For Adults, Uncategorized

A Love Affair of the Greatest Kind

By: Becky Gwartney

In the most recent blog, Becky Gwartney asks a simple question, “How is your love relationship with God?”

When my husband and I were dating, we couldn’t find enough time to be together. We lived in different states for a couple of months before our wedding, and I waited by the phone to answer his call each night. I longed to hear his voice, to hear the events of his day, and to hear of his love for me. No matter the time it took from my schedule or the cost (back when long-distance was a big deal financially), it was worth it to take the time to share my life and dreams with him.  Love does that to you! 

When you love someone, you want to spend time with them, get to know them, and value those moments together. The same is true in our relationship with God. Getting to know Him is vital, spending time with Him is crucial, and moments together should be treasured. We all know this in our hearts because something is missing when HE isn’t included in our lives.

So, during this month of love, let’s examine ourselves. How is your love relationship with God? Do you arrange your schedule each day to make sure you spend quality time with Him? Do you prioritize the things of God over the things of the world? Are you passionate about knowing Him and making Him known?

Maybe some of you are experiencing a crisis of the heart. Perhaps you’re too busy, overworked, or unable to unplug from an electronic society. How do you get out of a spiritual funk? Here are a couple of “no brainers”:

BE IN THE WORD!

God’s Word is not junk mail that is delivered to our mailbox or inbox.  It’s a message that is vital for our existence and God’s purpose for our lives. Second Timothy 3:17 tells us that, through the Word, we are put together and shaped for the tasks God has for us.  We may have been handed down the greatest of legacies, be shaped for God’s purpose, and be willing to serve, but if we lack His Word in our hearts, we aren’t “all in” with Him.

Whatever it takes for you to get into His Word and be intimate with Him, do it. The word intimacy means “into me see”.  I love that! God looks at us and knows us, but we can look at Him and know Him too! What a beautiful gift we’ve been offered, but to create that intimacy with God and become passionate about Him, we must see into Him and His heart through His Word.  Another way we can do that is through…

PRAYER

Psalm 55:17 says, “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice.”  You can’t be intimate with someone you don’t talk to. But, how do we pray so that we connect intimately with our Heavenly Father? It’s a two-way street—we talk, and we listen. We may be really good about the talking aspect, taking our “list of things to do” to God, but do we listen to His voice speaking to us? He wants a deeper relationship with you. He wants you to hear His heart and His thoughts. He wants you to reveal your deepest desires. And, if we set aside the time to be quiet enough (even quieting our thoughts), He will speak—through His Spirit, through the Bible, through friends, through circumstances, or through a gentle “knowing” that settles in our hearts.

These simple truths are nothing new and probably nothing new to you. Simple truths, simple steps, simple measures to take, but, oh, what benefits we reap when we do them! A love affair of the greatest kind is yours for the taking. Are you ready and willing to do your part?

For Adults

Fighting Your Battles

by Melinda Walker

There are many issues we face as an adult and as a parent. Sometimes they come all at once, and we don’t know how to handle them, making us vulnerable. Given the task of separating our battles into two categories, major and minor, could you? How would you determine if they were major or minor?

Being an adult is not always the easiest. My 24-year-old daughter has a “big girl job” and lives in a different state but will tell you she does not enjoy adulting. It’s hard! It doesn’t get any easier as you get older. Jobs, family, church, school, technology, health issues, anything can affect us negatively at some point. We often feel we are in a constant battle. Do you ever wonder if some of these battles are even worth it? Do we need to be in this battle?

There are times that we don’t back down from a battle because we let pride get in the way. We rush into a decision instead of thinking it through and then make the wrong decision. Did we want to prove a point or make a statement? Proverbs 16:18 (NLT) says, “Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.” 

Over the years, I have learned from some wise men and women to pick my battles. At my workplace, I have to decide which problems to battle and which ones to let go and let God handle. For example, at times, I receive emails that upset me. After reading them, I would like to fire back in a “nasty-gram.” But I have learned to push away from the computer, walk around for a bit, and pray; then I can think about the email. Maybe I can get more information regarding the reason for the email. I usually realize my “nasty-gram” wouldn’t help the situation and would probably make it worse. I have also learned that sometimes the person on the other end doesn’t always have all the facts. They are speaking from what they know or have heard. They might need to be educated on the subject or hear another side of the story, or they are having a bad day and fighting battles of their own. The fact is, God needs to be involved in all of your battles, large or small.

