Into God's Light | Rejection: Who can I love? Who will accept me as I am? - Seton Shrine
Into God's light | Rejected

Into God’s Light | Rejection: Who can I love? Who will accept me as I am?

Week Three | An Easter reflection series with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton on the spiritual and mental health crisis afflicting young people.

Click here to read the Introduction to Into God’s Light.

Sylvia is three years old the first time she goes down on her knees on the sidewalk. Over the next few weeks, she falls many times. Then the back spasms begin. By week four, she is in the hospital pediatric ward in traction to ease what has become unbearable pain. Both legs are suspended to take the pressure off her back. She can’t get out of bed, she can’t even move, and though she’s a big girl now, she is back to wearing diapers. Doctors stare down at her, poking and prodding. Nurses give her shots for pain. Though her mom sleeps on a cot beside her, she longs for home and her best friend, Laura.

Weeks later, she comes home in a wheelchair. Laura, who lives right down the street, visits her every day. Laura brings dolls and toys and makes her laugh. And when Sylvia finally goes back to pre-school, it is Laura who pushes her around in the wheelchair. Being in the hospital so long has made Sylvia shy, which means that, besides her mom, Laura is now the most important person in her life. Except for the wheelchair, they dress and act so much alike that people think they are twins.

For the next six years, as Sylvia slowly heals from her long illness and learns to walk again, she and Laura are inseparable. And then one day when she goes to meet Laura at their usual lunchtime spot on the playground, her friend isn’t there. Instead, she’s over by the cafeteria, laughing and talking with a group of older girls, the girls everyone wants to be around because they are pretty and have good clothes and get invited everywhere.

Sylvia waits for a while to see if Laura will look her way, but no. In fact, Laura seems to be deliberately avoiding her. When the same thing happens the next day and the day after that, Sylvia can’t deny it any longer. Their friendship is over. Laura is rejecting her. And deep inside Sylvia, something she’s always counted on, something that helps her understand who she is, begins to shrivel and die.

Rejection is one of the most painful experiences we can ever have. Its underlying message is that there is something deeply wrong with us—something that makes us repugnant to another human being. Even more appalling is the fact that we ourselves can’t see the glaring defect that must be totally obvious to everyone else. Rejection has the power to turn us in upon ourselves, like a shy snail withdrawing into its spiral-shaped shell. If we are rejected by someone we love, someone we count on, someone we look up to and admire, we haven’t simply been pushed aside; we’ve been judged, found wanting, and condemned to suffer for our failings.

Gen Zers, who were at a vulnerable stage of their lives during the long Covid lockdowns, seem especially sensitive to fear of rejection. According to a recent survey, “Over half (56 per cent) of Gen Z. . . daters say that worrying about rejection has held them back from pursuing a potential relationship—and they’re 10% more likely than millennial daters to say they’ve missed the chance to be with someone because of it.” Young people who fear forming intimate relationships because they might wind up rejected are unlikely to marry or have families.


Two hundred years ago, the pain of being judged and found wanting was no less than it is now. Elizabeth Seton encounters rejection from the time she is four years old, when her recently widowed father, desperate for a caregiver for his three young daughters, remarries as soon as he possibly can. His new wife Charlotte is only nineteen when she agrees to take on the stepmother role. She quickly finds she is not up to it. Not long after the wedding, in fact, Elizabeth’s baby sister dies under her care.

Even as a child, Elizabeth recognizes that her “poor” stepmother is “in great affliction.” Though Charlotte eventually gives birth to her own biological children, she never finds her maternal footing, becoming increasingly unhappy and unable to nurture her babies, much less her young step-daughters.

Charlotte “chafes” at having Elizabeth and her sister in her house, and sends the girls away for long stretches to live with their aunt and uncle. But Elizabeth wants to be home, “whether or not she [is] welcome.” She loves her little half-siblings and longs to help care for them.

