Stories of bullies and those that they bullied have gotten a lot of attention in the news in the past few years, for good reason. People are so much more “connected” than they used to be, and have access to one another in ways that allow to dissociate themselves from a feeling of personal responsibility. Bullying touches everyone’s lives, no matter how old or young.
I didn’t struggle too much will bullies when I was little. I wasn’t shy when I was younger, and a time or two, I had the opportunity to stick up for siblings or friends who were getting pushed around. In middle and high school, my cousins and I started to attend the same school. A couple of them are pretty big guys, and no one ever bothered me. In college, things were much the same. I had good friends, and my little liberal arts college didn’t have the traditional “clique” system. People were pretty free to float among groups, and we were a tight knit class.
The summer following my junior year of college, I had the opportunity to participate in an internship for underrepresented people groups (women, minorities, people with disabilities, low income students) in a Federal office in Washington, DC. My internship was fun. I learned a lot of cool stuff about a subject that I previously didn’t know anything about, and was told to “work slower” and maybe “watch the World Cup”. So I did. I learned that I don’t like living in cities, and that I longed for grass, trees, and neighbors that moo and neigh. I learned that Arlington National Cemetery was my retreat, and that I didn’t care for the same kind of “fun” as my fellow DC interns.
As part of my internship, I was provided free housing in a renovated apartment building. The company hired to manage the residential portion of my internship managed many internships, for students on scholarship programs, like myself, and for paying students. As part of my internship, I learned that living in an apartment with strangers was a perfect place for bullying to occur. I got along just fine with two of the young women with whom I lived, and keep up with one of them still.
But one of them was difficult to live with. She stayed up late at night, with the TV turned up loud, when I had to leave to catch my bus at 7:00 AM every morning and had trouble sleeping with the noise. She had loud guests over who left messes in the kitchen, and didn’t clean up after herself. She wouldn’t turn the TV down when I asked her to. She yelled at me, and told me that she paid the same amount of rent as I did (except I didn’t pay rent), so she could have the TV as loud as she wanted it, whenever she wanted it. The night before all the interns in my office were scheduled to meet with the Secretary of our office (the kind that’s appointed by the President), she kept me up into the wee hours of the morning with the television. Everything was a struggle. She wouldn’t talk things out, and wouldn’t compromise. A resident assistant got involved, and things got worse. We tried to make a roommate agreement, and she didn’t participate in crafting it, and didn’t care to follow it.
A month into the program, I found out that she was posting about me on her Twitter account. She posted comments about me and included pictures of Luanne Platter, a character from King of the Hill who was as vapid as she was intellectually slow. In the show, she spoke with a drawl and was the butt of most jokes. I remember finding out what she’s posted, and crying. She didn’t know I could see her Tweets, but that made it all the more painful. I couldn’t believe that someone, a young adult, could be so ugly.
Eventually, things got better. She was moved out of my apartment, and I didn’t have to see her anymore. There was no real resolution, and she didn’t get punished for her behavior. It didn’t seem fair to twenty-one year old me.
I’ve tried for a long time to not think about crying in the bathroom with the fan on to keep anyone from hearing me cry. I’ve forgiven her, but I still don’t know all of the reasons she tortured me. It wasn’t until recently that I identified her as a bully.
I know there was a reason that she was mean to me. The primary reason was internal. I couldn’t stop it, and I learned that there was truth in what most people say causes bullying. The bully usually isn’t happy with themselves.
I also know that she took issue with my faith. You see, when she would go out partying on Thursday nights, I would go to a book club at my church to talk about C.S. Lewis books. When she would sleep late on Sundays, I would get up and go to church. I never spoke with her directly about my faith, because she didn’t talk to me. But I spoke with my actions, and I’m sure I made her very uncomfortable. I received some of the nastiest looks on those morning when she got out of bed early and saw my studying my Bible.
Now, I don’t think that all of this was perpetrated by me exercising my faith. I know that she must have been having some issues that I won’t find out about, and I’m thankful that I didn’t act ugly towards her. But, in my Bible reading plan, I came across a passage that hadn’t resonated with me before now. In Acts 5, there is an account of the early church, and how they began to be persecuted. Because of the jealousy of the high priests, they are arrested and thrown into jail and are then beaten and freed, being warned to not speak of the Way again. And they respond with joy.
40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
They rejoiced that they got to suffer for their faith. That is counter to the common belief today that being a Christian is a cushy set up where you pray the right way and God gives you material things. They were blessed by being allowed to suffer for the cause.
As I said before, I don’t know how much of my suffering was because of my faith. I never thought that my suffering should be a cause for joy, until now.
Is there suffering in your life for the cause of Christ that you should rejoice over? Is there suffering for the cause of Christ in your life that you’re avoiding?