I constantly tell my students at the high school to ignore people who pick on them. Bullies gain satisfaction from the reaction they receive from their victims. Because I work with students who have special needs, they are often a favorite target of bullies. I know, it’s 2013, you would think our society would be beyond that but there is a subculture of individuals who disregard peer pressure and the anti-bullying trends and continue to perpetuate hatred and intolerance. That’s a blog in and of itself. But I do tell my students to ignore the bullies. And I have to tell myself to ignore my haters.
Which is good advice, but my students often tell me they can’t ignore it, and ignoring is not the full extent to which I should deal with haters anyway. What happens when I don’t ignore them? I give them power over me they do not deserve to have. I become bitter and angry. I think this affects me sometimes even more deeply if I have moved on and they are no longer a part of my life. In my head it also becomes even worse when the person held some position of authority over me. In one particular situation, I respected the individual a great deal. I was lied to and trust was broken. Physically, I moved on but the hurt was deep and remained.
I found myself replaying the events leading up to the point where I discovered I was lied to over and over again. And I would become so angry. When I later learned the hater was spreading untruths about me - it added to my anger which was turning to bitterness. One day I was reliving the memories and I stopped myself short.
I started thinking about how it didn't matter how hurt and angry I was by what happened and even what might still be happening. No matter how angry the situation made me feel - my anger toward the hater did not make a bit of difference in that individual’s life. That person was completely unaffected by what I was feeling. I was the one being continually hurt by the constant replaying in my mind and I was the one who needed to turn it off.
So much easier said than done. Like ignoring bullies, I guess. But I made myself consciously stop the thought process when it started rolling and building steam. I would catch myself and change the direction of my thoughts. Philippians 4:8 was a huge help in this: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” I replay that verse in my mind a lot. It drives my focus.
Soon I got to the point where I no longer dwelt on those evil memories. People could even tell me the hater was still saying untrue things about me and I would just let it roll off my back. And that was all good and healthy and much-needed. Then I started to realize even though I no longer allowed myself to become angry and consumed with how badly I was hurt and the injustice of it all - there was something in me I really didn't like. Part of me was hoping for bad things to happen to my hater. I wasn't comfortable with the fact I held that secret hope, but I didn't do anything about it at first, either.
Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
At first, I found myself resistant to the idea of forgiving the individual. It was like I thought by forgiving I was condoning the lying and giving the pain a free pass. I have to admit, it was hard to move beyond that! But I kept praying and thinking about the verses in Colossians 3. I knew the only way I was going to be able to really forgive was by some supernatural work of God in my heart and mind because it is not in my nature to do so easily. I diligently pursued forgiveness and little by little it has been coming. As my vengeful attitude fades it feels like bitterness is peeling off of my heart and in its place is peace of mind and rest. The only thing I can think of to compare it to is a scabbed-over sore - when the old scab comes off and new, fresh skin is left in its place.
It is very possible the haters in my life will never know I have forgiven them for the hurts they have inflicted on me. But that is insignificant. I have learned invaluable lessons from having them in my life. Would I want to be hurt again? No. Will I handle it with grace, and find forgiveness comes easily? Nope. I seriously have no idea if I will ever be good at forgiving the haters in my life. But I will certainly try, because holding onto the hurt damages me.
And there is victory in forgiveness.