“Hey John,” he said, “You get picked on a lot, at school, don’t you?”
For a moment I paused. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to answer his question. If I chose to be honest, maybe he’d show some compassion. But in my fourteen years of living, I came to understand that compassion was not an adverb that was commonly used to describe teenage boys. If one existed, he would surely have to be placed on an endangered species list.
I was conflicted. “What should I tell him?” I thought to myself. For a moment I reasoned that I could pretend like everything was OK. After all, how would he ever know the truth. He lived forty miles away from me, in a different city, and we didn’t share a common social circle. Nevertheless, I became convinced that he would see through any attempt to create a facade. His question caused me to feel as if I had been blind-sighted in a game of chess. I hadn’t even had a chance to make a move and I was already in check-mate.
We hadn’t been friends for long. My brother had introduced me to him shortly after he had started to date his sister. In my eyes, he was everything that I wished that I could be. Although he was only seventeen, his presence seemed to command attention. I stood in awe, as I watched girls flock to his side, and watched his peers try to gain his approval. He was the most likable person I knew, and he was far from being a pushover. He had the physique of a young Arnold and knew how to take care of himself. Most admirable to me, was that that he commanded a high-level of respect from those around him. The command wasn’t an arrogant one. On the contrary, he respected everyone around him. However, he left no room on the table for any form of disrespect. Perhaps, this was due being raised in Chicago. From his conversation, I gathered that both he and his family had it rough there. Nevertheless, he was resilient and learned how to fend for himself quite well.
I, on the other hand, lived in a small farming community. Although I was a freshman in high-school, I looked as if puberty hadn’t settled in. I was as lanky as a malnourished tree and there was not even an ounce of muscle on my body. Much to my disappointment, I was the furthest thing from being popular. In fact, on a normal school day, it was common for me to spend part of it climbing out of trashcan or digging out an atomic wedgie that I had been graced with. Instead of getting a cool handshake or hug, like the popular kids did, I was quite often flipped the bird, my books were knocked out of my hands, and I got called a “faggot” multiple times throughout the day. Yeah, that freshman year was rough to say the least. I hated school. I hated the people that picked on me. But most of all, I hated my life.
My parents knew what was going on, but that didn’t help matters much. My father seemed disappointed that I couldn’t fend for myself and somehow found ways to scold me when I expressed my pain. My mother, a devout Christian, believed that it was my duty to turn the other cheek and pray for those who hurt me. She resolved that the best solution was to report the bullying to the school staff, bus drivers, and she even went to the extent of calling the parents of those who picked on me. Little did she realize that her actions created social homicide instead of helping me. To say I was in turmoil was an understatement. I knew that there had to be a solution, but I was clueless as to what it may be.
The long pause of silence that followed my friend’s question started to feel awkward. Feeling pressured to answer, I found myself mustering up enough courage to say, “Yeah man, I get picked on a lot.”
I had anticipating hearing laughter, instead I saw an unfamiliar look of concern and compassion come across his face. “OK John, I’m going to show you what you got to do to make it stop,” he said matter-of-factly. He went on to give me very detailed instructions that involved ramming my knee full force into the groin of my assailant, grabbing them by their ears, and ramming their face into my knee until I saw blood. Then he had me repeat the instructions back to him several times before we physically practiced the motion on imaginary bullies. It was apparent that he was determined to make sure that I would never have to climb out of a trashcan again.
Before, I continue the story, I must make a disclaimer. By no means do I condone any violence. When I remember this conversation I sometimes laugh with nervousness. Had I ever actually gone through with what he trained me to do, I may have caused some serious and permanent damage. Nevertheless, my friend gave me something that changed my life that day. He taught me how to defend myself.
I walked into school, the following Monday, as a different man…. and no, it wasn’t because I walked around the school like a Mexican-ninja with a black-belt. My life changed because, suddenly I felt empowered to defend myself from pain. From that day forward, I no longer allowed people to bully me. When bullies came my way, I stood up to them. I was confident that I had the skills and ability to fight off anyone who attempted to hurt me ever again.
Although my story might seem a bit graphic, I guarantee that there is a lesson at the end of this. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you three things that I’ve learned from this experience.
- Empowered people are resilient people.
Prior to the conversation with my friend I felt hopeless. I looked in the mirror and I was the furthest thing from what I wanted to be. The lack of meat on my bones triggered thoughts of helplessness. Sadly, I convinced myself that I had no other choice but to allow myself to get beaten and trampled everyday of my life.
That day, there was absolutely no change in my stature. However, there was an undeniable metamorphosis that took place in my inner being. My friend helped me to recognize that, despite my limitation, I had the power to stand up for myself and change my current circumstance. While, I don’t wish to promote school ground violence, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if parents, school staff, and the community invested in empowering bullied children with the skills and resources needed to defend themselves. In my opinion, anti-bullying campaigns bring awareness, but they do not solve the issue.
…. So, I’m compelled to sneak in something in here…. The year after I had this conversation with my friend, I had an encounter with Jesus, and chose to follow him. Since then, my journey with Jesus has given the skills and mindset that I need to fight many of the battles that I face day to day. The story of the gospel absolutely transformed me. It taught me to view myself in a new light. Suddenly I had a new identity and the knowing that, in Christ, I am more than a conqueror. Unfortunately, I can’t say that anyone “empowered” me to believe this. I came this knowledge as I spent time in personal study of the scriptures. Today, I am saddened by the number of church attenders that show up to attend a religious performance every Sunday, who are entertained for about an hour and half, and then return home only to be beatdown by circumstances of life. Now, more than ever, the body of Christ needs to be empowered by the knowledge of the gospel. If the gospel is not empowering you to rise above your circumstance, you have not believed the true gospel.
- Many times, the enemy is just as fearful as you are
I didn’t expect the bullying to stop as quickly as it did. However, once I made it known that I was no longer going to allow myself to be bullied, the bullies simply stopped picking on me. In hindsight, I can see that many of those who picked on me were fighting personal demons of their own. In fact, some of them were enduring some horrific challenges. Some of them were able to make it through. Some of them lost their lives at a young age. I am now able to see that picking on a scrawny kid was much easier than facing their personal battles. I look back and can’t help but feel sorry for them.
- A pesticide, powerful enough to annihilate bullies, does not exist.
I wish I could say that I had my last bully encounter at the age of fourteen. Unfortunately, bullies seem to be more resilient than roaches facing an ice-age. As I’ve journeyed through life, I have encountered them peeking their heads in the work place, lurking in social circles, taunting others behind the pulpit, sneaking into the family kitchen, and running for political office. As much as I hate to admit it, I think they will be around until the end of time. However, the way you choose to respond to bully behavior will determine your outcome. My prayer for you is that you would walk in the knowledge and understanding that God created you to be above and not beneath. Jesus’ ministry on earth was to set the captive free and to lead you towards an abundant life. You are under know obligation to succumb to the control of a being other than God.
John Eli Garay
John Eli is a transformational life coach who has spent over 15 years mentoring individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, any negative self-talk that keeps them from living life to the fullest. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”
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