I learned a lesson a few years ago that changed how I view life, one that has been a real source of inspiration to make career and life changes. At the time, my son was a freshman in an all-boys prep academy and wanted to return to a sport he loved as a child. Despite the highly competitive nature of the sport at his school and not having played in a few years, his heart was set on playing soccer. As parents, we encouraged him to follow his heart, and he spent the summer in long hours of training and trying out for the freshman soccer team. The experience was rich in new friendships, a great connection to the school and yet, he was cut from the team early that August along with ten other students. 

I still remember the calls from the other parents offering words of consolation and the reassuring words from the coaches affirming that “he will find his way,” yet rejection was how he started his Freshman year. As a mother, I felt bad for him and wished I could do something to shield him from the disappointment and prayed it wouldn’t hurt his self-esteem. I worried that he had no team, no pack to rely on in those first few months.

Aching Heart

The following spring rolled along and he wanted to play baseball. My heart fluttered with feelings of concern. Being our oldest child of seven, we could barely show up for routine practices and games and keep our family fed, clothed and educated, so we had not invested in private lessons and travel sports. What if he got cut from this sport too? I was anxious about this possibility, but he was not. He understood that a considerable number of boys were trying out again for this sport, and he gave it his best. We helped with fundraising, attended the fundraiser dinner and ferried him to all the practices and yet, he was cut again.

Two strikes of rejection cut through that freshman year. My heart ached as a parent. I wanted to “fix” his situation, shield him from the rejection and alleviate his hurt. It took awhile, but eventually as I watched how things played out, I came to see these events in a different light. This was not my life moment. Instead, it was his opportunity for growth and learning. An amazing thing about life is that when we are challenged, when we experience rejection, we are given an opportunity to grow. This event brought about maturity, determination, a deepening of his faith, and growth. It wasn’t that the coaches didn’t like him, he didn’t have a bad attitude, he just wasn’t a fit or skilled enough to play.

Springboard to Transformation

It is not just children who experience loss and rejection, as adults we too have opportunities to be challenged in our careers and lives that can lead to the pain of rejection when opportunities do not come our way. The key to these moments is to allow them to be an opportunity for growth. As a mother, I now recognize this experience as a springboard for my own life. I realized that I was a stay-at-home mom with a “blank resume,” living a life of service and dedication, and yet, there was a deep yearning to give, contribute and balance a career and motherhood like my fellow sisters of society! To be rejected means we must first try, we must make ourselves vulnerable and seek out opportunities that stretch us.

I will never forget the day towards the end of his Freshman year when my son came home from school and said that his history teacher invited him to join the football team. Shortly afterwards, he started lifting and working out with this new group of guys. He slowly began to learn how to lift and train and spent the next three years playing football. This invitation to play football was transformative, but even more so was the process by which he ended up doing it. Through it all, he learned that sometimes the right doors aren’t opened unless others are shut. As a result, he has developed a remarkable willingness to try new things without letting fear of rejection stop him from pursuing his dreams. This coming spring, my son intends to play collegiate rugby at his University and I couldn’t be more proud, no matter how it turns out.

Do Not Fear Rejection

This lesson was a powerful one for me; if you do not try, you can not succeed. I was left to reevaluate my own life. If I don’t write, I can’t get published. If I don’t speak, I can’t share what is in my heart, and if I don’t try, I will never know what might have been. Now, I seek out opportunities to serve, grow, and discover what it means to live by trying new experiences. Learning the lesson of rejection is one that should not be withheld from our youth or ourselves, but instead interwoven into life experiences. Denial from others is an opportunity for growth, and no matter how painful that is, with God’s grace, we can turn our lemons into lemonade!

Now, I see this once-scary and overwhelming experience as the fuel for setting new goals, reaching new heights, and striving to role model the appropriate response to my children. Let us not run from rejection but instead steer our course towards healthy criticism that can lead to new opportunities.

Befriending rejection can begin with knowing that you are cherished and ultimately seeking out God’s will in your life. God loves you, and no matter where you go or what you do, God wants to offer you new life moments to grow and be grounded. So allow rejection to be an opportunity for being transformed. When we understand that we are “children of God” we can challenge ourselves to seek out new opportunities and be open to God’s will.