“Fartie Artie!” taunted Arthur’s classmates countless times a day after his tragic mistake.
The story was that one day when home alone after school, he had been playing with matches and accidentally caught the curtains on fire. He had burned his home down. And now the bullies taunting him would not stop.
Arthur was two or three years older than I was, so I had been unaware of his existence before this event. But now I continued to notice taunting classmates evacuating whatever table he sat down at for lunch.
My second-grade self felt horrible for Arthur in his shunning. I worried to my mom about it. I was afraid Arthur would never feel he belonged again.
She asked me a question I had never thought about: “What do you think Jesus would do if he were a student at your school?”
I grudgingly said, “He would probably go sit with him.”
But Jesus would have been a boy and would have probably known Arthur.
“But I don’t even know him.”
Mom agreed and was quiet.
Then a bit later, “Do you think it would be okay with Jesus if I took my little sister with me?”
Mom assured me that she thought Jesus would approve. Fortunately, my first-grade sister was good-natured and very willing to accompany me on this mission.
The next day when we sat down across from Arthur and said, “Hi,” he ignored us except to move as far away from us as possible. This was NOT part of our plan.
My mom assured me that it did not mean our joining him was the wrong thing to do. She encouraged us to give him time. So we did.
I’m not actually sure that Arthur ever spoke to us. After all, girls our age definitely had cooties. Everyone knew that.
But after several days of our odd lunches, a couple of my friends joined me and my sister. Later a couple of his friends joined him.
After a few days of our segregated groups eating at the same table, I decided our task was finished. I never noticed bullies taunting or isolating him again.
Maybe that would have happened naturally in the same number of days—just because kids would have gotten sick of teasing him. We will never know.
I certainly never had a chance to tell Arthur or anyone else that the reason we were joining him is that we were trying to be like Jesus. They will never know.
But my mom’s question for me and her quiet encouragement of me and my sister in our mission taught us a lot about the character of Jesus.
She taught us that Jesus does not shun people who feel like losers. Jesus does not taunt people who really mess up. He loves us all and wants us to show his love to those around us—especially when they mess up.
Bullying gave my dad an opportunity to change my life for the better.
I’m so glad I never had to deal with cyber bullying. I don’t know how I would have handled that. Compared to that, what I went through was not a big deal.
Yet any time a child is shunned, mocked, or picked on by peers is traumatic. Especially when it goes on for months.
My parents assumed I would not be harmed for life by these experiences if they allowed me to learn to trust God.
Fortunately for me, they were right.
But their responses could have harmed me.
They could have said it was no big deal to be called names repeatedly. Over-reacting could have been just as bad. I would have been mortified if they had immediately gone to the teacher with my complaints. I needed to vent, but I didn’t need to be babied.
Finally, though, girls flushed my underwear down the toilet and pummeled me on the way from the shower to my locker. That day my dad went to the principal and the gym teacher. I’m glad he did.
But I’m even more glad that he first used my situation to teach me about standing my ground in persecution.
“Persecution” sounds like an over-statement for being picked on for doing the right thing. But I have been permanently blessed by the fact that my dad took my bullying experience seriously enough to encourage me with verses from James 1. He read me verses 2-5 in many different versions:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (NIV)
Day after day.
I remember complaining that I had those verses memorized in different versions because of how many times Dad read them to me.
And I was not being thrown to the lions for proclaiming Christ. I was simply being bullied for obeying the teacher and taking a shower after gym. Stupid, right?
We all hated to shower in front of others but were forced to tell the teacher we had done it in order to get daily points. I chose not to lie about it. My Christian classmates must have felt guilty for lying, so they took it out on me.
How my dad responded to my troubles dignified my experience.
He showed me that living my life for Christ in little situations was important, even in bullying. He showed me that God would bless me through my obedience. And he always prayed with me about it. Every day.
The amazing thing is that now I look back on seventh grade as a time of huge spiritual growth. Thanks, Dad.