Teenage Jesus

Boy

Have you ever wondered about the life of Jesus as a teenager? Who were his friends? Did Mary and Joseph worry if he stayed out after dark? Was he charismatic like a star quarterback, like everyone’s friend, the class favorite? Did he have awkward moments? Did he feel insecure? Was he bullied in the shadowy corners of the temple? Did a brute of a boy hassle him or a mean girl spread rumors? For what was he envied? Did he ever run home crying? Did he fight back before he learned how to turn the other cheek? Were the people who criticized his ministry some of the same people who, in youth, gave him a hard time in the neighborhood?

Through Jesus, God came to earth to know exactly what it is like to be us and to save us from ourselves. Let him be the hurt teenager you were, the wounded adult you became. Remember, “There was not one person who was reluctant to approach him for fear of being rejected.” Walk the bridge he built for you. Run into his arms.

Suggested reading: God Came Near by Max Lucado

How to get a Bully to Apologize

For

A few years after college, one of the meanest girls from high school apologized to me. Throughout school, she said sorry because adults asked her. Maybe she regretted her mistakes, but her apologies never took effect because she continued her actions. It wasn’t until now her words carried weight because she appeared to recognize the difference between mistakes and choices.

What else motivated her? Distance, timing and her life experiences played a factor. I also believe I made it easier for her to say sorry. When I surrendered my desire for apologies to God, he gifted me peace. I no longer reacted to my bullies, and I became approachable.

Now, as she requested my attention, I simply looked her in the eye, listened, and received whatever she expressed. She was straightforward. She didn’t use words like “but” or “if.” She took complete ownership of her actions and complimented my efforts to help other girls. She allowed me to accept or reject her apology. I accepted and apologized to her for my reactions. It was one of the best things to come from my being bullied. It was proof my forgiveness was real, my bullies could change, and I could think differently of them.

How do you get a bully to apologize? It isn’t easy for people to say sorry. Do you make it harder? Would you want to apologize to you? Accept the possibility that you may never receive an apology. Relinquish control to God. He will clear space in your heart and mind to walk in peace. You never know, your growth might make way for your bully to apologize one day too.

Friend Requests From Your High School Bullies

fr1

I’m a detail-oriented, task-driven person. I must clear the red at the top of my Facebook profile. And I can’t only clear my notifications. I must take action quickly with anything that requests my attention because that’s how I roll with productivity. Except there are occasional times when I get tripped up by certain friend requests. I celebrate inside when I see a request from someone I like. Admittedly, I’m also a bit let down when it’s some guy from Indonesia with whom I have no mutual friends. And then there are the requests I dread but am equally intrigued by—those from my high school bullies or, really, from anyone whom I associate with that unpleasant experience.

Some of you know what I mean. The requests that make you scowl in confusion or just flat-out say, “Yeah right!” There are probably a few glaring memories that invoke your response—the hurtful nickname he gave you, the scene in the cafeteria, the rumor she spread. The kind of stuff that forever impacted you and makes you wonder what the heck does this person want?! It’s easy to let anger resurface. You might even take satisfaction in saying aloud, “DE-lete” as you impulsively execute the function. Then there are those of us who end up confirming these invitations because, deep down, we’re curious about what, if anything, is on the other side.

Perhaps this kind of thing comes as no shock to Millennials and younger. But I’m an early 80s baby—amongst the last wave of people who finished adolescence without social media—and I find myself in this weird space, not entirely relating to how any other generation rejects or embraces social media. I still prefer reach-out-and-touch-you  relationships, but they’re so difficult to come by nowadays. Everyone is too busy to do much more than “like” and scroll. So I’ve accepted it, but I still sometimes struggle to balance my old-school desire with the impersonality of cyber friends. I’ve definitely experienced the pros of social media, reconnecting with people whom I may never have known their whereabouts otherwise. It’s interesting to take a small glimpse at who people became, what their children look like, and to catch up with old friends. Still, I’m wary of allowing my social media to turn into a regular class reunion, considering the largest share of most peoples’ Facebook friends are high school classmates.¹

My first scratch-my-head moments came on MySpace. Why on earth were some of the girls who had been mean to me in high school wanting to reconnect? Then, I didn’t hesitate to find out by sending private messages. Then, I took the term “friend request” literally. I believed if a person wanted to be “friends,” I deserved to know why. I was willing to open myself back up because I was forgiving, but darn-straight, we were gonna talk about some stuff first. Eventually, I realized while that attitude was a step toward healing, it wasn’t forgiveness.

