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The Thing I Forgot
A Christian Response to Bullying, Part 2
The Thing I Forgot
God called us to stay in a situation where my children were bullied. But I determined to do all I could to change that situation.
Joshua and I urged our kids to be helpful and kind and to look for ways to bless people. They helped neighbors milk their cows or do their dishes; they shared their bikes; they brought crying toddlers back home to their parents; they tried really hard not to laugh when the old ladies next door said their cat’s name was Boobie. (It’s Arabic for something else.) Things began to change. But there were still bullies.
Daily I reminded my children that they don’t deserve to be bullied, that they are loved and valued. I told them to be "stubborn blessings,” to overcome evil with good.
Then I got an email from a "mother in Israel," an elderly lady who prays for us and calls us "her missionaries."
“I am very sad that the children are not kind,” she wrote. “But we know that Jesus cares about you and wants you to be forgiving… Jesus will come when it is the right time and He will remove all unkindness. Won’t that be wonderful?”
How could I have forgotten forgiveness?
A Sermon for the Bullied
I spoke to my children. They told me they didn’t know how to forgive their enemies, and they didn’t want to love them.
“I don’t have answers,” I said. “I don’t know how to do it, either. But God promises to help us.” We began to pray for our enemies. And I began to read the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, over and over, searching for something. Detailed instructions… maybe a loophole.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus begins, identifying His target audience. The poor in spirit. Those who mourn. The meek. Isn’t this the bullied, the downtrodden, the excluded, the forgotten?
Makarios, the Greek word translated as "blessed," refers to special people, the elite, the rich and famous, the powerful. It's often used of gods. The person who is makarios is in. And Jesus tells the people that when they’re shut out, closed down, and hated, especially for doing what’s right, they are makarios.
Jesus then urges this special, set-apart group to forgive and love, and not let the bitterness of being excluded or hurt make them stingy or hateful. He keeps circling back to this point, again and again:
“Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court."
“I say to you love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you."
“If you do not forgive other people, then your Heavenly Father will not forgive your offenses."
Jesus then calls His hearers to have “good eyes.” I learned that the Hebrew for this phrase, ayin tovah, is an idiom for generosity. But having ayin tovah is not just about being generous with money. It's about being generous with how you see others.
“We deceive ourselves by seeing other people’s needs as less important,” Lifeclub.org summarizes a point from Leadership and the Self-Deception, “so we treat them like objects.” This is such an internalized process that we don’t even notice it. We deceive ourselves, and we believe our own lie.
In a world where it’s tempting—even natural— to view each other as objects which can be moved around to suit our personal needs and desires, Jesus challenges us to see each other as people. People with needs and desires, traumas and triumphs, alliances and enemies. People who, in quiet moments, late at night, wish Someone would come rescue them from themselves.
“Yes!” I can hear the bullied cry on the Mount of Olives. “Preach it, Jesus! People should be generous with us! They should see us. They should help us!”
But Jesus isn’t speaking to the bullies.
He’s speaking to the bullied.
Bearing the Cost
“Why do you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,” Jesus asks the Bullied. “When there is a plank in your own eye?”
Being bullied makes you feel powerless. And when you feel powerless, it’s all too easy to start seeing others as objects, as faceless villains. You become the protagonist facing off against an army of mean people who all look alike.
Viktor Frankl once wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Frankl came to this conclusion after surviving Auschwitz. After he saw certain rare, quiet people, love anyway. They didn’t look strong. But they could not be broken. They loved with stubbornness even when they, themselves, had need of love.
Eager to help my kids, I sought out a children’s illustrated version of one of my favorite books, Hinds Feet on High Places. It’s an allegory written by Hannah Hurnard, a missionary to Palestine. Hurnard writes about a beautiful red flower growing out of a crack in a rocky cliff. Nothing else around the flower is growing—the landscape is desolate. The flower tells the main character, Much-Afraid, that she was stolen from her home by hateful people and imprisoned in the rock. But as long as she kept looking at her Love, the sun, she was happy and content—even blessed, for without distraction she could focus on her Beloved. Now she had grown beyond her rocky prison and graced the barren landscape with her crimson petals.
“My name is bearing-the-cost,” the flower tells Much Afraid. “But some people call me Forgiveness.”
You, beloved, bullied child, are not powerless. You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. The flower making the desert bloom.
So long as you build your house on the rock by doing what Jesus says: the hard heart work of loving your enemies. The work of bearing other people’s flaws, continuing to see them as multi-dimensional, loved by God and full of potential.
One afternoon, my daughter told me that a neighbor boy had whacked her with a stick. He was only four years old, not much of a threat, but I knew it hurt her heart. After she assured me she was okay, Ashi chuckled.
“These kids don’t know how to be friends, do they?”
“No, I guess not,” I answered. “Maybe you can show them how.”
“Maybe I can,” Ashi said, and stood a little straighter. That’s when I realized that something had changed—it just wasn’t the thing I expected. My children were learning to forgive. They were beginning to look on the neighbor kids with compassion. They actually saw them… as people.
And I had almost missed the opportunity to help them to practice.
Jesus, keep me near the cross. Teach me to trust my children into Your hands. Don’t let the evils in this world harden them—let them be instead purified by this fire, to come forth as gold. Give them, and us, the wisdom to know when to stay and when to leave, and always, always give us the power to love anyway.
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A Little Extra
Abide with Me, Sarah Groves
Joy in the Morning, Tauren Wells
“If it’s not good then He’s not done with it yet.” —Tauren Wells, Joy in the Morning
As a robin guards the nestWhile the chicks are growingAnd draws them out towards the edgeTo find their wings for flyingSo I long to see you riseAnd find His grace will always be enough.
—Beautiful and Greatly Loved, by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning