Core scripture: “See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people” (1 Thessalonians 5: 15).
Message: Last week was one of the most emotionally exhausting three-day stretches I have encountered in quite some time. I was spent. Drained. Poured out from top to bottom. You had better believe by the time my head hit the pillow Friday evening my slumber rivaled that of a medically-induced coma. For three days my classes discussed bullying—it is a major theme in the novel we are preparing to read—and for three days, I wore my emotions on my sleeves. I can’t help it. When I stand in front of the class, looking at innocent faces that are going through what once happened to me long ago, I am taken back to a place when life seemed so dark and dismal. When it all fell apart for me way back in 1990.
I told them the story on Thursday. It always heightens the impact of it when I tell them the author of the story was not me but a former student from long ago. Then, once all is said and done and the kids are in shock from what happened to me way back in 7th grade, I reveal to them that the true author of the story was me. Humbling myself like that is never easy, but it is necessary. To show them that I have been there before. To let them know I have experienced a time when others thought less of me. To cry out to them, pleading to them, that if I only had one friend that would have stood up for me, my story might have a different ending. I cried all day on Thursday, those memories flooding back to me like a tidal wave.
It is never easy to relive my darkest moment of 7th grade, yet my story provides the opportunity to connect my life to theirs. Believe it or not, 26 years later, life isn’t much different. Kids still are ridiculed for being different, bullying still reigns supreme in a twisted world, and all you can do is preach to these poor souls how to deal with it. I had one sweet girl ask on Friday, “Mr. Daniels, will we ever stop bullying?” I was frankly honest with her. “Honey, there will always be bad apples out there,” I began. “We just have to learn how to respond to it.” So, how do you teach the kids to respond to it? What can we say when we are living in a world where social media is the number one source where bullying occurs?
I tell you what. I can’t take away their cell phones, computers, or block their Instagram accounts. I can’t look over their shoulder 24/7, watching what they say to their friends online, filtering every harsh word or phrase. But what I can do is tell them how to respond, and I found that advice in a video that is well worthwhile to share with your own students. It is less than three minutes to share, and it is wonderful in providing fruitful discussion. Plus, it is an added bonus that the video boils down the steps to deal with bullying into three memorable concepts: stop, block, and tell. Stop and think before you post anything online. Block users that are harassing you. Tell a trusted adult. If you can get your students to memorize those three powerful words, they will have something in their pocket to fight back.
As for a Biblical perspective on the issue of bullying, I preach to my students about how Paul taught about revenge. Of course I keep the name of Paul silent, and I never cite his actual words from scripture, but his message in Romans 12: 20-21 revolutionizes worldly thinking: “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We call it killing people with kindness. It confuses the bully. It generates a different reaction than they expect, and it does have the strong possibility of letting the bully find a different target. It is not foolproof, but it does give your students a strong Biblically sound reaction that will glorify God.
In a day and age where testing is king, yes, it is hard to fit that three-day bullying unit into my plans. Especially when I am attempting to cover two novels 2nd quarter before Christmas Break. But it is worth it! The tears I shed, the tears THEY shed, the stance we all agree to take by the end of the third day, it is all worth every second. My 7th hour class had the most heart-warming moment last week when a sweet Christian girl stood to share her bullying testimony. Tears choked her words, and all I wanted to do was go over and give that poor girl a hug, but a male teacher hugging a female student … yeah, I didn’t want to risk anything that would get me in trouble. But do you know what God did? He led the entire class to surround that girl in a group hug that let her know everything would be okay. I couldn’t help but join in!
How about you? Are you taking time to let God create moments like these in your classroom? Are you enriching your students with life lessons that will carry them smoothly to the next level? Show your kids that you care. Mentor them. Love on them. Guide them through whatever awkward stage of life they are encountering, and don’t you know that if you happen to teach 7th grade like myself, your job is that much more crucial. Talk about awkward! If you show your kids you care, you are showing them that the love of Christ. And Christ didn’t just overcome the relentless bullying of the Pharisees. Take heart, because Christ overcame the world! (John 16: 33)
Challenge: Do you have a little extra time somewhere? Talk to your kids about bullying. Show them the three-minute video mentioned above. (Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV5v0m6pEMs) Challenge your kids to take the right Godly stance in loving everyone, even our enemies. And pray that God will take over from there, giving you moments like the moment I had last week in 7th hour.
Song to bring it home: There are plenty of Christian songs out there to play for your classes that deal with the topic of bullying, but one stands out to me. Play Britt Nicole’s “Gold” for your class, the actual music video from YouTube. Although lyric videos are powerful as well, this video actually tells five or six stories through some actors and actresses that SHOW the kids what bullying can do to someone. And of course, Britt Nicole is there to remind them that they are not shamed. They are gold!
Prayer: Father, please guide my students through situations beyond their control. Give them Your heart to respond in a loving way to anyone that thinks less of them. Let that perfect love reign supreme in all that we do! Amen.