Yet she is powerless to change the situation, and the rift between Charlotte and her step-daughters only gets wider. In her journal “Dear Remembrances,” Elizabeth hints at her hurt feelings and resentment over the rejection, but—as many victims of rejection do—blames herself for her pain: “Foolish, ignorant, childish heart.”

Later, as a young widow with five children to support, she experiences rejection again, this time from Protestant friends and relatives who are appalled at her decision to convert to Catholicism. Initially, they are circumspect and continue to help support the struggling family. But then Elizabeth’s fourteen-year-old sister-in-law, Cecilia, secretly becomes Catholic too, and the relatives feel betrayed. Declaring herself a Catholic, they fear, will ruin Cecilia’s chances of making a good marriage.

Some of them go further, angrily blaming Elizabeth for the teenager’s decision. For them, Catholicism is a social embarrassment, and in retaliation for the part they are sure she has played in this fiasco, they discuss cutting off Elizabeth’s support. If Cecilia doesn’t recant, they threaten, they will end their relationship with the two of them entirely. Elizabeth writes in a letter, “They would consider themselves individually never to speak to either of us again or suffer her [Cecilia] to enter the House of either of them.”


Jesus experienced rejection on a major scale. After his arrest in the Garden, he is interviewed by Pilate, who wants no part in the execution of this popular young rabbi. Pilate offers to release one of the other prisoners scheduled for crucifixion, hoping the crowd will choose to free Jesus. But the fired-up spectators, some of whom have no doubt been healed by Jesus during his three-year ministry, instead shout for his death, choosing to spare a notorious criminal named Barabbas.

So Jesus is scourged, then led inside the praetorium where he is surrounded by a cohort of soldiers. They strip off his clothes, throw a scarlet military cloak around him, and jam a crown of thorns on his head. Kneeling mockingly before him, they cry, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spit on him. They strike him over and over on the face. And then they lead him, beaten, bloody, and degraded, to the Cross.


Rejection can cast a very long shadow. In Sylvia’s case, her best friend’s rejection in elementary school was painfully replayed a few years later when she began dating a boy who encouraged her to come out of the shell she’d built around herself. Just as she was learning how to trust again, however, he decided he had other goals in life and quietly went on his way. Healing from both wounds took some time, and couldn’t truly begin until she let go of her buried anger at Laura and the young man who let her down.

Healing from rejection starts with forgiving those who’ve rejected us. We have no greater model than Jesus here, who in the very midst of his agony cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Elizabeth took these words deeply into her heart and eventually found a way to act on them. Though her stepmother was alienated from the family for many years, when Charlotte found herself mortally ill, she turned to the lonely, grieving, motherless child she’d rejected so many years before. Elizabeth responded immediately, caring for her longtime tormentor right up until the moment of her death.

But Elizabeth learned an even more important lesson about suffering, thanks to one of her early mentors, Fr. John Cheverus. He introduced her to the ancient Christian belief that it was possible to unite her afflictions to those of Christ. “Be not anxious, my dear Madam,” he wrote to her, “but rather rejoice in hope. Jesus has received you in the member of his true disciples, since like them you rejoice in your sufferings and afflictions.. . .You welcome the Cross as the greatest blessing and think yourself happy in being fastened to it.”

Embracing this view of suffering—that suffering could unite her even more closely with Christ and might even become a redemptive blessing for the world—allowed Elizabeth to endure with courage, faith, and even joy, that which would have crushed others.

To learn more about this series of seven Easter reflections click here.

PAULA HUSTON is a National Endowment of the Arts Fellow and the author of two novels and eight books of spiritual nonfiction. Her essays and short stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories and in the annual Best Spiritual Writing anthology. Like Mother Seton, Huston is a convert to Catholicism. In 1999, she became a Camaldolese Benedictine Oblate and is a lay member of New Camaldoli Hermitage’s community of monks in Big Sur, Calif. She’s also a former president of the Chrysostom Society, a national organization of literary Catholic writers.