And let’s face it, it’s one of the most common realities of our lives as musicians. We stand in hundreds of auditions just to get one singular contract. So much of our careers, as both students and professionals, are based on the subjective opinions of others. Sometimes what is meant to be a professional critique can feel quite personal, due to the vulnerable nature of our job as musicians.
There are so many different kinds of rejection, and an equally huge number of possible reactions to them. Sometimes rejection feels like a roundhouse kick to the gut. Sometimes it comes totally unexpectedly, out of the blue. Sometimes rejections can come one after another, piling up disappointment and discouragement. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a sense of relief, like when you’ve finally pulled out a splinter that’s been bothering you for weeks. And, much like the splinter analogy, sometimes there’s a mixture of emotions. You can feel relief, pain, and discomfort at the same time. On top of that, as musicians, we have a unique responsibility to take ALL of our rejections- personal, professional, and otherwise- and allow that pain to inform our artistry, even when that feels next to impossible.
So what do we do with this complex reality?
We can sometimes forget that Christ understands that reality more than anybody else. Nobody who has ever lived has experienced the intensity of the rejection that He has. If you consider His public ministry to be His job, then His professional rejection was intimately personal, and His rejection, as we know, ultimately led to His death. So, really, there’s not a single facet of the rejections we face that Jesus Himself doesn’t understand.
Christ sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is an extreme reaction of the human body to overwhelming stress and torture. During Lent 2021, I was in a group that met weekly on Zoom to watch and discuss the video series “No Greater Love” by Ascension press. This series is a Biblical walk through the Passion and Death of Our Lord, set in the Holy Land, and was a total eye opener to the depth of the sufferings Jesus underwent for us. I will never forget learning that a close textual study of the scene of Jesus in Gethsemane reveals that the cause of this great emotional distress was actually not from the thought of the horrific torture He was about to undergo, but because of the deep emotional pain He felt at the betrayals of friendship He knew would soon unfold. Judas would hand Jesus over to be crucified, and refuse to repent to God’s mercy. Peter would deny Jesus three times in His hour of greatest need. All of the other disciples, with the exception of John, would flee and hide in fear. Even in that very moment, many of the apostles fell asleep after Jesus asked them to keep watch. These deep cuts of rejection would come from the men who were closest to Jesus, and this caused Him profound pain.
Even still, Jesus unites His will perfectly with His Heavenly Father. In Matthew 26:39 He asks, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me;” but continues “yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Even in His perfection, Jesus has the free will to choose His response to the suffering He is facing. And He knows that the only appropriate response is to put His trust in God, and to submit to what God is allowing Him to experience.
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39
Mary, as well, intimately understands the pain and confusion that comes along with rejection. I was recently speaking to a very wise priest about some experiences that left me feeling confused, frustrated, and struggling to trust fully in God. He encouraged me to go to Mary, as my mother, especially to pray before the Stations of the Cross where Jesus meets His mother, and Jesus’ Body is taken down from the Cross. As this priest told me, “If anyone in the history of humanity had reason to feel confused and angry with God’s plan for their life, it was Mary”. And he’s so right.
During the pandemic, I developed a devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary (a powerful devotion- I highly recommend!). I spent considerable time in quarantine reflecting on the swords of sorrow which pierced her heart throughout her life. She carried the heaviest crosses that any mere human being could possibly bear (discounting Jesus, of course, because He was not merely human). Even though she was not in the spotlight in the same way her divine Son was during His lifetime, I am absolutely sure she felt the crippling pain of rejection just as strongly. She had more reason than anybody else to feel angry at God, but how did she respond? With perfect love and trust.
Yes, she was without sin, but she still had to choose that response. She didn’t have any clouding of her intellect to mask the pain she experienced, and yet, she was able to unite her will to God’s Divine Will, even when she could not understand it. She wants to help us do the very same.
It’s easy to feel incapable of this sort of response because of our fallen human nature. But Our Lord and Our Lady understand this facet of our nature, and don’t want our own sinfulness and imperfection to be a roadblock to forming a relationship with them in this way. Even though we can never do this perfectly, we are called to live in imitation of Christ, albeit imperfect imitation. God has given us the grace of confession when we fail, and is always waiting to embrace us upon returning to Him. There are plenty of saints who show us that it’s completely possible to embrace God’s plan in seasons of rejection, uncertainty, and pain. Our very own namesake, St. Hildegard von Bingen, faced a lot of rejection from her superiors, and yet, God was able to use her faithfulness in those circumstances to bring about even greater graces and mercies.
I also remind you of the corny but very true phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle”. That inevitably will feel untrue sometimes. Our human nature is such that sometimes situations and circumstances will feel entirely overwhelming to us, and we’ll struggle to see a way out. But God does provide the graces that we need for every single moment, and He will never allow us to go through something beyond the reaches of His grace. He will never allow us to go through something that is not within His Will.
My spiritual director recently told me that, if God is stretching you in some way, it’s because He wants you to be like a rubber band. If you have a rubber band that you need to hold a big wad of money, for example, you need to stretch that rubber band in order for it to hold everything you need it to. Likewise, if God is allowing you to face rejection, uncertainty, pain, scary opportunities, or any other myriad of things that stretch your mind, heart and soul, it is because His dreams and plans for you are even bigger than your dreams and plans for yourself. He needs to stretch you so that you can hold all of the amazing graces and mercies He is just waiting to shower upon you.
So, my friends, I invite you to bring God into your seasons of rejection. Do not fall into the temptation to shut Him out, because He offers the only balm to soothe your pain, and the only way forward into grace. I am praying for you all!