I remember the dread of waking up in the morning before school, knowing I was going to have to get myself ready and face my tormentors at the bus stop. I also remember not being so thrilled that, after I got to school, I’d probably face some additional bullies at the school itself. Then when I got home, the neighborhood might have a couple I would need to deal with as I went out to play with my friends. For that matter, home might be kind of interesting too, depending on the day, the mood and whether or not my family was going to take our frustrations out on each other or not. This is not a story about those bullies, they are all since long vanquished. This is a story about the bullies we become after all those bullies are gone.
I have this habit of waking up at 3am. I try my best not to get out of bed and disturb my incredible wife or picture perfect house or (my now adult) children. Instead, I mostly lie in bed reviewing. Sometimes these reviews are good ones, a highlight reel of sorts, but all too often, my brain has this tendency to wake up in full-on bully mode. It’s waiting for me on the corner of 2:55am and 3am, just like those middle school bus stop bullies in the days when I wore hand me down, Salvation Army purchased by-the-bag, girl’s jeans to school instead of the cool Levi’s I was “supposed” to wear. My self-imposed bully is just as critical, just as bad about calling me names and pushing me around. I might even call myself Dorky, just like they used to, as I dwell on some dumb or awkward thing I said to someone. In the wee hours of the morning, before I ever get in my nice car and drive to my awesome job or my phenomenal church, where I have incredible co-workers and a community that loves and respects me, I can still push myself around pretty hard. It seems I learned my childhood lessons well. I can pick myself apart and attack all my weaknesses just as well as anyone in my neighborhood, bus stop or household used to. It turns out I’m pretty good at this bullying stuff!
Before I learned how to accept the forgiveness and Grace that is available to us all, if we just ask for it, this 3am ritual was a sort of a decades-long, sadomasochistic torture session of sorts. I would lay there and review the day or the week’s mistakes or failings, sometimes audibly gasping or wincing as they flew through my mind. This was not incredibly productive as you might imagine, but I was cornered by the bully in my head. I felt I had to fight my way through each scenario, punching myself in the proverbial face for each mistake I made at work, or at home, taking on the full weight of every hurtful word, every missed chance to spend time with someone, every career misstep, every poorly-worded email and every word I uttered to those I loved in frustration or exhaustion. There was no one coming to save me, there was no one to turn to. I had to beat myself up, I had no choice. Over time, this took a toll. It wore me out and tore me down emotionally. Then one day, I decided to take a different approach. This approach was shared with me by some really incredible people I started hanging around. They actually helped me open my ears to the same message many of those closest to me had been trying to share with me for years. I was simply too stubborn and fearful to hear it. They taught me, no rather they showed me, what was available, at absolutely no cost. I decided to accept that incredible gift and finally give myself the permission to be imperfect, recognizing the work had already been done for me, realizing that the bully I had become was just that- a paper tiger – a false witness.
I still wake up at 3 am often, just like I did this am. I’m sorry to tell you, the bully is still there. He still tries to punch and taunt and cajole me into making myself small and weak and insignificant. He likes to tell me I am not a unique and valued masterwork. I am not a child who is loved unconditionally. Nowadays, most of the time, even if he lands a right hook or two, I don’t fall into the trap for long. As he came for me this morning, I turned to the One who defeats all bullies. I let Him take it all on for me. I observed the fight more like a spectator than a participant. I took away the lessons learned, but not the bruises, not the pain and none of the scars.
Historical bus stop bullies or not, we all have this tendency to be our own bully. The question you have to ask yourself is. How long are you going to take it, before you say you’ve had enough?