How I Fought the Bullies
It took more than self-defense and a thick skin to learn to contend with life's unfairness
As parents, grandparents and concerned adults, we are often challenged by reports of bullying in our schools. My grandchildren have had classes about bullying that attempt to protect victims of bullying and prevent the problems that often cause it. Sadly, the evening news reminds us that bullying still exists in schools. Having been bullied and even becoming a bully myself—depending on the crowd I was with—I have some personal insight into this problem.
When I was 8 years old, I was small and thin—just a wisp of a boy. I enjoyed being in the third grade, but I often found myself the target of the older children's ire on the playground. One day, after being pushed around by the big boys, my anger and frustration lead me to strike out at my attackers. My swinging fists, small as they were, did not faze the bullies. Out of desperation, I grabbed one of their arms and bit down with all of my strength. The boy wailed in terror and dropped to his knees sobbing: “He bit me!” over and over again. I had not drawn blood, but I had certainly made a lasting impression.
Immediately, a teacher hustled me inside to the principal’s office where I was told to sit in a chair near his desk. I was already trembling with guilt and fear, but the principal, Mr. George, spoke in a low and friendly voice. His exact words are buried somewhere deep in my memory, but the impression he made is as fresh as if I were sitting in that chair today. He knew exactly what had happened to me—he was bullied as a small child himself—but he made it very clear that biting was not acceptable and could cause a dangerous infection for both the victim and the perpetrator.
Mr. George told me that the only way to compensate for my small size was to develop thick skin and a positive attitude. He also dropped a subtle suggestion that I ought to learn how to fight clean and to surprise my opponents with my self-control. Perhaps, he said, boxing in Junior Golden Gloves would help my temper. To my mother’s bemusement and with her blessing, I took his advice.
I was in the lowest weight class and the smallest boy in my group, but I learned to box and to channel my passion. After weeks of practice, I knocked out my opponent in the first round of my first match. I was as surprised as he was, and it seemed we were friends from the moment I helped him up off the mat. I remember wishing that Mr. George could have been there to see me. I still have a photo of myself and my Jr. Golden Gloves opponents. In the line up, I am the short, skinny and wimpy one in oversized gloves, but I’m smiling.
God sees us differently than we see ourselves. At a time when Israel needed a new king, seven sons of Jesse were brought before the Prophet Samuel. They were mature, healthy and strong and all seemingly suited to rule, but each one them was rejected. Finally, at the insistence of Samuel the Prophet, the eighth and youngest son was fetched from the fields where he had been keeping the sheep. It was this boy who God chose to be king over Israel. As the Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7b - NIV).
I wonder what He sees when He looks into my heart. I know what I want Him to see, but know that nothing is hidden from Him. He knows my good intentions and my bad intentions and His judgment is perfect—as a loving, perfect Father would know His child. His correction is painfully truthful and surgically precise, but at the same time loving and instructive. He reveals our heart not to hurt us but to give us hope for a better way. He wants us to learn how to resist evil and to fight clean and smart and grow into the person we were created to be. David did not immediately become King of Israel. Saul was the king at the time and David served him. One wonders at the disparity of the anointed King of Israel serving at the behest of the abandoned King of Israel, for Saul had failed. He had become self-centered and lost his way.
It is natural for us to react to life’s challenges in a defensive posture, thinking only of protecting ourselves. We can stop, think and act intentionally instead, realizing that the best self-defense is not only self-knowledge but an awareness of our place in God’s plan and that our strength comes not only from within ourselves but from God. After I was bullied, I had to learn not to be a child of rage but a child of grace, of strength under control. God’s grace is the healer and helper of all who are persecuted and victimized, whether by their own misdeeds or those of others.
Everyone has felt the unfairness of life and the apparent prospering of evil. Our natural defenses arise in reaction to the threat, real or imagined. The Psalmist reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1 NIV). He then recognizes that the clatter of self-defense often deafens our ears: “Be still, and know that I am God… The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:11). “The God of Jacob” describes His presence as personal and real. Being still is a decisive action. Listening for God’s message and waiting for His grace fills the stillness with strength and undergirds the purpose of our lives. When life like a bully comes at us fast and furious and we are bruised and broken, we can stop, take a deep breath, exhale slowly and receive His grace and peace. The bullies, whether real or imagined, can be defeated and hope restored as we rest in His promise: “The Lord Almighty is with us…”
Randall I. Davis, Major lives in retirement in Nicholasville, KY.