Bullies. They come in all shapes and sizes and molest their victims in wide, varied, and demoralizing ways. The news and social media are rife with stories of unthinkable assaults by bullies. Jailhouses are full of bullies. So are the offices of psychologists, marriage counselors, and anger management experts. The lesson of bullies has taught me much about myself, my world, and my God.
I encountered my first real bully in the workplace some 15 years ago. Her name was Patricia. She was barely 5 foot tall and, at best, weighed 110 pounds. She had long, shiny black hair, diminutive features, and deep, dark-set eyes. Physically, she looked nothing like a bully. Then again, physically speaking, neither did the Wizard of Oz, Scut Farkus, or King Saul.
If Patricia and I were battling with fists, I could have easily taken her out. After all, I was almost three times her size. But Patricia wielded words like a Chinese Knife Thrower. Daily, she thrust her hurtful words into my heart; and, daily, I would take it. What made it worse was that we worked in a public area at the reception counter of a very busy doctor’s office, so there was no office door or cubicle for me to hide behind.
Once, during the summertime, the office air conditioner went out; and we were talking about how hot we were and how we hoped our deodorant would hold up. In an effort to find some commonality with Patricia, I told her that I always powdered myself a lot and used real strong deodorant because I always wanted to be extra careful not to smell. Several weeks later she went to the boss and told her she couldn’t work with me because I had an odor. I did not smell, but it was a way for her to hurt me.
I never did stand up to Patricia. I was too weak then and had too low a level of self-esteem. There was no courage in me. My faith in God was there, but not strong enough to risk facing off with someone who intimidated me so much. For three years, I just took it. Took the humiliation. Took the slaughtering of my self-esteem. Took the demoralizing abasement that comes from not defending yourself.
If I had a picture of Patricia to show you, my guess is you’d say, “This is what tormented you? This puny little feather of a woman?” You would be right. I hadn’t yet learned to step behind the curtain and see bullies for the weaklings they really are. At the time, I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I was too full of my own fears to see that the only power Patricia had over me was what I gave her.
There have been other workplace bullies in my life since Patricia, but none that struck so deep to the heart of who I was. Not because she was any more adept at wielding her emotional machete than any of the other bullies I have faced, but because back then I hadn’t learned the lesson of bullies.
The Lesson of Bullies
Bullies teach us about ourselves. Like precious metal that has to be heated up before it’s impurities are revealed, we are sometimes put in the kiln of difficulty until our weaknesses rise to the top so we become aware enough to do something about it.
There is not enough time and space to list all that I have learned from the different workplace bullies I have encountered in my 20+ years of professional life. Let me just say that, looking back, I am grateful for each one because each of them drew out the dross of my lesser self and forced me to choose what I was going to do about it
When I first entered the Lesson of Bullies, I was like Peter from the movie “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” The world seemed to collapse around me, and I was floating on a hunk of ice, in the midst of a roaring river, and facing an evil wolf. But the more I planted my feet and refused to cower, the more adept I became at handling my sword… and at handling my bullies.
How Christ Handled Bullies
Scripture provides us with many examples of how to handle bullies:
- Christ handled Lucifer, the greatest bully of all, by quoting the word to him. (Matthew 4:4)
- David handled Saul by fully embracing the sovereignty of God. (1 Samuel 18)
- The three Hebrew children quieted themselves and refused to bow. (Daniel 3)
- Daniel kept on doing what he knew was right. (Daniel 3)
- Stephen allowed himself to be hurt for the cause of the Christ. (Acts 7: 54-59)
The Bully Spectrum
Where are you today on the bully spectrum? Have you ever dealt with one? Have you been one? What might Christ be trying to teach you about yourself? About others? My prayer for you today is that you will sincerely evaluate your actions and reactions and truly see what the Lord of Glory might be trying to teach you.
Precious Lord Jesus, you are so incredible and so completely sovereign of all that happens in our lives. There are those that are reading this today that may be struggling with a bully in their life. Please encourage them. Help them. Uplift them and show them that you have not abandoned them, but rather you are walking with them through this. Help all of us to continue to learn the lesson of bullies. Lessons that you teach us so that we might become more like you. In Your Precious name, Amen.