Updated: Aug 20
Dr. Stephen Phinney | August 19, 2020 |
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Over time, most of us have to deal with a bully or two, perhaps as children or maybe as an adult. Recent statistics reveal that one in four children are faced with bullying at one time or another. In the workplace, schools, the home, the military, hospitals, and even nursing homes, bullying is an issue for all. Those who bully are reflecting the habits of God’s greatest enemy. In saying that, we need to deal with a mirrored image of this enemy (bully) carefully, and most of all, know who we are facing.
When I think of bullies, I think of Satan. He gains satisfaction from making others, particularly born-again believers, feel hurt or attacked, so fighting him encourages him all the more. Maybe this was the reason the Word of God says our fight is not with flesh and blood but powers of darkness. If human bullies reflect the depraved habits of Satan, maybe we should go to the source.
Well, all that is fine and dandy, but, a child typically does not have this kind of foresight.
Like many children, I grew up being bullied. I learned at an early age that bullies are cowards – they prey on the weaknesses of others, much like a snake preys on a mouse. These cowards almost always pick a victim that is smaller and unable to defend themselves; thus, why the bully seems like a monster to the victim.
Each time that I was bullied, I would run home and tell my mother. Isn’t that what a “mamma’s boy” is supposed to do? It was for me. Every time, without hesitation, she would tell me to “turn the other cheek, take the beating, ask if they were done, and walk away.” Most of the time, I thought she had lost a couple of marbles. But, that is what I did year after year.
I graduated from high school with the status of being “mentally retarded.” No joke. When the laws allowed students to obtain their school records, I made a beeline to my high school. I was in my late 20s when Iowa’s laws changed. I will never forget the day I walked into the school office and asked for my records. The secretary, who I knew, paused and then said, I don’t think you want to do that. I pressed, and she kept trying to convince me to change my mind. I didn’t budge. Once I got to my car, opened up the file, I quickly discovered why she didn’t want me to see my records. Right on the opening page, it noted “Status: Mentally Retarded.” My heart sunk. My entire childhood feelings of feeling stupid came rushing back. Later, when I showed the file to my mother, she said, yes, honey, I knew that. At which time, I learned that my mother pressured (threatened) the school to graduate me or else. I also learned that she made sure every school passed me into the next grade from the day forward of flunking second grade.
As odd as this sounds, this experience set me free. It answered a plethora of questions. The biggest question it answered was related to my curiosity about being singled out to be bullied.
One of my nicknames growing up was “retard.” This title was not only hurtful; it invited a truckload of rejective experiences surrounding being bullied.
Classmates were the primary source group of my bullies. My mother’s technique seemed to hold most of these bullies at bay. I figured once I got into high school, it would dissipate. But, no, they continued. However, I had a secret weapon when entering high school, my elder siblings, who were seniors. I was accepted into a few senior activities regularly, which was a "no-no" in this school.
There was a sophomore, who we will call "Mr. G," who took it upon himself to make my life miserable – keep in mind that each time that he did, my brothers would often come to my defense. Little did I realize at the time that my siblings would be graduating that year, and I would have to fend for myself once they were gone. That is exactly what happened. The next year I was stuffed and locked in lockers, beat up more times than I can remember, and teased relentlessly. One experience stands out above the rest – one afternoon, I looked out the study hall window and watched the football team attempt to put my car on its roof. I went and got the principle, and to that, he said boys will be boys.
Another moment that is hard to forget is on a particular Saturday night. I went cruising with my buddies (fellow rock band members) in "Mr. G's town." Sure enough, he and a couple of his cronies began following us as usual. I told my friend to stop the car, let me get out, take the beating so that we could enjoy the remainder of the evening. We stopped, I got out, and yes, Mr. G (drunk) began beating me. This time I immediately sensed it was different. He beat me so adversely that his friends told him to stop because he was killing me. Well, this evening, as in all the previous beatings, I did exactly what my mother taught me. But, this time, he had beat me so severely that I had become temporally blind & delusional. With major open wounds, being covered in blood, I searched for him in my blindness, following his abusive voice, I found him and asked him if he was finished. With that, he hit me one more time, his buddies pulled him off me and off they went. Today I bear a golf ball size tumor (scar tissue) in my ribcage reminding of this evening.
The next morning, I told my mother what happened. She was quick in her response, "this is why I call you 'my little Joseph.'"
After Mr. G graduates, my senior year was almost rejection free. After I graduated and found a job, I get a knock at my apartment door on a Sunday morning. I open the door and guess who was standing there? That's right, Mr. G and his best friend. Thinking this was the day he was going to finish me off, I did the right thing and invited him in. He proceeded by asking me where I got such strength to face his abuse AND have the gall to ask if I was finished. I told him he wouldn't believe me even if I told him. He demanded that I tell him, so I did. I told him that I had a born-again experience when I was 16, and I learned through the Bible that born-again Christians are required to turn the other cheek and attempt to turn our enemies into friends. His reply? Well, it shocked me a bit – he said you are more of a man than I will ever be. He then took me to lunch and told me I was welcome in "his town" anytime. Since I had a hard time believing him, I did exactly that. The next weekend I drove over to "his town," walked into his family-owned bar and ordered a drink. The entire bar began harassing me in a manner I had become quite accustomed. Mr. G got up on a chair and announced loudly, if anyone ever lays a hand on Steve in the future, they will have to deal with me. I am amazed to this day this happened. That was the last day I have memories of being harassed by my school peers.
Not long ago, one of Mr. G's friends told me that Mr. G gave his life to Christ shortly after that Sunday reconciliation. Today Mr. G is known in his community as a Christian leader. I am a bit emotional in saying this, but if all those beatings were for his Salvation – then every ounce of pain & suffering was worth it!
Speaking of being “retarded.”
During my junior year, the school counselor called for a meeting with my mother and me. During this meeting, he announced that I should never pursue higher education. You would have to know my mother, but that did not sit well with her – AT ALL! She pretty much demanded the reasons for such a statement. He told us that I was "borderline retarded” and he had the test results to prove it. Hum, maybe this is how my mother found out. Even though my mother and I walked away from this meeting, blowing off his recommendation, he continued to set a chain of events in motion to stop me from graduating. On the night of graduation (almost a year later), I was standing with my classmates, in cap & gown, to get our senior picture taken when this counselor pulls me out of the group and tells me I am not graduating. With the principle standing close, watching this trauma unfold, he steps up, pulls the counselor aside, and orders him to put me back in the group. Thinking back, I think I was the first "retarded” person to graduate from this school.
Several years later, in a community miles away from my hometown, I held a position as Director of a handicapped residential care home. To my amazement, who was assigned to work for me as my cottage nurse, this counselor's wife – a registered nurse. She was a wonderful worker and person. I got along with her tremendously well. Not long after her employment with us, this counselor (her husband) seeks me out and reconciles with me. Shocking? No. It was the Grace of God. Later, this man was the engagement photographer for my wife and me. We remained friends from that day forward. Another amazing healing moment in my life.
Bullies come in all sizes, even in the skin of highly educated counselors.
I am convinced that nothing happens to us that God cannot turn into a ministry moment of healing. I cannot say that I have observed God doing this with all painful relationships, particularly family members, but I have seen enough to believe.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)
Oddly enough, today, I am a prolific writer. Even odder, out of 22 high school classmates, 16 of them are subscribers to my writings. That means, the very source of my rejection during those traumatic years, are reading the most powerful message known to the Christian world, that of the indwelling Life of Jesus Christ. Few things could please me more.