I took a different approach on Facebook and other subsequent platforms. By then, I no longer needed to interrogate connections when they resurfaced. Who was I to keep them locked into adolescence? But to this day, one request from an old schoolmate instantly sounds an alert in my head. I have to work hard to see them as more than kids up to old tricks, perhaps collecting new information only to criticize me like they used to. I breeze through their connections to make sure they are as safe as possible (whatever that means). Then wonder if they’ve only come back to snoop? (It seems like a logical explanation for those who I accept then turn around and delete me or delete and block me only a few days later). Do they have any idea how their simple friend request triggers skepticism and pain? Do they care? Do they even remember? Because I will never forget. Even if these people don’t remember the details as I do, I believe people know right from wrong. They remember the big picture of whether they were mean or nice. I know one woman who, forty years after high school, received an apology from a former mean girl. This mean girl couldn’t remember what she had done. She only remembered she was mean. She wasn’t the biggest bully, but she left a lasting impression. And now, she was brave enough to reach out and make another impression that better represented who she had become.

Those are the kind of requests with which I find myself most torn—the ones that come from people who weren’t necessarily my biggest bullies but who were teetering on the edge of my conflict. Like the former teammate who sat on a locker-room bench and did nothing more than stare as our teammates screamed at me. Hers was the first request I mulled over for more than a month. I wondered if she had forgotten what had happened. Was she still playing the popularity game? She already had a thousand friends on her list. Was I just another number? Or did she want to say something to me? Now, I sometimes see her images in my newsfeed. It doesn’t matter how many selfies she posts. I still only see that girl in the locker-room who said nothing, and I have to stretch to look beyond because I know she has to be so much more than that. I’m still not quite sure why she requested me, other than having tagged me in a few throwback photos and liking a few of my statues. I know why I accepted her, though.

People have told me how they would respond to these friend requests. “DENY!” they say. I understand. That was my initial reaction too—when I was fresh into adulthood and social media. Why would I re-expose myself to them? What are my boundaries? What happens when I accept one? Would there be others? Would there be repercussions? Every time I shared my thoughts with others, I only came up with fear-based solutions. While I appreciate those who want to safeguard my emotions, I am not created to live in fear. My downfall was in taking my issue to man before God. Now, I know if I want to make the best decision, I act solely upon the guidance of the Lord.

All of the times I’ve struggled with a friend request, He helps me see how I’m holding on to anger and resentment. The sooner I recognize and deal with this, the better. I devote thought and prayer to each request. God always takes the weight off my shoulders and shows me what to do. More often than not, I arrive at acceptance. Sometimes that means sharing my full profile with the person. Other times, God allows me to take baby steps by selecting the restrict option. Over the years, I’ve accepted friend requests that go nowhere. Some give my posts a few “likes.” Most say nothing. I’m guilty of occasionally thinking things like, “What’s in this for me?” “Is she ever gonna say anything?” “After all, she’s the one who requested me.” But when I recognize my selfish thinking and renew my mind in Christ, I remember it doesn’t matter if I ever receive answers. I’m confident in my faith and how the Holy Spirit guides me to live my life. Every bit of that seeps into how I operate on social media.

If my social media served as a billboard for my life, I know what I want it to promote. I want it to be an honest representation of who I am and how I live my life, albeit a snapshot. I want my message of healing and forgiveness to inspire others to heal and forgive. Perhaps, I use social media differently and more intentionally than most, but I use it for a purpose. If people would like to come alongside me on that journey, no matter how they choose to engage with me, chances are, they’re probably welcome to do so (the exception being anyone who would put my family or me in danger).

So why should you re-expose yourself to your bullies, betrayers, and bystanders? Maybe you should. Maybe you shouldn’t. The decision is yours. Your boundaries might be different from mine. Perhaps some of the same steps that help me will help you too.

Ask yourself why you’re on social media in the first place. What’s your purpose there? If your social media profile is a billboard promoting your life, what does it say about you? What do the pages and profiles you like and follow represent? Do they honor God?

When you receive a friend request from a bully or not-so-good connection, examine your heart. What do you feel inside? Do you present those emotions to God and listen for His direction? Or do you take matters into your hands and make decisions based on fickle feelings? Do you arrogantly think, “Fine, I’ll let you see how good my life turned out,” or “Okay, so-and-so, I forgive you, but…” What does “but” mean and what kind of residency is it taking up in your forgiveness? Does this sort of response truly have a place in your rationale? Or is it a defense mechanism, driven by fear? Does it represent the piece of you that still desires to be heard? If so, why is that important? Are your thoughts and actions in line with scripture?