Whatever battle you are facing, major or minor, the only real way to handle any battle is to involve God in all of them. Some battles require immediate action, knowing God is there to help you fight, some you may be able to push aside for a while and fight another day. Others you can just give to God and walk away, knowing He is in control and will take care of the whole situation.

We have come through a year of fighting many battles, some more than others. Know that in 2021, God is with you through each one, major or minor. He promises to see you through. “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT).

Through this New Year, I pray that you allow God to help you through all of your battles and relieve any stress or anxiety that comes with the fight. He is there for you and wants to fight your battles if you let Him.

For Adults

Drama-Buster Tool Belt

by Beth Bryant

It’s often a struggle for moms, mentors, and youth workers to help their girls navigate the choppy waters of adolescent conflict (AKA drama). Here are a few tools for your drama-buster tool belt:

1. Be careful not to take your girl’s side in a conflict right away without investigating the facts. If possible, ask other involved parties what’s been going on. Believe it or not, even your precious God’s girl can be tempted to hyperbolize (what teen or pre-teen doesn’t??) a situation, fudge some details, or leave something out if she feels ashamed or fearful of punishment.

2. Once you know the facts, step in as a coach instead of a referee. Teach her what to do when a conflict arises. Help her process her steps and let her handle the situation while you support her. Obviously, if a situation becomes serious or dangerous more intervention is necessary. Let her handle what she can now so she can be confident in her abilities in the future.

3. It’s important to teach your girl biblical conflict resolution.  Go to the other person first, have a neutral third party to mediate if necessary, then follow up with stronger steps depending on the situation. God’s girls should speak the truth, but speak it with love, grace, and humility. Help her develop a plan for resolution and walk her through these steps.

4. Encourage her mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being as a preventive plan. Girls who have had proper nutrition, plenty of sleep, structure throughout the day, someone they trust with whom they can talk about their problems, and a strong relationship with Christ are much less likely to constantly be involved in conflict.

5. Give your girl a “time-out” when needed. Encourage her to take some alone or quiet time and enjoy a hobby or a movie. When she’s suffering from stress caused by conflict, enable her to lighten her load.

6. Help her understand conflict is not always a bad thing. God often uses conflicts, disagreements, and the broken people involved to grow His girls and further the Kingdom. Just look at the example of Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark. God knows we’re not perfect.

7. Model forgiveness and proper conflict resolution in your own life. Forgiveness is letting go of the need to adjudicate the person/offense and leaving it in the hands of a just God. Your girl will be much more equipped to handle what comes her way by watching you resolve conflict, make peace, and forgive.

For Adults

Dealing With the Storms

by Rachel Bryant

If you could go back and give your teenage self some advice, what would it be? I have been asked that question many times.

My first thought is always something along the lines of don’t sweat the small stuff. That basically defines the things that felt like “my life is over” as a teenager but weren’t all that serious. Remember that questionable haircut?  Then I remind myself at that time in my life, it wasn’t “small stuff.” I wonder if when I’m 20 years older than I am now, I’ll still have the same feelings if someone asks me about my advice to my middle-aged self? (Ouch, middle-aged! Ugh!) Despite how situations or disasters feel 20 years down the road, in the here and now, they are real!

Whether our own children or those we have influence over, our girls are dealing with real storms of life. Do you remember your tween/teen years?! Those storms were real to you then, and today’s girls are dealing with so much more than we ever did! We all are dealing with storms of life and crisis moments, but as “grown-ups,” we have more experience dealing with them and navigate through them a little smoother (or so we like to think!).

In recent months, all of us have experienced unprecedented “crisis-mode” situations. Yours probably looked different from mine, which looked different from hers, hers, and hers, but we can all agree that this has not been normal! We are trying to keep our heads above water while at the same time presenting to our girls and those around us how we, as Christians, deal with a crisis.  

When you learn CPR, you’re taught to “look, listen, and feel” to determine if someone is breathing. Using this same mantra, we can find our source of strength and peace in crisis or storm, and we can show others how to find it as well.

