There was a boy in my social studies class who I’ll call James. He seemed to wear the same outfit to school three out of five days. Everyone noticed it…and everyone laughed about it behind his back. We figured that his clothes had to be dirty. There was no way he washed that outfit as often as he wore it. Then I had a “brilliant” idea. If I tagged his clothes some way, we could solve the mystery. Did James indeed wear the exact same thing every day or did he just have three of the same outfit? The latter, if true, would quiet all the hoopla. The former…well that wouldn’t go over so well at Audubon Middle School in the early 90’s.
One day, egged on by classmates, I walked by James, undetected, and ran a blue marker across the side thigh of his pants. If the blue marker was still on his pants the next time he wore them, we would all know that the pants were indeed dirty.
The following day, the marker’s presence was undeniable. Game over. When my classmates noticed, the jokes went into full swing. Instead of people talking about James behind his back, they laughed right in his face. It was painful to watch. James didn’t have any comebacks. Tears fell as he hung his head, embarrassed. I looked at him and felt horrible. I had played a huge part in this milieu. I had acted like an animal—a bully. And I did it to fit in.
I can’t honestly say that I did any of the right things next—I didn’t tell my classmates to stop joking, I didn’t apologize to James, nor did I ask God to forgive me. In fact, I went on living my life and kind of forgot about it. It wasn’t until many years later when my clothing rotation seemed to come and go a little too frequently and someone pointed out that I wore the same faded black shirt to church every Wednesday night that I even remembered that terrible day in middle school.
Then memories of my high school transgressions came flooding in—the jokes about the girl with the “Wave” jeans or the girl with the large ashy lips, or the girl who rode the moped, or the guy with the post-nasal drip who mispronounced his own name. By college, I was still clowning—the girl with the ridiculously high flipped hair or the one who didn’t have any at all. Or the boy who did flips and talked to himself between classes. In adulthood, there was a lady at the job with a serious case of body odor. These were all people I had teamed up with others to laugh at.
Then I thought about the times people had made fun of me—the time in middle school when a random boy clowned me for having ears like Spock’s, or when the guy I had a serious crush on joked with his friend that I was so skinny I would look pregnant if I swallowed a sunflower seed, or the time in high school when I wore the bright white “Red Cross” tennis shoes that set the whole quad off in uproarious laughter, or the book dedicated to girls’ thoughts about our school’s football players that had more negativity in it about me than it did the player I dated at the time. I remembered how I felt each time I was the butt of jokes. And I was convicted.
As a youngster, it never occurred to me that James could only wear what his parents bought for him and perhaps the one outfit was all they could afford. I never thought about how James must have felt when he put the same outfit on day after day to go to a school where most of the other kids were doing whatever it took to rock the latest fashions. Or perhaps the guy who flipped and talked to himself between classes in college battled mental illness. I didn’t open my mind enough to see the reasons behind anything. I just laughed. Had someone done the same thing to me, I would have been devastated.
The bible says that we should treat others the way we want to be treated—and all of us want to be treated with love and respect. Love and respect don’t equal hurting the feelings of others just for the sake of laughter or popularity. As Christians, we have a responsibility to be kind to people. Others should be able to look at us and see the love of God oozing out of us. Period. If the motivation behind our words or actions is anything other than love and respect, we need to check ourselves.
Sadly, 46 percent of children and young people have been bullied at some point in their lives. I pray the day comes when it ends, but until then, it is important that you see yourself as you are—a child of the Most High. No matter what anyone else says about you, you are extremely valuable to God. 1 Samuel 16:7b says, "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” You may not have the most fashionable clothes, but the One who matters most is more concerned about the condition of your heart than He is with what you wear—make sure your heart is right.
With that said, it’s important to forgive those who have said or done hurtful things to us. All kinds of physical, spiritual, and emotional ailments are birthed from the pressures anger and un-forgiveness put on our bodies. You may not be able to tell now, but I promise the effects of what you hold in your heart will manifest on the outside. Choose to pray for your transgressors and release the pain they have caused you. Choose to let go of past hurts and love your transgressors with everything you’ve got. I know it is hard, but with God’s help, you can be completely healed of the pain.
Finally, my mom used to always say: “Be careful of the words you speak. Make them kind and sweet. You never know from day to day which ones you’ll have to eat.” Meditate on that. If nothing else I’ve said convinces you to live by the Golden Rule, the manifestation of this statement most certainly will.