Ask God if social media is the best way to re-engage with this person at this time. Listen for His response. Some meetings are better-left in-person. Some need a softer, more casual approach. Could social media be the way? Try putting yourself in the other person’s place. Is it possible asking you to be a “friend” again was difficult for them? Could they have feared your backlash and rejection but took the risk regardless? If the request is important enough to you, you’ll take the initiative to find out what it means. It’s also okay for you not to respond. You aren’t required to “like” any of their posts, wish them a happy birthday, follow them on your newsfeed, or even accept their request. You can still love a person from a distance.

We never know for what people are searching or what’s in their hearts. We cannot be certain what’s on the other side of a friend request until we engage it. Maybe it’s their best attempt at an apology. Maybe your simple act of acceptance is enough to free them from the regret of how they mistreated you. Maybe they remain on your friends list for years without ever exchanging a word with you. Maybe they never say, “sorry.” Maybe they never acknowledge your pain. Maybe they don’t remember what they did, at least not like you remember. I don’t know about you, but I’ve made peace with that.


  1. http://nymag.com/news/features/high-school-2013-1/

Look for the Good

Good

I used to view the world as one, big bully. People had rejected and failed me. Therefore, I believed people would continue to treat me this way. What I listened and looked for, I heard and saw–insults, bad news, rude drivers, and the friend who seemed to have time for everyone except me. Focusing on the negative inclined me to make statements like, “People suck,” “people are mean,” “people are idiots,” and “I don’t enjoy being around people.” When I didn’t feel loved and respected by others, it was easy to be hard on them. Because my conversations frequently included these kinds of generalizations and complaints, I only attracted more negativity, contaminated others, and built my beliefs opposite of what I desired. I could hardly stand to listen to myself, so I changed what I didn’t like.

Seeing good in people isn’t always easy. It may feel downright unnatural. We don’t have to deny that the world is messed up. We can, however, choose to think oppositely in order to achieve different results in our personal environments. It takes practice, but it can be accomplished. When we stop accepting our negativity, we free ourselves to demonstrate and verbalize grace toward others and start looking for “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). More often than not, goodness attracts goodness. It’s out there; I promise you because I look for it and live it. Now, I see more people pushing each others’ grocery carts back to the corral, more courteous drivers, more smiles and “hellos,” high-fives, hugs, and help. If I can’t seem to find the good I’m looking for, I create it myself. Looking for the good doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to crazy drivers, rude people, hate, or important issues. But believing people are hopeless never got me anywhere but discouraged, lonely, and limited. Believing in the good in people contributes to the change I wish to be and see in the world. It refocuses my vision on the power of the Lord and his ability to work through human beings to bring out the best in each other.

What is one negative thought, word, or phrase you use frequently? What is an opposite word or phrase that will replace it? Start today.

In what ways can you contribute to “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”?

Love Thy Neighbor

 

Goodies

This morning, our neighbors left these gifts on our front porch. They have a beautiful garden and raise bees. Every year they share their bounty with us. They are ideal neighbors, and we are grateful for the kindness they have extended in many different ways – everything from inviting us to church to occasionally taking care of our pets and allowing us to borrow tools. They truly epitomize the commandment, “Love thy neighbor” (Mark 12:31).

When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he wasn’t only referring to the people next door. He meant all people. The commandment is second in importance only behind “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Loving God means we must also love people. And what a challenge that can sometimes be!

Once, I loved others so effortlessly, but when I was bullied, I lost trust in people. As a result, I self-protected by isolating myself, often saying things like, “I love people, but I don’t like people,” “people suck,” “girls are mean,” and, “I love animals more than people.”

Have you ever found yourself saying the same kinds of things? From where do those thoughts stem? Do you desire to honor God in the highest through your thoughts and actions?  I have heard these kinds of comments from many others who have also been hurt and bullied. I totally understand if it’s easier to converse with your dog or to wrap yourself in the walls of your quiet home than it is for you to deal with difficult people. Mean people are everywhere. It is Satan’s aim to use them to overwhelm our minds, separate us, harden our hearts, and doubt goodness in others. Many of us fall into his trap. That’s why we need to be reminded that there are also friendly, helpful people everywhere, and we can experience them when we set our eyes on “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

Loving others isn’t always easy. It requires intentional choice, commitment, patience, effort, and forgiveness, and it is a reminder to work harder on growing our character than anyone else’s. Regardless of others’ callousness or kindness, when we strive to serve people how Jesus served people, when we value people as we desire to be valued, we honor him when we honor them. And although we are to love people without expecting anything in return, it’s nice how God shows us love is worth the work. For me, it often comes after I’ve stepped outside of my relational comforts, and this time, love circled back around and ended up on my front porch in the form of homegrown produce. It’s always uplifting to receive a message that tells us someone cares.

We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). What seeds of love can you plant and share today?

Dirty