Today my teenage son confessed that someone at school is bothering him. He wanted to know if it was bullying when someone sees you and runs away screaming. Ignoring my mommy instinct of wanting the kids name and address, I took a deep breath and asked him why it bothered him.
“Because I want him to like me and I don’t know why he doesn’t.”
In my mind I time traveled back to high school when I often said the same thing. I was a nice kid, funny, had all the right material things and was even a cheerleader. I was also bullied horribly. And I mean bullied. I was teased endlessly about the size of my nose and ultimately, at fifteen years old, underwent plastic surgery just to get the bullying to stop.
I want to tell you that my extreme solution solved my problem but it didn’t. I returned to school the next year only to hear the same jeers and taunts that led to my drastic decision. One particular day, though, I snapped. One of my chief antagonists made a comment and I found myself body-checking him against a locker. Several not nice words flew from my mouth and I really let him have it.
Then a miracle happened.
This kid changed from bullying to almost respecting me. I had stood up for myself, stopped being a wimp and somehow he saw that as worthy. For the remainder of my time in that school, I had earned a friend. I had also learned a couple of big lessons.
1. People pick on you when they think you are weak. Don’t be weak.
2. People are threatened by you when they think you are strong. Be strong anyway.
3. Not everyone is going to like you. Period.
4. The most important thing is that you like you. Period.
I wish I could tell you that I learned those lessons once and life changed forever. Unfortunately, I had marinated in negative things people said and ultimately turned into my own worst bully. I would criticize myself HARD, before anyone else had the chance. I would change myself OFTEN to avoid being disliked. Finally, I would RUN from any situation where I didn’t feel safe and often left behind friends who never knew what they did wrong.
Having lived most of my life this way, I can assure you that it’s lonely. Obviously I want much more for my kids. I look back on that time and wonder what I could have done differently. What do I wish I had known?
1. I wish I had known Jesus back then. I wish I understood then that I was beautifully and wonderfully made and that I was unconditionally loved by the Creator.
2. I wish I had known that it was okay if not everyone liked me.
3. I wish I had invested more time loving the people that DID like me and less time trying to change the minds of the ones who didn’t.
4. I wish I had spoken kind and loving words to myself every day.
These are the lessons I want to teach my kids. I see them, and a lot of other teenagers, working hard to fit in and be liked. I see them concentrating their efforts on impressing the ones who have rejected them in some way and my heart breaks wide open.
Jesus was the only perfect human that ever lived and he had tons of people who didn’t like him, who bullied him. Heck, they even crucified him. What this tells me is that if Jesus isn’t immune to it, why on earth would I think that I would be? This is the tension of life. But Jesus had some great words of wisdom about this.
“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words,
leave the home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”
–Advice from Jesus to the disciples. Matt 10:14
I told my son this morning that all throughout his life he would come across people who just don’t like him, even as an adult. And that’s okay. He’s okay. Shake the dust from your feet and go spend time with people who want you there.
This lesson won’t be learned overnight. It’s a lesson I am still working on in my own life. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. I have discovered the beauty of healthy relationships and I am much kinder to myself. I have less anxiety and I laugh a whole lot more. Life is just better.
What other advice would you add for anyone facing a similar situation?