I remember those days, stepping out of my mother’s car full of warm, familiar morning smells into cooler temperatures and an invisible cloud of car exhaust, holding my breath against acrid fumes and my own uncertain immediate future. Rounding the blind corner that opened 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 and Mrs. Herron or to the library without seeing any of my peers, without looking anyone in the eye, I’d be okay. There were smiles waiting for me there, smiles, compliments, and hugs from grown-ups who didn’t care what I wore, how big my front teeth were, or how I sounded when I laughed.
I didn’t always make it.
Sometimes, the doors to the school were locked, and my only choice was to join my peers, wide-eyed, big-mouthed preteens just like me who didn’t really mean to hurt my feelings, but didn’t mean not to, either. The boys weren’t so bad. Their jokes, at the very least, were straight-forward, with punch lines like, “Because you’re ugly, that’s why,” and most were the kind you play on a string of people, one after the other, the most recent arrival being the next one 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, hurtful attack on me as an individual, so I made my peace with it.
I couldn’t say the same for the girls. Theirs was a subtle, yet pointed kind of teasing that I didn’t always understand. I knew when they were talking about me, though, and I knew when I’d been played. Sideways glances, knee nudges, and sudden hushes are hard to miss. Unsure how to respond or whom to trust when that happened, I would stare at my feet and wait for the minutes to pass, all the while 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 have grown eyes in the back of my head, and “Don’t even think about it” happens to be one of my favorite teacher phrases. However, I can’t be everywhere at once, and mean kids are.
I wish I could tell my students that it will stop when they get older, that the kids that torture them now will grow out of it, but I can’t. It does get better, and some do grow out of it. Actually, most do, but the truth is there will always be bullies, people who, for whatever reason, take pleasure in hurting and hindering others. A pastor friend of mine calls them “kickers and knockers.” Appropriate, I think.
I don’t have to think back very far to remember the last time someone hurt my feelings or made me feel awkward. Do you? It happens all the time, and, even though I am a grown-up now, confident in my abilities and secure in the fact that I am a child of God, it still hurts almost as much as it did in junior high.
How do I deal with it? Well, my natural instinct is to plot revenge, and I’d be lying if I told you that I never waste my time rehearsing what I’d like to say to so-and-so in my mind. But God has changed my heart. Now, relying on the Holy Spirit for strength and God’s Word for guidance, I make a sincere effort to forgive, love, pray, and rest. FLPR…I know it doesn’t make for a very powerful acrostic, but it does take the sting out.
* Forgive. Whether or not the person who hurts you deserves to be forgiven is irrelevant. None of us deserve to be forgiven (Psalm 130:3-4), but God says to forgive others just as He forgives you (Colossians 3:13). Refusal to do so is disobedience. You will not pray powerful prayers (Psalm 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 (Matthew 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. Want your offender to change? Love them and let God take it from there.
* Pray. Pray for your enemies. Ask God to save them, to speak to their hearts, and to 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. (If you find yourself hoping for the latter, then you probably have heart issues of our own that need to be dealt with. Don’t we all?) 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/she did to you (Romans 12:19-21, Proverbs 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 (Proverbs 24:17-18). You do your job, and let God do His.
Does choosing to do things God’s way make the kickers and knockers go away? No, but it does 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 (Romans 8:28).
I can’t be your hero, but the Father will be if you let Him.