a response that said, I don’t want you in my life—you’re a terrible person. It was a disagreement over whether or not someone deserved a second chance.
The situation was a potential journey of several months where Paul and Barnabas would revisit the cities where they had proclaimed the word of the Lord. Paul didn’t think it was best to take John Mark since he had left them while they were in the middle of the work. But Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark along and give him a second chance. The decision they made to split into two teams was approved by the church elders, and the dividing multiplies the work.
The Bible doesn’t say how the separation affected Barnabas and Paul. If we use our imagination, we can imagine the sorrow and loss of two friends parting over a disagreement. What my friend failed to recognize was that Paul didn’t completely write John Mark out of his life. John Mark matured as Barnabas’s missionary partner, wrote the Gospel of Mark, and was later commended by Paul.
I don’t know if reconciliation will come someday for my friend and me. When she decided to part ways with me, maybe I hadn’t yet developed the ability to wear conviction without judgment. Maybe she had struggles that influenced her choice. But John Mark left Paul. He abandoned his post when it got hard. I struggled to see how her use of this story justified the rejection of me in her life.
Back to my coffee mug. It’s reddish on the outside and cream on the inside with a green leaf swirl painted on the inner lip. It’s a perfect fit for my hands. It’s the kind you hold close and drink in its contents as well as its comfort. This mug was a gift from my friend. I drank out of it joyfully and gratefully until the day that email came. Then I wanted no reminders of her. None. Nada. Nope.
Every time I saw that mug, I wanted to throw it as hard as I could. In those moments, my anger tempted me to throw it like Nolan Ryan, an unhittable Hall of Famer. I pictured my arm swinging back and the mug zinging across the room, crashing on the floor and splintering into pieces. But, no, I made my arm be nice, put the mug gently back into the cupboard and dutifully shut the door. I would not crash the cup. But I couldn’t shut off my brain. Instead, I fixated on the event. I let it cripple me and feed the belief that I am defective.
Learning to live free from rejection’s fear
This experience with my friend was one of my first forays into learning to live free from rejection’s fear. I stumbled and fell. I got stuck in the weeds of old habits. I discovered that reframing rejection takes practice. It takes a setting aside of old responses and adopting new ones. It takes living aware of what my response is to my situations. It takes an awareness of how my inside thoughts and feelings affect my outside attitudes and behavior.
The anger inside was like a prairie blizzard blowing out of a tiny cloud into a raging storm. Forgiveness and I wrestled. I didn’t want to walk in forgiveness. I prevented healing by picking at the scab. I knew her schedule, so I spent several months intentionally avoiding going anywhere she might be. The thought of running into her made my heart feel like I had run the hundred-yard dash. I managed to avoid her for ten months, until I faced an event I couldn’t avoid and knew she would be there too. I lost too many hours of sleep worrying about seeing her for the first time since the “Day of the Email.”
Excerpt from Reframing Rejection: How Looking Through a Different Lens Changes Everything by Jessica Van Roekel (© 2022 by Jessica Van Roekel. All Rights Reserved). Used with permission.
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