Look – Look to God! Simple as that. Read His Word noticing all the times He promises peace and shelter in the time of storm. During storms, increase how much time you spend in the Scripture. Focus on Scriptures about His protection, His peace, His love, whatever it is you need at that time. Search the Scriptures, use commentaries to focus on one subject, listen to praise music or hymns, do everything you can to keep your focus on God.

Listen – Listen to God! I suppose you can listen to someone you aren’t talking to, but that seems more like eavesdropping. Talk to God and listen to His response. Tell Him everything and anything you are thinking about, worried about, wondering about, etc. He knows already, but He longs for us to talk to Him. “Praying without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is the constant and open line of communication with our Father. As we pour out our hearts to Him, He will give us His peace and speak truth and love back to us.

Feel – Feel His peace! This is a tricky one. The Bible warns us that the “heart is deceitful” (Jeremiah 17:9), so we know our feelings are not always the best barometer of truth. However, when we lean into Him and have His peace, it is evident in those around us. This includes the girls we are trying to help as they navigate their storms. We know as believers that ultimately, this world is not our home. That takes the “scary” power from this world and the dominions at work here. We also know God promises He is with us and will watch over us (Genesis 28:15) and promises to work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), though sometimes that looks different than what we think. If we yield to the Lord’s plans, we can have His peace, no matter the storm.

Challenge: You can also use the idea of “look, listen, and feel” to see how our girls deal with their crises.  

Look at them—see how they are acting and reacting to life. Sometimes it’s the little signs we have to pick up on to realize they are in a crisis. Help them assess situations, answer questions, problem-solve, most importantly, point them to God.

Listen to them—sometimes just let them talk, ask questions (open-ended) and really listen to them. Ask follow-up questions. Ask about all various aspects of their life. Make it conversational. Be careful not to sound like an interrogation. Doing activities together provides great talk-time without it feeling like an interview.

Feel for them—have sympathy (or empathy) for the storms they are experiencing. It may not seem like a big deal to you. But if it is important to them, make it important to you. Offer advice carefully and thoughtfully. But most of all, remind them they are loved, by you and by God.

For Adults, Uncategorized

Helping Our Girls Make Good Choices

by Diana Bryant

We make dozens of choices each day. Usually the first one is whether to get up when the alarm goes off or hit the snooze button. It continues from there. What will I wear today? Will I curl my hair or just pull it back in a ponytail? What do I want for breakfast? These are, in the whole scheme of things, minor choices we habitually make by the time we’re adults.

Our girls face not only these minor decisions, but many others with far more substantial consequences every day. In truth, they face a lot of choices we never had to make. Temptation and pitfalls come packaged very differently these days and can look far more attractive than we remember. Our culture has become adept at making good look evil and evil look good, as Scripture warned would happen. How can we help our girls learn to make good choices?

*Above all else, be intentional in encouraging your teen to cultivate their relationship with God and realize their worth as His child. Be creative in teaching them to read Scripture—read with them, provide relevant devotional helps, expose them to good teaching, take them to events that can strengthen their walk with God. Make sure they have opportunities to learn God’s Word and its principles from sources and events that will capture their attention. Provide opportunities to see and hear good role models with true messages, whether it be teachers, musicians, or speakers. The more familiar they are with truth, the quicker they can learn to apply it to choices they make. The more confident they are in their relationship with God, the more likely they will be to make their own decisions.

* While the phrase “because I said so”, has certainly been used for years, I’m not sure it’s helpful. Talk through why you have made certain choices as they occur, explaining the “why” or “why not” of an issue. Talk through the thought process, the principles involved, and even the potential outcome of either side of the choice. If it’s a choice you’ve had to make, explain how you arrived at that result. Maybe even ask her opinion and be willing to listen to her thoughts.

*Make certain you are not just laying down rules, but teaching biblical principles governing the guidelines you establish. Children can obey without ever understanding the principles involved. Simply demanding obedience without teaching principles won’t work forever.

*As hard as it is to watch sometimes, natural consequences of poor choices can be a great teacher. Be available to talk about where things went wrong and how things could go differently next time. Applaud good choices. Giving girls freedom to make choices while still under your care gives you the opportunity to be a safety net but allows them to learn from mistakes.

