I suppose the news about young Phoebe Prince’s death horrified me even more because she was the same age as my daughter. In any case, our world has lost one more young person for no good reason. Perhaps you missed the news reports. Phoebe, a 15-year-old girl, moved with her family to the United States from her native Ireland. Unfortunately, that was one of the things that made her an outsider among vicious wolves, otherwise known as classmates. They harassed her, called her names, and made her life so miserable that she ended it January 14. Old news? Perhaps. But just last week the district attorney filed charges against the perpetrators who made her life so unbearable.
My heart breaks for kids in society today. Bullies are no longer just the biggest kids on the block with poor self esteem. Today they are often the brightest, the wealthiest, the most popular, the best looking kids who feel that these “gifts” give them social entitlement to terrorize the “others.” When I am in the classroom, as a substitute, I am often keenly aware of children who are dismissive, who spend their days causing pain in the lives of others.
Is this something new? Of course it isn’t. There have always been bullies, as well as “ins” and outs” in society. It is a part of human nature to want to belong to a group, and this deep-seated need often causes us to make choices and say things we might not have said at another time. Unfortunately, our society today is so filled with hate, and so lacking compassion and love that the normal checks and balances of society seem to no longer restrain us from hurting others, often on a repetitive basis. What can you and I do to make a difference? How can we prevent this pain that so destroys lives around us? I believe the Bible holds the answer.
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).
In business, politics, and in education, those who are weak, different, or alone are often pushed to the side. “Survival of the fittest” you might proclaim. “If you can’t cut the mustard . . .” These proverbs, however, are society’s ideas, not God’s. It is time to bring the character of Jesus back into these arenas to keep us from the elitist mindset that seems to be growing.
Not sure how to show compassion? Dictionary.com lists the following synonyms: commiseration, mercy, tenderness, heart, clemency. We show the character of Christ with we commiserate, or identify with those who are suffering, who are cast out, who are being bullied. We show the compassion of Christ when we extend mercy and forgiveness to those who have offended us, instead of seeking revenge and enlisting others to help gain it. We are true ambassadors of the kingdom of God when we allow our others into our hearts and tenderly reach out, even if it means we become outsiders as well.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
Paul continually dealt with cliques and fights in the churches where he visited. Divisions such as rich and poor, Paul’s disciples vs. Peter’s disciples vs. Apollos’ disciples, Jew or Greek, man or woman—you name it, people consistently found a way to exclude others and to elevate themselves. But Paul tells us to extend kindness and forgiveness, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because we have received the same from God.
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Finally, friends, we shape the attitudes of our children. Children learn to hate, to exclude, to hurt others from what they see in adults, maybe not their parents, but significant adults in their lives. Live a life of mercy and grace so that those around you can see what it looks like, so they can feel to warmth of that mercy in their own lives.
Talk to your children and youth. Ask them about their friends. Talk to their friends. Don’t assume that your child wouldn’t bully someone. We are all capable and susceptible to it. Keep the lines of communication open so they can talk to you about what is happening at school. Remind them always that they are loved by you and by God, and that God loves those who are different, as well. When you watch television with your children and see an example of bullying or exclusion, talk to them about why it is wrong and how they can make a difference in their lives.
If your child is a victim of bullying, talk to his or her teachers and the principal. As for ideas about how to make a difference. If necessary, talk to the parents of those who are inflicting the pain to try to stop the cycle. Be prepared, however, that this might backfire and cause more problems in the short run, but in the long haul, if you are providing comfort, strength, and support, your child will pull through.
Finally, teach your child to recognize bullying when it happens to others and to stand up for those who are being mistreated or excluded. I don’t like to write about my kids a lot, but I have to say here, that I have been most proud of my children when they have stood up for someone who was being bullied, when they have allowed their hearts to be open to someone who, for some reason, was being excluded.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
At the risk of sounding like someone from the younger generation, it is time to “Stop the Hating,” not because everyone is okay just the way they are, but because God loves each of them just as they are, just as God loved you.
As I write this article, I have come to tears several times, not only for Phoebe and her grieving family, but for all of our children. Can we make a difference in this world? If we cannot, who can? We have the Spirit of God to lead us and the love of God to strengthen us because of the sacrifice of Christ that saves us.
PS: If you have read this article and you are having problems with bullies, please talk to someone. Feel free to contact me. Don’t let someone else’s meanness and wickedness ruin your life. There is hope. Don’t give up!
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor