In the comments section of The Difference Between “Praying For” and “Forgiving,” reader “Susan in NY” wrote this, which perfectly captures so much of what we’ve recently been discussing about prayer and forgiveness:
There was a particular girl in junior high school who bullied me. I can’t seem to forgive her; I still harbor anger towards her. If I try to pray for her, my prayers are hollow. I’m still so angry that I don’t even want to pray even harder for her, or meditate on the issue at all. … I think I will hash it over in therapy. Maybe then I can shake it loose and get rid of it. Being bullied is not like some of the terrible things that people endure. In the grand scheme of horrible things that happen to people, verbal bullying is pretty low on the list, IMO. That fact makes me feel even more angry and frustrated that the bullying still has such a negative hold on me.
Man, isn’t that the whole forgive-and-forget/pray for your enemies/the enduring nature of resentment/”What’s the matter with me?” enchilada, right there?
It is! So let’s spend a little time chewing on that mofo — which I’ll do below, sentence by sentence.
There was a particular girl in junior high school who bullied me. That’s so awful.
I can’t seem to forgive her; I still harbor anger towards her. That’s so exactly what I was talking about in my last post. Of course you can’t forgive her. She bullied you. That’s a horrible thing to do to someone. Why would you want to forgive her for doing such a terrible thing? If back then you’d seen her smacking around a little kid, would you today be struggling to “forgive” her? Of course not; you’d hope she died a miserable death. And in any account, how would you actually go about forgiving this person from your past? She hasn’t asked for your forgiveness, has she?
Forgiving someone is a gift that you have to be asked to give. The woman who once bullied you isn’t asking you to forgive her, so of course your solo efforts to forgive her fail. Half the components necessary for forgiveness to occur aren’t even present. You’re attempting to blow out candles that aren’t lit. (As per the update to my last post: this is a semantical distinction, but an important one.)
What you can do, without her participation or presence, is love the girl who bullied you. You know the old saying: Hate the bullying; love the bully. (That is how that goes, right?) Loving this girl is the only way you’re ever going to neutralize the grip she still has on you.
And the way you can easily enough love her is by doing nothing more than contemplating for a moment or two upon the truth that she bullied you. How messed up must she have been to do to you one of the worst things anyone can do to another person? Whether implicitly or explicitly, she was continuously threatening you with violence. Bullying isn’t anything less than that. That’s awful.
And a kid in junior high who is so tweaked they actually act out violently could have only learned the dynamics of that behavior at home.
How horrible a home life your bully must have had. She’d probably been beaten all her life: it’s the beaten kids who beat. You feel angry when you think of the terrible things this girl did or said to you. But think how terrible it would be to be that girl.
As you feel bad for how that girl victimized you, you can feel bad for how terribly she herself must have been victimized. That girl’s started life two strikes (and probably a couple of kicks) down. Transfer your hatred of her to where that hatred belongs, which is to her parents.
And there’s your love for her, your fellow victim of a sometimes terribly mean and harsh life.
If I try to pray for her, my prayers are hollow. Try again? Try this prayer: “Dear God, please bring healing to the heart of the girl who bullied me in junior school. I know she suffered. I know her suffering made her mean and crazy. Please help the nightmare that girl inherited end with her. And please send her my love. I know in picking on me she was only acting out her own demons. Please tell her that it’s okay; that I’m okay. And please help me to remember her whenever I’m moved to take my hurt and anger out on others.”
I’m still so angry that I don’t want to pray even harder for her, or meditate on the issue at all. Try saying the prayer above, and then just sitting there with God for a moment after you do. Try it for us? And if you do try it, please let us know how it goes.
I think I will hash it over in therapy. Yay! Do!
Maybe then I can shake it loose and get rid of it. You’ll never forget it, of course. But you certainly can turn the hatred it now engenders in you into love, and thereby live into the wisdom of Jesus’ “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” And doing and feeling that is about as beautiful as beautiful gets.
Being bullied is not like some of the terrible things that people endure. In the grand scheme of horrible things that happen to people, verbal bullying is pretty low on the list, IMO. Being victimized by a bully is like the worst of some of the most terrible things that people endure. Bullying is emotional violence that’s predicated upon the ever-present possibility of physical violence. It doesn’t get a whole lot worse than that. Everybody remembers anyone who ever bullied them, because it’s just that painful. It’s one of the worst ways to be victimized, period.
That fact makes me feel even more angry and frustrated that the bullying still has such a negative hold on me. But it’s not at all a fact that bullying isn’t really all that bad. It is all that bad. Of course it still has a “negative hold” on you. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t.
Well, my wife just came down the stairs, so I’m gonna go have coffee with her on our porch. Love to you, Susan. Let us know how this goes for you. I’ll say a prayer this morning for you and the poor, broken girl who bullied you, wherever she is today.