Bullying and the love that heals it
This contributor recounts a time when she was bullied and didn’t know what to do. But when she remembered Jesus’ instruction that we love our enemies – and endeavored to put it into practice – the situation was beautifully resolved and the bullying stopped.
In middle school I was bullied by a boy in my class. In the beginning he imitated everything I did, grinning insolently when he realized that I found it annoying.
Things went from there and culminated, perhaps a week later, in something more physical. As I entered the classroom, he put a bicycle lock around my neck in one quick motion and snapped it shut. Seconds later the teacher walked in, preventing me from doing anything. The boy went off to his seat gloating and laughing, and the other boys thought it was funny as well.
The teacher said nothing when he saw my mortified face, but made the boy take the lock off my neck before he dismissed the class. There were no further repercussions; the boy wasn’t punished, and I was expected to forget the whole thing. But I couldn’t.
That night I knew that something needed to be done to bring about change. I had learned in the Christian Science Sunday School that Jesus told his followers to love their enemies. He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27, 28, New International Version). In the beginning this seemed impossible. How could I love someone who had humiliated me like this? But I didn’t want to retaliate in any way. I wouldn’t have known how, and I was sure that retaliation would just make things worse.
What I wanted was a permanent solution that would allow both of us to coexist – and thrive – in school. So I endeavored to love, which I felt was the only approach that could secure a permanent solution, and I promised myself that I would let nothing get in the way of my doing this. To help me accomplish that, I wrote on the last page of my notebook: “I need to love Peter F, too” (not his real name). A beautiful verse from a hymn expresses the spirit of my efforts. It reads:
Love with a heart of tenderness
Your enemies and friends;
However hard this may appear,
This quality just mends.
For Love is God in action true,
A presence that is felt;
A healing and a saving power
That will all discord melt.
(Jill Gooding, “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603,” No. 519, © CSBD)
Expressing God’s love towards those whom we might call our enemies doesn’t mean that we accept or even tolerate inappropriate or unkind behavior. On the contrary, such love is expressed from the basis of seeing and understanding our fellow man as spiritual and therefore innocent, pure, and harmless. This view naturally acts as a rebuke to any thought or action that isn’t in line with God’s goodness.
The next day, he went back to imitating me, but I knew what I had to do. Each time I felt anxious or upset, I told myself that my job was to love him and to pray to know that God loved both of us. This must mean that God wouldn’t let him harm me or anyone!
After recess a few days later, I saw that my notebook had been opened to the last page. Mortified, I realized he had seen what I had written there! But then I saw that, in his unkempt handwriting, he had replied: “Yes, and I need to love you, too.” To this day I don’t know how he had found my little statement, or why he had even opened my notebook. I had not shown the entry to anyone.
This was the end of the issue. We never talked about it, we never referred to it, and this boy never bothered me again. He had in the past teased other students and even some of the younger teachers, but that also stopped. I, in turn, was never again bullied by anyone.
While there’s a great need for adults to be alert and responsive to bullying, it didn’t occur to me at the time to involve my parents or other teachers. It felt natural to pray and ask God for the right solution, one that would allow both of us to live up to our potential. Looking back, I can see how this led to a permanent solution, one that blessed us both. The boy went on to a rewarding career in a field he loved, and I did the same.
I learned from this that following Jesus’ demands saves us from difficult situations. Doing so was comforting, and I felt empowered and safe. Middle school is often considered a difficult time for kids, but I had been equipped with the best knowledge I could have ever wanted – how to be protected from enemies by loving them – and that made all the difference!