Dear Teen Who Has Been Bullied,
Let me start by sharing I know exactly how you feel. Let me end by telling you it doesn't matter. That's because not even someone who has walked in your shoes has the credibility to undo the attack that you have suffered.
A bully attacks you for being different from others, which is bad enough in its own right. But long after the mean girl has looked you over from head to toe or the bare-knuckled bruiser has stepped on your heels, those attacks can burrow much deeper than even the bullies ever intended. Bullying attacks who you are.
And when the taunts are over (and they will be over one day) and it's just you and your pillow late at night in your room, when the pep talks are not enough, when you begin to discount the kind words from friends, and when you've found no peace, you might find yourself dealing with something that goes far beyond a wounded self-esteem. It might be that your very identity was attacked, and it has come at a time in your life when you're still trying to figure out just what that is. Left unchecked, attacks on your identity turn into lies and those lies turn into strongholds that can follow us long into adulthood. That's because lies are very powerful things.
There are some lies about who we are -- whether spoken outright or implied, invented by our own imagination or thrust upon us despite our good fight--that no one, it seems, can pry them off. You know the kind I'm talking about: the lies that have enough truth mixed in that it's impossible to disagree with them entirely. If they've clung to you long enough, you might come to protect those lies and even argue that they are true. That's because your pain is real, and no one wants to believe their pain was all for nothing.
If that all sounds like a lot to handle, it is. But it doesn't need to be when someone with credibility can assure you that your identity has been unscathed, and that it is unshakeable and of worth. The challenge is finding such a one.
Adults may view the bullying you've suffered as just a small chapter in what is surely to be your very large story (and by the way, this is one time when they are right). But when you're young, and you can name the moments someone has helped you feel less lonely or given you the honest to goodness truth because not enough time has passed that you've forgotten, those moments when the bullies came can seem to dominate your whole story. It can seem like there is no next chapter because you haven't lived it yet. And simply moving on while in that frame of mind can be a very dangerous thing. In those empty moments, it is important to consider the author of your story and just where your identity comes from in the first place.
We live in a world that can distract us from basic truths -- truths that can take our entire lives to realize because we must first learn to cut through the noise, define our terms and prepare our hearts to receive them. All too often, we over-analyze attacks on our identity, which cloud the most important truth of all. It is the absolute truth about your identity, and one which no one can argue: God is love, and He created you.
Although your self-esteem may suffer at times, your identity as a child of God -- as someone who has worth not because it is inherently yours by accident but because it is divinely assigned by intention -- can never be shaken. It is the only truth in the face of bullying.
Once you are able to see that truth, the lies you've been taught about yourself will disappear one by one. Forgiveness for those who have attacked you will come, and freedom will follow. You will see new pages of your story unfolding before you, pages that you would have never otherwise been capable of writing yourself.
Yes, God, the Author of your story, says He has written you in the palm of his hand and has called you by name. In Christ, you have an identity that cannot be altered and a reputation with Him that cannot be harmed by another. That is because he is the one who washes away every offense you have suffered with mercy and grace. The bully doesn't get to write your story. God got there first, and He has already written it on your heart.
I am writing this column from my Florida home as a tropical storm rages against the windows of my room. We're waiting for the storm surge to hit here, and we're feeling small. Once it passes, we'll surface from our homes and find the beach, still there in some form beneath a shining sun and a blue sky. This God I write of knew He was sending us into a world that had both storms and miracles.
He knew it would be impossible for us to grasp the sheer wonder of who He is and the reach of His grace. He knew that we would be prone to let the smallest of thorns in our sides distract and deceive us from the great truths He has established. Can we not see that the Author means what He says about us, and He is the only one credible enough to say it?
Psalm 34 says of the Lord, "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame."
This is the Christian response to bullying. It is one that will move us to forgive our bullies and ourselves, and wait with peace for the next chapter in our lives. That beautiful chapter of your story is something He's been writing since we were formed from dust.
I believe that God and no other has the right to proclaim your worth and identity, and He will answer if you call Him. He will accept you just as you are. I hope you can accept Him just as He is -- the one who built your identity on unbreakable ground.
Nicole Quigley is the author of 'Like Moonlight at Low Tide' (Zondervan, September 2012). "Like" her on Facebook.