Apart from our efforts within various public schools around the nation, Justin and I also work regularly with parochial schools as they attempt to reduce bullying and encourage kindness across their campuses. This gives us a chance to really connect with the youth there in a powerful way by dovetailing their faith with a call for God-honoring behavior – both offline and online. As a Christian, I find these opportunities very rewarding, and I thought it would be good to share something I’ve presented and discussed with high school kids from one of the Catholic Dioceses we work with. Perhaps it can be used to stimulate conversation in other parochial or youth-group settings.
You’re a teenager. You seek to live a life that honors the Lord. And so you know you shouldn’t bully others. If you were asked to give a scriptural reason for why you shouldn’t make fun of, mistreat, embarrass, or threaten someone else – certain verses might come to mind. You might recall how Jesus talked about loving your neighbor as you love yourself, or the Golden Rule from His Sermon on the Mount. You might remember how He talked about turning the other cheek. Maybe you’ll even think about how He talked about how hating someone (or demonstrating hate towards someone) is like murdering them. I know it is such a dramatic comparison, but that is what He said.
The thing is, you know you shouldn’t be a jerk to others – in person, or behind their back at school, or on Instagram or Twitter or YouTube, or while texting your friends. But many of us still do it. Growing up, we care a lot about what our friends and peers think about us, and we care a lot about “saving face” and having as many people as possible like us and being at least somewhat popular…or, at least, definitely not unpopular. And even though we know we should mostly only care about what God thinks about us, and what God has said about us – we still angle and jockey and compete for higher positions and statuses on the social ladder in our schools and peer groups. I mean, it’s natural (and desirable!) for us to gravitate towards the popular and attractive and admired, and dissociate ourselves (intentionally or indirectly) from others that are different, or excluded, or otherwise less well-liked.
Maybe we wish we weren’t like that, but that’s just how it seems to be – in middle school, in high school, and even in some parts of adulthood. We pretty much do all that we can not to be the ones at the bottom of the social ladder. That can’t be us. It feels like we won’t be able to live, we won’t be able to breathe if that were us (as one of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, has said). And so we make sure that it just doesn’t come to that – and we do whatever it takes. Some of these ways are exhausting, and some of them are manipulative, and some of them feel empty and futile but we do them anyway. And some of it definitely involves being mean to others – to make us feel better, to stay at least one rung above someone else on that social ladder, to join in with our friends, or for a variety of other not-so-great reasons.
One of my favorite sections of the Bible is from 1 Peter 3:10-12, where Peter quotes David’s words from Psalm 34. It reads:
For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”
I think that out of all that’s in the Bible, this is what personally motivates me the most to never ever be a jerk to another person. Why? Well, let’s break it down.
I really want to love life. And I really want to see good days. All the time, if possible! And I desperately need His eyes on me, and for Him to listen hard for and respond to my prayers. I mean, who doesn’t need that! But it’s presumptuous for me to think that God is some type of glorified vending machine in the sky, dispensing blessings whenever I ask for them, and that I don’t have any role to play in it.
Apparently, I do have a role to play. I am specifically told here not to mess around with impure or unholy or deceitful things coming out of my mouth. I think if Peter and David were raised in the Information Age, they would probably have mentioned the other (more?) popular form of communication in our 21st century – typing and texting. The words that come forth from my mouth, or come forth through my fingers all spring from my heart. And I know I so want my heart to be in the right place when it comes to my relationship with the Lord, and my relationship with others. Deep down, I know what that “right place” feels like. It feels right in my heart when I am doing what the next two verses say – turning from evil and doing good, seeking peace and pursuing it, working towards righteousness (right living). Actually, it feels amazing when I am there, and when I stay there. It feels like, wow, this is exactly where I am supposed to be.
We are always looking for the best ways to live, for direction and guidance that might bring blessings into our life, and for God to keep watch and protect us and take care of us. Peter and David, led by the Holy Spirit, very clearly lay out what we need to do for that to happen. And it helps to remind me that I just cannot be involved in bullying or cyberbullying because it is sin, and it separates me from God. And I can’t have any separation between God and myself if I want to experience His closeness, and be confident that He hears me and delights in the way I am trying to live. Plus, I know that it really messes up my heart. And I just can’t have that.
When the opportunity arises to mistreat someone else, either at school or in cyberspace, I want to encourage you to remember that we just can’t be doing that sort of thing if we want to love life, see good days, and honor our God. I mean, that’s the bottom line. If that’s what you want, do not be mean to others. Do not be that person. It is not worth it, and it never makes the situation – or the state of your heart – better. Instead, pray about the situation and for the other person, and try to get some well-balanced and mature advice from friends and adults in your life. People can help you respond to the conflict or issue that is at the root of it all – whether it is your own problem or someone else’s. Give those people a chance to help you resolve whatever is going on in a positive manner. If you don’t know where to turn, or what to do, let us know – and we’ll do all we can to help.