You came home last week, sadness and dejection written on your usually sunny face. You began to tell me about being bullied by a group of girls at school. It’s almost cliché -a group of girls who do everything together, and for some reason, they have targeted you to make fun of. I asked you what they were mocking, and you told me “they said I like dumb baby things and I talk too much and my hair isn’t pretty and I’m just like, whatever.” Someday you will understand the astonishment you can feel that anyone would dislike your baby and the riptide of protective rage that can sweep you out before you can even blink.
I was neither wildly popular nor relentlessly bullied in school. I did experience some teasing- the boys who stole my charm bracelet when I was six, a girl in the fourth grade who thought I sang too loud in school (she was probably right), and a classic group of “mean girls” in the sixth grade. In high school, there were a few less than friendly encounters and a boy who cruelly played with my emotions (but that’s another post!) but most of the bullying I experienced then came from a teacher.
Baby girl, as your mama, I can’t imagine anyone not liking you. You are sweet and kind and generous and funny and inclusive and there aren’t enough words to describe how amazing I think you are. But you will face those who see you as an easy target for pain and rage. This heart and flesh that has cared for you from the beginning cries out for justice and even revenge at times, but I want you to know these things…
In order to lash out, there has to be something being held in. Find out what that is.
I wish I had the wisdom as a child and teenager to see past the name calling and cruel laughter to see, really see the girl who later displayed a severe eating disorder. I wish I had not been so self protective to realize she never ate lunch. I wish I would have invited her to a sleepover. I wish I had seen her as a person, and not a caricature. I wish I had the courage to gently confront the teacher who drove me to tears on a weekly basis. To remove the armor I faithfully put on to protect myself, and instead asked him how I could pray for him. I wish I had found my worth and identity in my Father who numbered the hairs on my head instead of projecting my bully’s voice onto my picture of Jesus. I wish I had told him how his words would echo around in an insecure and bruised heart for years.
Be brave enough to be bullied.
You can’t control if someone makes fun of your clothes or hair or voice. But have courage my girl, and choose to be bullied for loving others. Stand up for the girl being teased. Invite the boy to your party, the one who never gets invited. Smile and offer to show the new kid around. Run slower than the kid who is always last, and encourage them to keep trying. Choose one kid who gets teased and make it your goal to befriend them every month. Take the brunt. Look for the misfit.
Embrace the suffering.
At some point you might read this and roll your eyes. These words might even sting. I know that in the moment of being chosen as the one to be hurt, the idea of doing anything but protecting yourself seems, well, crazy. Know that you can crawl into my lap at any time and I will cry with you, and we will likely share some Rocky Road and I’ll tell you about the time a girl told me every day for a year that I only made a certain choir because the teacher felt sorry for me. But when the tears have subsided and your heart is soft, I will encourage you to lean into the pain, not cower away from it. I’ll remind you that Jesus is real and experienced pain and hurt when persecuted by others. He was abandoned by friends and bullied in a way that led to death and yet even in that moment of agony, He offered forgiveness to those holding the swords. Empathy and kindness grow, and suffering is the water that encourage the roots to reach deep.
“We can rejoice too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” Romans 5:3-6