What I Know About Bullying…
Michelle Wegner, a missional mom who recently posted her story on this site, just blogged about the topic of bullying, and as I’ve been thinking a great deal about this as well, I thought I would do the same. The more people who are talking about this issue, the better!
When I was a child, I went through a rough period in elementary school in which I was clearly the least favorite person in my class. I was always the one picked last for a team, always the one that no one wanted to partner with, always the one whose comments elicited snickers for reasons I still don’t understand. In other words, I was the outcast. I’m not exactly sure why; I’m guessing it’s some combination of being from a typical immigrant family without much money which ensured that I was always wearing or saying the “wrong” thing, plus being the only minority in the class, plus being less than well-groomed compared to my slick suburban classmates. (My parents were up and out of the house well before I left for school in the morning and didn’t come home until well after I did each day.) When I look at photos of myself from back then, I can see why I was an easy target! Awkward, unfashionable, chubby (actually, these adjectives still fit me today as much as I try my best to hide it!) And although I was never outright bullied, I experienced enough shunning and biting comments to ensure that I knew I was on the margins, which made those waning years of childhood amongst my most unpleasant and unhappy.
I never told anyone about these struggles; I wasn’t close enough to my parents to share and it wasn’t really in my nature to do so anyway. I just stuck it out and went on with my life. But even now, years later, remembering those years still makes me sad. And it makes me ache for each and every child who feels like an outcast, or who feels marginalized, or even worse, who is targeted for whatever reason and made miserable by other children or teenagers. Those wounds cut deep, they are never forgotten, and I can only imagine how much worse it is for kids who experience even more relentless and cruel treatment than I ever experienced. Your self-esteem plummets. You start to dislike, then even dread going to school. You feign illness to avoid the unpleasantries of school life, and you aren’t motivated to learn or participate in class out of fear of being mocked, again. What ultimately saved me is that our family moved away and I had the chance at a fresh start in a new school. I never really left the margins of the high school caste system, but I found enough friends to make the journey through adolescence tolerable. But many kids don’t have the opportunity to leave behind a bad situation, or their suffering becomes so intense that they see no way out. And NO child or teenager should ever be pushed to the brink that they feel there is no way out.
What can the church do to proclaim the message of hope and love that is in, throughout, and from Christ? How can we do a better job of helping today’s youngsters and teens understand that there is a way out, no matter what their situation, no matter what their sexual orientation, no matter how hopeless they might feel? I don’t have any great answers at this point, only questions, but this much I know about bullying: Jesus would have none of it. He stood up for the outcasts, the misfits, the marginalized, and we are called to do exactly the same.
I’d love to hear from you: what are the ways we can better help today’s children and youth understand the love, hope, and joy that is in the message of the Gospel?