*Staying informed and familiar with social media, apps, and platforms will go a long way to helping you communicate with your teen. It’s hard to give reliable advice and direction when you have no clue what choices girls are facing when it comes to new and flashy devices and entertainment. It seems impossible to stay up-to-date or even understand some trends, but it’s very important to try.

*Help your teen see what her choices are in each situation. She may see only one or two ways to solve her dilemma, but you have the experience to point out other options. Help her play out the consequences of each possible choice, weighing pros and cons.  

*Pray, pray, pray! Ask for wisdom and discernment for them, ask the Lord to create in them hearts that seek Him and His favor. So many decisions our girls face must come down to wanting to please God more than pleasing their friends. The desire to obey God must be stronger than the pressure from other persistent elements in our culture. Pray for wisdom for yourself to know how to model these things for your girls and for creative ways to communicate these truths to them. Pray for the ability to model good choices, and for wisdom to know when to share consequences you’ve experienced due to poor choices. Just pray! It’s your best offense and strongest defense!

For Adults

Building Relationships with a Younger Generation

by Ana Batts

Something happened to me when I hit my 30’s. My “littles” started elementary school. My middle schoolers started high school. Gone were the days of playgroups and ready-made relationships that formed while we watched our toddlers play.

 Suddenly building new relationships got hard.

That’s when I realized it. I was a tween. Too old to be “cool” (I don’t think that is even the word anymore) but not exactly middle age. After spending the last 10 years working to build relationships across generational lines with older women, it is time to shift my focus to something that seems much more daunting. Building relationships with a younger generation.

But where do you start?

  1. Be willing to be uncomfortable.

How is it that younger people can be so intimidating? All of the insecurities of high school seem to be flooding back. What if they don’t like me? What if I sound like an idiot? What if I look ridiculous? The reality is new relationships feel awkward. You will say the wrong thing. You will do the wrong thing. You will look ridiculous. Learn to listen well and apologize quickly. Time together is the best way to get beyond the awkward.

2.   Find a common space

Relationships require a common interest and shared space to grow. When you spend time with someone from a different generation, you will often find you aren’t as different as you think. A shared space can be a hobby, background, or interest. Do you love to cook? Travel? Read? Take awesome photos? Use those interests to build your relationship. If you can’t find a common interest, then get out of your comfort zone and ask them for a recommendation. You might find something new that you really love.

3.   Know your biases.

Okay, you probably can’t know all of your biases, but you need to know that you have them. We all do. Each of us come into relationships with our own set of pre-judgements, our own baggage. In other words, each of us comes to a relationship with biases for and against people, age groups, and ideas. Those biases are often based on our personal preferences.
I don’t do middle schoolers.
High schoolers are lazy.
College students aren’t serious about digging into the Word. They aren’t serious about anything.

Each of these statements reveal a personal bias that shapes the way we think toward the younger generation. They often reveal more about us than it does about them. Expectations can ruin relationships. Biases can build walls that make relationship impossible. Be aware of your biases and be willing to change the way you think about those in your life.

4.   Be genuinely interested and truly present.

Remember that having a relationship is the point. It is easy to get so focused on being able to influence those in our circles that we miss the relationship. Be available. Be genuine. Listen a lot. Don’t look at the younger generation as only a ministry, but as a relationship.

I want to guide all those in my life toward the Savior, but without a genuine relationship, that will never be a possibility. Will you join me?

For Adults

Conversations With Daughter/Mentee

If you have ever attended the first day of class in church camp or a women’s retreat of any kind you are familiar with ice breakers. These are activities you either love or hate. As an event planner I can tell you these aren’t on the schedule to fill time. They allow people to connect with something fun or silly before the serious heart-to-heart stuff happens. I’d like to challenge you to have sort of an ice breaker conversation with the special girls in your life.

One of the things we stress to moms and youth leaders at our Shine conferences is the importance of ongoing conversations. We also stress the value of creating a safe place for girls to communicate. Girls face unimaginable circumstances nearly everyday and we want them to feel comfortable coming to you with their questions and concerns and not simply relying on the internet or their peers.

Here are five questions I pray will open the door for greater conversations between you and your girls.

