Have you ever been on the receiving end of the silent treatment or even ignored and wondered why it caused such an emotional sting? Science is now able to tell us; the chemical reactions that occur in the brain when feeling rejected, ignored, lonely, or on the receiving end of a silent treatment are the same chemical signals the brain sends off when in physical pain. Basically, it is like having a broken arm or a bruise that you cannot see, depending on the degree to which one is ignored and experiencing loneliness. Professional therapists even go so far as to call the silent treatment and certain forms of rejection emotional abuse because the effects of it, while unseen, are just as damaging as being hit, if not more so.
The Greek word for ‘rejection’ is atheteó which means quite plainly, in one context, ‘ignored’. The Greek word for ‘lonely’ is erémos which means ‘abandoned, desolate, or deserted’. Those are fairly strong words to describe what it means to the heart when we experience rejection or loneliness. We were created to relate and to experience relationships; we were created with a desire to belong. God even addresses this is Genesis 2:18:
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
When I was sitting through all of the psychology classes in college and had to do a psychiatric rotation, I became very familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Today, the needs triangle looks different than it did in textbooks a decades ago, however the concept is still quite similar. Our need for food, shelter, love, and belonging need to be met before our sense of worth or value can be nurtured. When people, especially children, go without safety, security, love, or belonging those unmet needs create a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness with deep roots that create a stronghold difficult to overcome. There are a lot of broken people walking around and their lives may even reflect that brokenness, regardless of the season to be jolly.
Thankfully, we have a God who loves us deeply and longs for us. In fact, He is even jealous for our love and attention. Latin roots for the word ‘jealousy’ also have the same roots for the word ‘zeal’. The Greek word zéloó in one context means ‘I am eager for, am eager to possess’. The best verse I have found to create a word picture for how much the Lord truly longs for us is in Deuteronomy 4:24:
For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
God does not want us to be in a state of loneliness, nor does He want us to ignore one another. Our God is a God of reconciliation and it is His will and desire that people are drawn into loving relationships with one another through Him. Just imagine a world where we were all consumed in a fire of love toward each other! I believe it grieves the Lord greatly when we do not respond to those around us in an attitude of love and, instead, respond in an attitude that could send the message we do not care.
1 Timothy 5:8
Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
The Greek word for ‘provide’ is pronoeó and can mean, in this context, ‘showing necessary forethought to act properly’. As the holiday season approaches, let us not forget those who may be in need of love and kindness. We may need to have the ‘necessary forethought to act properly’ toward those who test our ability to do so.
This may include Uncle Ted who had a little too much wine with his turkey dinner and let’s his mouth run afoul, sending your sister fleeing from the room in tears.
It might even include Aunt Myrna who generally has nothing nice to say to or about anyone and is wondering why you bought an unsavory pie from the store instead of making your own, because in her day women knew their place and they made time to cook for their families.
Or, maybe those two cousins you never see just want to spend the entire dinner arguing with you about politics and who’s side are you on anyway?
Your older Aunt Thea may sit with a pout, not saying a word to anyone while eyeballing the room with the stink-eye or sifting through her food suspiciously with a fork.
Grandma Betsy might want to fill your ear with woes about her corns and calluses, cataracts, and her failing kidneys while she complains endlessly about why you should feel sorry for her.
Grandpa Harold cannot hear a word anyone is saying and keeps shouting, “What? Who would pee on a plate?” All the while you are losing your wits trying to explain, “Grandpa, no! I was telling the kids to behave!”
Or, maybe you don’t really have any of these people in your life at all and you are wondering about your place and whether or not you belong anywhere.
We live in a world that is wrought with homelessness, the cycle of addiction, estranged families, broken hearts, wounds, injuries, illnesses, death, and a plethora of other reasons and issues that might cause one to feel rejected or alone. Even the simple act of a smile can trigger the brain to respond with chemicals from the pleasure center which will, in effect, lift someone’s spirits and give them a sense of hope they may not otherwise experience without a flash of your pearly whites in their direction.
Some people are walking on a long, lonely road and have no sense of the Lord’s presence in their lives. They are covered in the dust of their trials and starved for a place to belong.
Now is the time to dress ourselves in an attitude of love and spread the joy that we ourselves have received from Him. Now is the time to take someone by the hand, walk with them a bit, and help dust them off.
We do not need to be in dread of the holiday season or even dismayed about the challenges it brings. We do have a Friend and He longs to fulfill the desires of our hearts, even when those around us are unable to do so.
The Lord wants to walk with us and to dust us off from all of the lonely roads we have traveled. We are, indeed, never truly alone. There will always be a place for us reserved at His table.
Further Reading: Silent Treatment and Emotional Abuse