Of all the anxiety and emotions that I can get hung up on and sucked into I think the fear of rejection may be the most powerful. I struggled with the fear as a teenager and in my Junior High career vacillated between invisibility and wreaking a fair amount of chaos. Both were attempts to circumvent rejection. In my adult life I have preempted rejection in relationships by shutting down or keeping others at arms length so as not to be hurt, rejected or abandoned.
Along the way I’ve learned that relationships can only be deep and fulfilling if I take risks. If I reveal myself and love my way into the center of them, pushing past my fears and attending to another’s. This has left me open and vulnerable and I’ve committed to the risks involved and to the tending of the occasional wound. I’ve also healed a lot of old wounds and work to live into the belovedness that I believes marks each one of us.
But this winter a small bit of that old fear has been bubbling up inside me. I have been looking for a job over the last year, as many folks have, and I have been holding a bit too tightly to the letters of rejection; to the word NO… no, not you. No, you’re not quite the right fit. No, you were very interesting, thank you, but no. The word no, stings a little and lots of little stings have been adding up to a big welt that I’ve been wearing under the surface of my being. Or if you’re a good friend of mine you probably know it really isn’t too far under the surface. You’ve had to contend with it on days that I complain and lose perspective and bemoan my hard life of vocational aimlessness (read sarcasm here).
All my childhood and adolescent fears of rejection, of not having an identity, or something worthy that marks me as unique, particular or loved have gotten stirred up this winter. And that’s where I found myself this past Sunday. Calm and collected on the surface but a bit murky and stirred up underneath. I was teaching a class for First United’s Adult Ed. Sunday School in Oak Park about Art and Spirituality. We were working through the imagery of the 23rd Psalm and I asked the members of the class to use the symbols and imagery found in the Psalm to create a prayer card that reflects their own experience of God. As we were finishing up someone asked if I would be coming to worship which follows their Sunday School hour. Knowing they were using the Psalm in the service and would be doing an anointing I quipped, “who doesn’t need an anointing?”
I wasn’t really thinking about it too much, I wanted to worship with the community I was teaching this class for. I was in teacher/pastor mode and I wasn’t really thinking about the service itself. When the time came for communion the Pastor gave instructions to come forward for communion by intinction and if one wished to stay and be anointed by a deacon they would also be offered a prayer for healing. I stood up when it was my section’s turn for communion and followed the line of people towards the bread and cup. I love when the crowd moves forward for communion, all those bodies moving together. The sounds of feet shuffling and parents whispering instructions to children and elders murmuring words such as bread of life over and over again to each person. I took my bread and dipped it in the juice and made eye contact with the person holding the cup and smiled.
Without a lot of thought, I moved on over to the anointing line and after the person in front of me moved away from the small woman standing in front of me with oil in her hand I took my hat off and moved forward. She looked up at me (she was very small) and asked, “What prayer can I ask for you? What do you need healed?” I was so caught off guard, I hadn’t prepared anything, I hadn’t thought to bring an idea or a prayer with me, I’d just jumped into line with out really thinking at all and now I stared at her kind of awkwardly and blurted the word, “rejection”. It sort of just fell out of my mouth, I couldn’t even make it into a sentence I stuttered and just said it again, “rejection“.
She said okay, and marked my head with oil and said to me, “May you feel God’s healing love.” And my turn was over.
I guess I did need anointed. I needed anointed and reminded that God says yes. That a professional rejection is not a God rejection. This time I didn’t get it even as I was teaching it or drawing it… “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” I needed the embodied ritual, the experience of being anointed and to be asked out loud, “what needs attending?” so I could name it and begin the process of healing. Not being the “right fit” is a shitty thing to hear, especially when I am pretty sure I am the right fit but rather than allowing this wound to fester I will get some oil on it and ask for God to heal my hurt feelings so that I can pay attention and give thanks to where my cup is running over.