By Dr. Terry Swicegood
March 17 2019
The problem of being bullied goes back to the dawn of human history. It is found in our Bible. The Psalmist (Number 102) writes:
All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
Bullying is always evil because it strips another person of his or her worth and dignity. It reduces them to a punchline, replaces a name with a label.
Bullying is always evil becuse it preys on easy targets, the weak and powerless–precisely the same people Jesus told us to reach out to in his name.
And Jesus himself was a victim of bullying. He began his public ministry in his hometown of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue, read from the prophet Isaiah and brought a short message about what the scripture meant. Some of his listeners warmed to his message. But others didn’t. “He’s just a carpenter, Mary’s boy. How did he get so wise all of a sudden? He’s too big for his britches.
It was common knowledge in Jesus’ hometown that he had been conceived before Mary was married to Joseph. A bastard child.
Have you ever been put down? Teased mercilessly, or either punched or shoved by a bigger kid? This was how Jesus was treated. In Luke 23 we read: “the mean who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded Him and demanded, ‘Prophesy! Who hit You?’
We think of bullying when we think what our children and grandchildren have to undergo in school. But it also affects us as adults. Let me tell you a couple of true stories.
The first story is about sixteen year old Sladjana,
At her funeral the bullies laughed over her casket and made fun of her looks. Sladjana, whose family moved to Ohio from Bosnia
in hopes of a better life for their children;
Sladjana, who loved to dance, whose father – in his broken English –
describes her by saying, “Nonstop smile. Nonstop music.”
Sladjana, who was an easy target for bullies
because of her foreign family and her foreign accent and her foreign name –
who was teased, called ‘Slutty Jana,”
pushed down the stairs, smacked in the face,
Sladjana, who received phone calls in the middle of the night
telling her to go back to Croatia,
that she’d be found dead in the morning,
that they’d find her body after school.
Sladjana, who stood up for herself for as long as she could…
until she couldn’t take it any more.
Her sister found her body.
And her father laments, “Today, no music. No smile.” Not any more.
Or let me tell you about Eric. According to his friends, Eric was full of life –a flamboyant young man, who just happened to like the color pink. You know the type: the one who gets picked out and picked on, called fag, homo, queer.
It didn’t matter that Eric wasn’t gay. He was still an easy target, because he refused to compromise who he was. Bullies called him names, knocked his books down the stairs, flicked him in the head, and mocked him relentlessly. A friend who stood up for Eric was suspended as a result. The school authorities were unwilling or unable to identify and punish the bullies. And when Eric shot himself, his parents asked the coroner to file, under cause of death, “bullicide.”
The Washington Post had an article this last week, thoroughly examining teen suicide. The number one cause of the cascading number of suicides is–you guessed it–being bullied.
One more story, this one about an adult. Mary– not her real name– works in a large Protestant church as an associate pastor. She is kind, and competent. Her boss is a bully to her and to his staff, but not, not to th congregation. He is so solicitous to them because he instinctively knows if he pulls the tricks on them he pulls on his staff he will soon be stocking shelves as Walmart.
Mary has arthritis which has flares up under stress. Facing constant attacks from her boss, her health has deteriorated. When she was scheduled for her monthly meeting with the senior minister not long ago she cried all the way from home to the church. Even when he says to her unexpectedly, “Could I have a word with you,” her anxiety spikes. Somehow or another we have concluded that bullying is a strategy used against youth and teenagers. But it extends to adults as well. If you’ve been bullied as an adult, as have I, you know the anger and fear that you feel.
I want to lay out before you this morning eight Biblical strategies for surviving bullying.
1. Ignore the bully and walk away. Bullies survive on the reaction they get. If we walk away, if we ignore the text messages and hurtful comments we get, we are telling the bully that we don’t care. Reaction on our part escalates bullying. No reaction diminishes it.
2. Hold our anger. It’s natural to want to strike out when we are struck. Bullies love to think they have power over us and our emotions. Getting angry plays right into their hands. Staying cool is confusing to the bully.
3. Don’t get physical. Some people believe that aggressive physical responses is the only way to shut bullies up and shut them down. But as Gandhi once pointed out, “If everyone insists on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, the whole world will becomeblind and toothless.”
4. Be kind to them. Kill them with kindness, we’ve heard. Bullies aren’t expecting this. Jesus loved his enemies and tells us to do the same. Cosmetics founder Mary Kay Ash said, “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Made me feel important’” We never know when something kind we say or do changes another person’s life.
5. Deal with your own self-worth. When we know we are worth something, when we are dead certain we are precious children of God, no buffeting on the outside can change our insides.” We are created in the image. I belong to God and my identify and self-worth ae in Chist alone. My value is never what other people think about me or say about me.
6. Take charge of your life with the truth about yourself. Words do have the power to hurt us. “You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re dumb.” It’s so easy to believe these words in a culture where appearance and achievement are so highly rated. We have a choice. We can go along with the lies which other people utter about us or with what our Savior Christ has said about us: “If you follow me you will find the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:30-32)
7. Talk it out with someone you trust. The words and actions of other people can make a big impression on our soul. When we talk out the fears and self-doubts that arise from bullying are allayed. Maybe that person is seek out a teacher, or counselor, or a dear friend. When we stuff our feelings they always surface in a negative way. Hearing a friend say to us, “I know you and I know what they are saying about you is a vicious lie. So don’t pay any attention to it.” That really helps.
8. Pray about it. We need to remember that Jesus faced what we are facing today. Again and again we see in the gospels Jesus going aside for long intervals of prayer. Two verses to memorize are Luke 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.” And Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
When it’s all said and done we probably do not have the power to change bullies or their behavior toward us. We only have the power to change ourselves.
None of us can go back and make a new beginning. But all of us can begin now and make a new ending.