  • If you were given $100,000 to spend on anyone except yourself; how would you spend it?
  • What is one of your favorite memories involving our family?
  • If you could ask God a question right now and get an immediate answer, what would you ask?
  • If you could change something in the world, what would you change?
  • If you could be an eyewitness to any story in the Bible, what would you choose?

While these questions seem generic on the surface with thought and prayer you will have the opportunity to have meaningful chats about things like stewardship, social change, evangelism, and faith. Conversations are vital for maintaining a healthy relationship. Never forget questions, silly or serious, can open the door for some incredible teachable moments.

For Adults

Creating an Atmosphere of Communication

Part 1:  Prepare to communicate
Part 2:  Take steps to real communication

A frustrated teenager and a defeated parent lean against opposite sides of a door after a series of verbal volleys ranging from sharp sarcasm to angry insults. Perhaps it’s not even an argument but rather the absence of communication altogether. Devices, friends, or lack of things in common conspire to drive wedges between parents and teens until one looks at the other and feels like she doesn’t even know her anymore.

Communication shouldn’t be that difficult, right? We’ve all been talking for nearly as long as we’ve been alive. Unfortunately, real communication is about much more than saying a few words that are heard by another person. True communication requires intentional effort from everyone involved. It is a willingness to hear and understand as much as to be heard.

Multiple studies confirm that healthy parent/child communication reduces risky behavior in teenagers, also enhancing self-esteem and academic performance. Pair this with Scriptures instruction to “talk” with our children (Deuteronomy 6) and to “instruct” them (Proverbs 1:8) in the way they should go. It seems obvious we need a renewed commitment to communicate in a healthy way.  One that values each other and moves us into a more fruitful relationship where both parent and child feel heard and understood.

Prepare to Communicate

  1. Study her culture.
  2. Learn her language.
  3. Make time a priority.

There are some steps both parent and child can take to prepare for more effective communication. Too often when it comes to important conversations, making difficult decisions, or sharing personal feelings, we take the approach that says, “I’ll just let it happen. This communication stuff should just be allowed to come organically anyway, right?” Wrong. Unfortunately, if we don’t take time to prepare, it’s possible (if not likely) that real and meaningful communication will never happen.

So how do we go about preparing to communicate with someone a generation removed who knows and has witnessed most of our weaknesses and has recently determined parents know very little of consequence to her life? First, study her culture.

We often don’t realize the barriers created between us and our fellow man when there is a cultural divide. We all have a tendency to see things only from our own point of view.

This is also true between generations. There are references, concepts, and even commonly accepted truths from our youth that are now dated, questioned, or downright confusing. To prepare ourselves for communication with our children, we should know the world in which they live. Do you know the musicians she likes to listen to? Do you know about the latest app and why they use it? If not, take some time to learn about your child’s world. It can go along way when your child sees you make an effort to understand and not expect all communication to be done on your terms.

Second, learn the language. This is similar to the first point, but it is important enough to mention on its own. Sometimes communication breaks down because two parties simply don’t know how to translate. Be willing to put in the time to learn what your child is saying and not just how she is saying it. Of course she will say it differently. I’m sure you said things differently than your parents did too. The important thing is to listen and when you don’t understand, ask questions. Not only will this help you respond appropriately, but it will build trust.

Third, make time a priority. It’s easy to let everything outside of your family take precedence. Be sure to create opportunities to talk with one another. Schedule time on your calendar. Be intentional. Nothing will derail communication in a family more than family members who seemingly don’t have time for one another.

Once you’ve decided to invest in studying the culture, learning the language, and making time a priority, it’s time to implement a few strategies to get the words flowing and hopefully lead to some breakthroughs in your home.

 

Creating an Atmosphere of Communication: Part 2

Taking Steps to Real Communication

  1. Be honest and be yourself.
  2. Ask a lot of questions.
  3. Avoid majoring on minor issues.
  4. Say “yes” more.
  5. Take communication offline.

There are any number of relationship and parenting books available that will undoubtedly have great advice for how parents can better communicate with their children. The following list is not intended to be exhaustive, but it is intended to provide a few simple action steps toward better communication at home.

