I remember those days, stepping out of my mother’s car and holding my breath against car exhaust and my own immediate future. Rounding the blind corner into the commons area of our junior high school, I would will my heart to slow down, my stomach to settle.
It didn’t always work.
I knew that if I could get to the music room or library without seeing any of my peers, I’d be okay, but I didn’t always make it.
Sometimes, the doors to the school were locked, and my only choice was to join my peers. The boys weren’t so bad. Their jokes were straight-forward with punch lines like “because you’re ugly, that’s why,” and most were the kind you play on lots of people, the most recent arrival being the next to roll a quarter down their nose and leave a line of pencil lead. To me, their teasing seemed more like a way to kill time than an intentional attack on me as an individual.
The girls were different. Theirs was a subtle, yet pointed kind of teasing that I didn’t always understand. I knew when they were talking about me, though. Sideways glances, knee nudges, and sudden hushes are hard to miss. Unsure how to respond, I would stare at my feet and wait for the minutes to pass, feeling conspicuous and awkward, like the last brown leaf on a nearly naked tree.
Maybe that’s why I love being a middle school teacher. Now I get to be the one to offer smiles, hugs, and compliments to kiddos who aren’t feeling so sure of themselves, and I get to play the hero and stop bullying before it ever really starts.
I wish I could tell my students that it will stop when they get older, but I can’t. It does get better, but the truth is, there will always be people who, for whatever reason, take pleasure in hurting and hindering others. It stings no matter how old you are.
How should a follower of Christ deal with it?
* Forgive. Whether or not the person who hurts you deserves to be forgiven is irrelevant. None of us deserve to be forgiven (Ps. 130:3-4), but God says to forgive others just as He forgives you (Colo. 3:13). Refusal to do so is disobedience. You will not pray powerful prayers (Ps. 66:18) or move ahead spiritually until you finally forgive. Don’t add spiritual paralysis to your pain. Forgive and give God room to work in your heart and the heart of your offender.
* Love. No matter how difficult it may be to do so at first, choose to love your offender (Matt. 5:44). Serve them out of love and reverence for Jesus, even if you can’t muster up any affection for them. No, it isn’t natural to love those who hate you, but the Father knows what He is asking of you. He gave His son to save a traitor race, remember? Unconditional love is undeniable evidence of the supernatural Holy Spirit inside of you. There is no more powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel than a person who can turn the other cheek and love in response to hate.
* Pray. Pray for your enemies. Ask God to save them, speak to their hearts and bless them. This discipline isn’t for them so much as it is for you. It brings your thinking in line with God’s, the One who feels compassion for the lost, regardless of their role in their present circumstances, and offers complete forgiveness, salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ to all people. Before you know it, you will be rooting for them, looking for change and thanking God for any evidence of His activity in their lives.
* Rest. Ultimately, God will take care of your enemies for you. They will either surrender, repent and change for the better, or they will be judged and held accountable for their actions. Remember that God may or may not deal with them in a way that you are able to observe. Trust Him to do what is right. Continue to love and pray. The more you do this, the worse your offender will feel about what he or she did to you (Rom. 12:19-21, Prov. 25:21-23). If God does choose to punish your offender in a way you can see, don’t gloat for a second or God will change His course of action (Prov. 24:17-18). You do your job, and let God do His.
Doing these things won’t make the bullies go away, but it will replace bitterness and hurt with peace and healing, and it gives God room to work things together for your good and His glory just as He promised (Rom. 8:28).
I can’t be your hero, but the Father will be if you let Him.