Rare is the school without an anti-bullying campaign. We know how easy it is for children at the receiving end of such behaviors to be devastated by them. The same is true for adults. Interacting on a regular basis with people who belittle and malign us is hazardous to our emotional health. Who wants to be around someone who communicates their contempt, with or without words, indicating that they think us boring, bossy, stupid, flaky, weak, inconsiderate, ugly, insensitive, worthless, or a failure?
But what if the bully is you?
I’m not implying that you bully other people. But, truth be known, some of us have a habit of bullying ourselves. Here are a few examples of things we might say to ourselves that we wouldn’t dream of saying to anyone else:
What an idiot!
Why can’t I do anything right?
God hates me.
Nobody likes me.
I look awful.
God won’t forgive me.
Researchers estimate that we have, on average, seventy thousand thoughts in the course of a single day. It’s inevitable that some of them will be negative. But when our negative thoughts greatly outweigh our positive thoughts, we have a problem. Many of these thoughts come to mind unbidden, operating just below the surface of consciousness. Writing them down can help us become more aware of them, forcing them out into the open so we can challenge their accuracy. Once we become aware of these internal dialogues, we can replace them with milder, neutral, or even positive statements that affirm the truth of who we are and what God thinks of us.
Why not spend some time paying attention to your thoughts today? Try writing down the negative ones, and then take each one to God in prayer.
I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! . . . The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.
Psalm 121:1-2, 6-8
Psalm 121 is known as a psalm of ascent, one of a group of psalms prayed by Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to worship at three annual feasts. The psalmist looks to the mountains, perhaps wondering if thieves and robbers lurk there. Or perhaps he is thinking of the mountains around Jerusalem, longing to worship God in the Temple.
Each verse repeats a theme as if to underline or italicize it, highlighting the truth it affirms. And what is this truth? That on every journey—even on the journey of life—God is our protector.
Last night I was discussing the psalm with friends. Someone asked why the psalmist said that neither the sun nor the moon would hurt you. The phrase sounded strange. One person suggested that the psalmist might be referring to the sun and moon gods of the surrounding peoples. Another remarked on how difficult it is to live in a desert climate, where sunstroke is always a danger. Still another mentioned the link between the words lunacy and moon, wondering if the pilgrims who prayed the psalms would have linked the moon to mental instability. We concluded that in this case the sun and moon must signify anything that might terrify or threaten you by day or by night. Our discussion wrapped up when one friend attempted a modern paraphrase of verse 6, quipping:
The Dow Jones Industrial will not strike you by day,
nor the Hang Seng Index by night.
With that we parted. And when it was time to sleep, I did just that.
What do Roberto Alomar, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, and Eddie Murray all have in common? If you’re a fan of Major League Baseball, you may know that each was a talented switch-hitter, able to slug a baseball either right-handed or left-handed, depending on which would prove most advantageous against a particular pitcher. While many switch-hitters have to train themselves to use their nondominant hand, some have an inborn talent for it. These players are, of course, ambidextrous.
In his book A Grace Revealed, Jerry Sittser mentions a desert father by the name of Abba Theodore, who used the word ambidextrous to apply to believers who had learned to take both prosperity and adversity in stride. Given the choice, I’m pretty sure I would always choose prosperity over hardship.
As Sittser puts it, prosperity “makes God seem good, the world seem right, and faith seem natural, as natural as writing with the dominant hand. Obviously,” he says, “adversity does the opposite, making life hard for us. Temptation overruns us, doubt plagues us, routine bores us.”1
Even if we could chart a course toward perpetual prosperity, it is doubtful such a course would produce the peace we long for. Why? Because prosperity has its pitfalls. It can make us fat and dull, turning us into people of mediocre faith.
To the early Christians, Abba Theodore offered this wise counsel:
“We shall then be ambidextrous, when neither abundance nor want affects us, and when the former does not entice us to the luxury of a dangerous carelessness, while the latter does not draw us to despair, and complaining; but when, giving thanks to God in either case alike, we gain one and the same advantage out of good and bad fortune.”2
In the end, becoming spiritually ambidextrous is primarily an exercise in trust. We trust not in our circumstances but in the goodness of a God who loves us even more than we love ourselves.
- Jerry Sittser, A Grace Revealed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012).
"Everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open." Mark 4:22
Heather Rowe read these words from Mark’s Gospel with the sudden impression that God was about to reveal something important about her husband, Paul. Despite their love for each other, she felt frustrated by her husband’s insensitivity, hostility, and social awkwardness. He often withdrew when others were present, preferring to play video games or read. His comments sometimes bordered on cruelty. He never seemed to care how she felt, despite all her attempts to tell him. Feeling guilty about her reactions to her husband’s behaviors, she cried out to God, asking him to transform her:
“Lord,” she pleaded, “my husband’s arrogance, his cynicism, his neglect, his hostility are laying heavily on me like a massive weight!”
“Why are you wearing them?” The question came suddenly.
Startled, she realized she had been taking these things on herself by the way she had reacted to him over the years.
“What are you going to do with them?” God asked.
She responded by saying she wanted to nail everything to the cross—all the arrogance, pride, resentment, cynicism, neglect, and hostility.
“What do you have left?” God seemed to say.
“I am seeing a lonely, frightened little boy.”
“Do you think you could love him?”
“Oh yes, I could love him. I could take him in my arms and comfort him.”
Later, she explained, “God told me to try to see that lonely, frightened little boy every time I looked at my husband. He told me to look beyond all the other rubbish because he took all of that on himself on the cross.”1
A short time later, Heather discovered that her husband had Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. No wonder he acted the way he did. Greater understanding has brought with it greater peace, though there are still struggles. By coming before God in prayer and by listening to his Word, Heather has experienced God enabling her to accept and love her husband, despite his challenges.
Like Heather, we cry out to God about our own difficult relationships.
Like her, let us trust him to respond.
- Heather Rowe, “My Husband Has Asperger Syndrome,” Woman Alive, accessed November 21, 2016, http://www.womanalive.co.uk/articles?articleaction=view&articleid=546.