  1. Be Honest and Be Yourself. This may seem like a “no-brainer” but adult authority figures (parents included) often think they need to “have it all together” and “show no weakness” in front of their younger counterparts when, in fact, teenagers are especially drawn to people who tell them the truth and are honest with them. If you are reading this blog it is because you want to communicate more effectively with a teenager in your life. Tell them so. Let them know that you want to be better. Let them know they matter enough to you that you are going to put forth the effort to learn and evolve. This honesty can help establish the trust necessary for more open communication.
  2. Ask a Lot of Questions. Perhaps the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to get better at communication is to learn how to ask questions. Be genuinely interested in the lives of others and ask them about their opinions, feelings, and aspirations. Then you will have a lot more social capital in the future. Asking “What do you think?” invites your child into a conversation as a peer and demonstrates that you value them and their contribution to your home on a much deeper level. 
  1. Avoid Majoring on Minor Issues. This is perhaps the toughest of all the strategies on the list. We all have our preferences and as parents, it’s easy to think our children should fall into line with our desires and expectations. While this is true to some extent, we often take it too far and give a personal preference the same creedence as a biblical conviction. There is a reason Paul distinguished the behavior of the Gentiles and the Jews. Both were followers of Jesus, but there was room for diversity even within the body of Christ. If that was true for the early church, it should also be true in our families. Determine your core family values and convictions and do not waiver. But in all other things, be willing to show grace to your maturing child as he or she navigates the confusing waters of adolescence.
  1. Say ‘Yes’ More. Some of us have a tendency to default to respond “No” whenever our children ask to do something, go somewhere, ask someone to come over, etc. I am in no way advocating we become overly permissive and say “Yes” to every request, but I am suggesting we reflect on why we default to “No” so often and consider that perhaps we say “No” more than necessary or even helpful. If we’re honest, our default “No” often comes from our own impatience. Perhaps we’re tired, busy, or distracted (yes, parents deal with technology addiction too), and “No” is simply easier. If that’s the case, consider saying “Yes” more and you might just find more opportunities to engage your child in meaningful conversation.
  2. Take Communication Offline. There was a time as recently as 15-20 years ago where this suggestion would not have made the list. As consumption of media and the use of personal electronic devices has grown exponentially in recent years, it may be more important now than ever that we strategically and intentionally find ways to interact with our families offline. Technology in general and the Internet specifically has provided a number of real benefits and has even enhanced communication in many ways, but there are also ways in which it has made us far more distracted, less able to focus, and less invested in the lives of those closest to us. These tools provide the means for us to retreat into our own fortress of solitude where we click and swipe and interact with a world outside the four walls of our home and neglect the real people who we share our lives with every day.

My prayer is these suggestions for creating an atmosphere of communcication are helpful to you. Remember communication truly is more art than science. Even the best prepared and most empathetic parents will experience conflict and problems brought on by poor communication. When this happens, it is crucial we display a humble spirit.  Ask God for His favor in reconciling relationships and opening lines of communication.  Thus creating the types of relationships where both parent and child feel truly heard and understood.

 

 

For Adults

Identity in God, from A to Z

Here’s a fun list to help your daughters or students (and perhaps yourself!) realize how God defines His most valuable creations. Arranged by the alphabet, it will be easy to memorize these traits. Each attribute comes with scripture—TRUTH—to back it up.

So many messages we receive these days are based on celebrity opinions, social media’s whims, and emotions manipulated by TV and movies. God’s Word doesn’t change no matter how culture’s norms change and evolve.

This list can be printed as a PDF here, or you can download the image below to your phone or tablet. Work on memorizing the list together, send a letter and quality in a text message each day, talk about one each week—you’ll come up with creative ways to share these with girls under your influence, and perhaps find ways to encourage yourself at the same time!

A_to_Z_Identity_List

 

 

For Adults

Making Peace with Bullies

By Seth Reid

I’ll never forget the first time I actually had to deal with a bully. I was in the third grade, and every morning I meticulously combed my hair and put on enough hair spray to keep it in place all day long. One morning as I was getting on the school bus, a fourth grade bully said to me in a mocking tone, “Got enough hair spray?” My face reddened, and I did the only thing I knew how to do in the face of such derision: put my head down and stayed silent. Fortunately for me, the bully simply laughed at me with his friends and moved on with his life, apparently deciding that I was not worth his effort. I have never worn hair spray since then.

