Grown-up Bullies

How to respond when you're attacked by the bullies that still wait for us

It’s funny how your childhood programs you for life.

As a kid, I was overweight and non-athletic. I grew up never really learning how to throw a football like other kids. However, I soon found there was one playground game at school at which I could excel…

Red Rover was the fat kid’s moment of glory.

Each team would stand on the opposite side of the field and call the name of an opposing team member to run over and try to break through the linked arms of the opposing team. As opposed to other game where agility or strength determined the winner, you could own Red Rover just by matter of sheer girth.

After a few experiences with the game, my confidence grew. I soon discovered not to even bother aiming for the arms of the other team: I could simply plow over the little kid, flattening him on the ground like a pancake.

I still remember how they looked as ran over them. Their eyes got so big, their faces frozen in a silent scream. Usually, only a squeak emerged before I plowed them over. I was a human wrecking ball (please now imagine me running in slow motion, as the Miley Cyrus song plays in the background. You’re welcomed for that mental picture).

Finally, I was soaking up what it felt like to be “big man on campus”…literally. It was quite intoxicating. That is, until I hurt a kid.

Usually, landing on them just knocked the wind out of them. But one kid had to be helped off the field as they groaned in pain. Nothing broken, but watching him broke me. I was done causing pain. Moving up the elementary school food chain was not worth the guilt I felt at seeing that little kid hurt.

From that point on in my life, I was determined never to hurt anyone else. There were times after that I didn’t take up for myself enough, choosing instead to let the other kid do the damage. It was worth it, I thought, because I knew as long as I careful and caring, I would never feel responsible for someone else’s pain.

Well, at the time it sounded reasonable enough in my head.

I’ve learned that there are people you will meet in life who are bullies in disguise. No, they’re not usually big guys beating up kids for their lunch money. That’s too obvious for them. But what they will do is play the victim and try to make you look like the bad guy, when in fact it is you who’re being mistreated.

You need to be prepared that some people simply can’t resist making you the bad guy in their lives. It’s their modus operandi – their pathology. You must be the cause of their problems, because if it’s not you, the only one left to take the responsibility is them.

We see these people in the church often. That’s because church is the one place where, regardless of how much a jerk you are, people are supposed to love you anyway. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at loving even some of the worst people. Every time l meet a new “challenging personality”, I feel God is jabbing me in the ribs and laughing, asking me, “You gonna be able to handle this one too, Gipson?”

I remember one guy whose life had pretty much been a mess when I got to know him. He was crude and overbearing, but I’ll pretty much be nice to anyone who seems to need friendship. As time passed, his overbearing nature led him to start telling me things he didn’t like in the church, the chief offender being a fellowship meal held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

He didn’t like the change of pace, though it was a favorite of our other members. When he realized he couldn’t control things, he left the church and then called several members to say how much I had offended him.

Amazingly, I’d hurt him by not letting him control me. And now, he was the victim, and I was the bully!

What I’ve learned from ministering to and loving these kinds of folks is this: dysfunctional people will often attack the very one who is trying to help them. When a person has a bottomless pit of need, they will accuse you of not showing enough love when you are unable to fill that pit. Ironically, it is often the ones you’ve invested the most personal time in who strike out at you the harshest. And even more ironically, they accuse you of mistreating them because you didn’t make them happy.

So there you are, back at that schoolyard, feeling like a bully, when you feel like the one being attacked.

In this life, you have to decide if you are going to let people hold you hostage emotionally for things you never owed them nor promised them. You have to accept that they are the real bully, and not you. Then, you have to decide if you’re going to get on their level and attack back.

Don’t respond. It’s a game where no one wins.

In the end, you must trust God that you’ve lived a life that will speak for itself. You learn what people say bad about you often says much more about themselves than it does about you.

You don’t retaliate, because you trust that Someone else has your back. There will always be people who want to blame you for their problems. But the game only works if you choose to play along.

So let them say their peace, and trust in the power of your own silence.

In spite of all the people my angry friend called, no one else left the church. Most just felt sad for him at all he was missing. And this Sunday, we’re having that big Thanksgiving meal together he hated so much. We’ll sit as one big huge family around tables, sharing each other’s home-cooked dishes, telling about how God brought us together and giving Him praise for the good things He’s done for each of us this year.

But there’ll always be a place left for my old friend at that meal. Why? Because God’s family is loving and forgiving enough even to allow a few bullies at the table. 

…especially a reformed, former bully like their pastor ;0)

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