At Work

When You Are Passed Over

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“Sorry, but I don’t have a place for you in this leadership team.”

I ended the call as professionally as I could, but waves of emotion swept through me in the minutes afterward. This was my fourth attempt to get a position at the next level in our company. I was angry that the position went to someone I believed to be less qualified. I was frustrated at myself for being so hopeful and setting myself up for a big disappointment. I couldn’t think of single positive thing about this news. For the next few days, my mind replayed the interview conversations and the final phone call, wondering what went wrong.

I also had many, shall we say, uncharitable thoughts about the hiring manager in those days. Praying for this person was the last thing on my heart. Oh, I put up a good front around others as they began to find out what had transpired. I didn’t rant and rave to my colleagues. When they offered sympathetic views, I politely acknowledged them without giving in to the temptation to pile on with my frustration. I was good at hiding most of my disappointment from people, but God knew the depth of my bitterness and self-doubts.

I’ve since realized this truth: all leaders will be passed over for desirable positions and opportunities.

The promotion goes to someone else (again). The new job goes to another person who has less experience. You aren’t picked for a committee or team. You aren’t even considered for a role that you think would be perfect for you. You’re politely told, “There was a better candidate” or “You’re too good in your current role for us to move you,” or “We don’t have a place for you.”

You want to lead, to serve in a specific area, to use your skills and abilities, to be recognized. Being passed over doesn’t feel good. We hear the sincere and polite words and feel insulted. It’s easy to become discouraged, resentful, angry. So, what’s the godly approach to this situation?

1. Recognize that God knows and is not surprised.

God never says, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!” He has a loving, omniscient understanding of every thought before it is expressed (Psalm 139:1-4).

In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16).

2. Remember that God is working on a much bigger plan for your life than you are.

Being passed over has happened many times to many people. Joseph stayed in the Egyptian prison longer than he wanted because others forgot him (Gen. 40:23). Daniel received a higher position than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 2:48-49). I suspect that even Mark, Silas, Barnabas, Luke, and a hundred other unnamed characters in the New Testament wrestled with situations where they were passed over for roles and assignments.

3. Realize that it’s about you…and it’s not.

We are biased judges of our own capabilities. Sometimes we’re passed over because we truly aren’t ready. We can often look back and see the patterns and seasons in our life—times of preparation and seasoning for challenges that came later. Sometimes we’re passed over because the Lord has another assignment. The disciples Philip and Thomas are believed to have established churches in Samaria, Turkey, and India, though they were not the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.

Sometimes God is doing you a tremendous favor because what you wanted wasn’t best for you. Many people can testify to being passed over for a big assignment only a short while before a crisis surfaced in their family, or being rescued from a toxic work environment that was only recognizable later.

We can trust our Lord, who loves us perfectly. I have a wise friend who says, “I could wish for a different life but not a better one.”

Here are some practical helps for when you are passed over and wrestling with the pain of it:

  • Do the work of worshiping with all your heart. Glorify God as your Lord, and Lord of all.
  • Journal your thoughts and feelings. Pour out your concerns and questions like the psalmists did.
  • Use music to remind you of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Being passed over often leads us to justify anger, bitterness, gossip, and spite. Let the power of music erode the power of ungodly ideas and responses to the situation.
  • Find ways to serve. Service steals oxygen from our selfishness and reminds us of our larger purpose. No service or kindness, however small, goes unrecognized in the sight of God (Matt. 10:42). Service is the unexpected path to the joy that God intends to fill your heart.

Don’t give up on your dreams to serve in leadership roles. “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1). Put your trust and confidence in the One who is truly trustworthy.

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