I wish I had known back then what I now know, after 13 years as a public school teacher, about dealing with bullies. Most bullies back down when faced with opposition. As a teacher, I try to teach my students that you have to stand up to bullies or you’ll be bullied forever.

Not everyone is bullied, though. The majority of students are on the sidelines, quietly rooting for the bullies to get their comeuppance, yet they don’t do anything about it. They need to be encouraged to stand up for those who are being bullied. A group of “anti-bullies,” or peacemakers, has the power to put a stop to bullying. Our duty is to be peacemakers, which means we need to get up and play an active part in making peace and ending injustice. As Christians, it is our responsibility and our access to blessing to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). A muddy spring or a polluted fountain—that’s the comparison Proverbs 25:26 makes to the righteous man who concedes to the wicked. Bullies, once they’ve gained power over their victims, will not stop bullying unless met with a greater force than their own. Teaching our children to not be bullies isn’t enough. We need to teach them to actively say no to bullies and to try to influence their peers to do likewise.

So, what does this look like in the classroom? One of the most essential parts of my job as an educator is establishing a classroom environment of trust and security. Without either of those elements, learning cannot take place. My students quickly come to learn that I am someone they can trust and will provide them with a sense of security. When a student of mine is being bullied, he or she does not hesitate to tell me about it. Students know that I will do something to put a stop to it. When a clear-cut case of bullying is brought to me, I publicly stand up to the bully, call him or her out for the behavior, and empower the rest of the class to become peacemakers by including them in the conversation about right and wrong behavior. The class then becomes a cohesive force standing up against the bully, and they feel emboldened to do so because of the way I model intolerance of bullying behavior. Before long, the bullying stops. My students feel safe and secure. And most importantly, they have been given an example of how to deal with bullies themselves.

As parents we need to teach our children that good will triumph over evil, but in order for that to happen we must take action. We are given a command in Scripture to let our lights shine before others, so that our good works will glorify our Heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). When we teach our children that it is a part of their Christian duty to stand up for the oppressed, then we are empowering them to actively participate in the kingdom of God. When they stand up against a bully, things may not go well for them the first time. But they will feel good about themselves knowing that they did the right thing. And others will see their act of love and courage and think to themselves, “I can do that, too!” Then the next time bullying happens, instead of just one good person standing up in opposition, there will be two or three. Before long, the opposition makes the bully’s task too difficult. It isn’t worth it. And if they’re lucky, the bully will feel the need to become one of the good guys. I’ve seen entire classroom dynamics shift as the balance of power gets transferred from the bully to the teacher to the empowered group of good kids.

What does this look like in the real world? If the school bus scenario were to play out today, it would probably look a lot different. A picture of my hair-spray-plastered hair would have instantaneously appeared on any number of social media websites, and by the time the school bus arrived at school, dozens of other students would have seen it and added their own mocking comments. I would have been completely embarrassed and humiliated. Can you imagine how much deeper the hurt would have been if, instead an isolated school bus situation, the incident had gone viral?

This is exactly what our children are facing today. The threat of bullying has gone viral in ways that we never experienced growing up. Physical and verbal bullying haven’t changed much over the past thirty years, but now the Internet adds a new dimension of bullying abuse in cyber bullying. Boys are exposed to online content that values physical and verbal aggression (cell phone videos of bathroom fights at school, “roasting” other boys by insulting them, etc.), while girls are subjected to body shaming comments that stem from unrealistic beauty standards they are exposed to on social media platforms. Because of this exposure, behaviors are changing. If you don’t want to participate in a bathroom fight or a roasting session, you are verbally bullied until you do or until another victim has been found. And if you do participate, the loser is then mocked online, which only leads to further social anxiety. If you don’t have the newest shoe style or look a certain way, then you are excluded from friend groups and become the victim of online chats that spill over into verbal bullying at school the next day.

Cyber bullying can be ended the same way as physical and verbal bullying, by the uninvolved bystanders choosing to take the side of the peacemakers. When more people are actively opposing the wicked behavior than are promoting it, the behavior will eventually stop. It’s not easy to be the one brave soul to stand up in the face of wickedness. But as we teach our children to let their lights shine, we must also pray that others will come to see their good works and join them in standing up for what is right.

 

This article originally appeared in an issue of FUSION.