Whose Voices Are You Listening To?

By Candi Cushman

Like a lot of people, I remember what it felt like to be bullied in school.

Fact is, if you experience bullying or harassment for any extended period of time, it has a lasting impact on your life. Whether that impact is for good or for bad ultimately depends on what do you with the pain.

My experience with bullying happened when I was in middle school—a really painful time for a lot of girls–because those are the years when we feel the most awkward physically and the most unsettled emotionally. It didn’t help that I was a small sixth grader, not physically equipped to defend myself.

I remember the upset stomach that I had every morning before school and the fear that would weigh me down in the hallways as I tried to make it to the next class as fast as possible.

As is the case a lot of times when it comes to bullying among girls, the harassment I encountered came mostly in the form of social exclusion. The experiences are still sitting there in my memory like still shots in a photo album—images of girls encircling me in gang-like fashion, shouting out comments about my clothes for all to hear. Boys often joined in with jokes during class about how ugly I was. Occasionally it was more severe: There was a girl who threatened to physically beat me up every day—and on and on it went.

Why did I become a target? I believe some of it had to do with me and some of it had to do with my attackers. At that age, I suffered from low self-esteem.  And I was ruled by fear—fear that advertised itself through my physical demeanor—in the way I carried myself and acted at school, which let bullies know I was an easy target.

In other words, I was listening to lies. I was listening to the wrong voices in my head— voices of shame that said I wasn’t worth much. Voices of fear that said others had power over my life. And for too long, I was controlled by those voices.

In the seventh grade, something happened that completely shattered the power of those lies over my life. I experienced in a life-altering way a physical and personal revelation of God’s love. This revelation was so powerful that I remember weeping uncontrollably in the presence of it—people in the church were actually trying to comfort me, not realizing that it was a good kind of weeping. There’s really no way to describe it, and I know it sounds crazy.

But it was a real and powerful experience that was followed by logical and permanent decision to surrender control over my life choices and my destiny to the real person of Jesus Christ, who died to save me personally.

That decision changed the rest of my life—not to mention the rest of the school year. After that, the internal voices of shame and fear, and the actual bullies at school, didn’t have the same power over me they used to.

That’s because my personal identity was no longer shaped by outside voices and peers. My identity and my self-worth were now centered in being a person who was loved by God and wanted to love Him back with all of my being.

The knowledge of God’s love in my life was so strong, that I remember walking through the school hallways with an unspeakable joy resonating in my heart—and all the harassing going on around me just faded to the background.

The bullies seemed to sense they had lost power to control my actions, because that eventually stopped too.

Another funny thing happened—I found myself emboldened to reach out to others who were being victimized in my school. I had the guts to sit with the “unpopular” kids and befriend them, regardless of what others thought. God’s love for me empowered me to love others.

Later, when I got older, I learned that one of the girls who had threatened to beat me up had gone through horrible, devastating experiences in her own life. And I have no doubt that her actions as a bully were caused at least in part by the pain going on in her home and the corresponding lies she was hearing in her own mind.

In different ways, both the bullies and myself were being controlled by pain and deception. And we were both centering our identities in the wrong things.

So where do these lies and false identities come from? Here’s something to think about:

The Bible says there is an enemy of our souls and a “father of lies” who comes “to steal and kill and destroy.” But the Bible also tells us that Jesus has come so that we might have “life, and have it to the full” and He has already defeated this enemy on our behalf (John 10:10).

He is simply waiting for us to respond to Him—standing at the door of our heart, knocking, and waiting for us to open it to Him (Revelation 3:20).

So I would challenge you to think about these questions:

What do you base your identity and personal worth on? Is it in how other people see you or what they think of you? Is it in temporary things, like the clothes you wear or in the security of a certain person in your life?—or is it in something more long-lasting and eternal that will never go away?

What are the most powerful voices and messages that you hear in your head on a day-to -day basis? How do you think these messages control your actions? Do you think they are true? Are they true compared to what God’s Word says?

Often times, the physical realities in our lives reflect a spiritual struggle over the influences seeking to gain control in our lives. I think these songs—Dear X and Mirror— do a good job of talking about this struggle and reflecting the freeing power that comes when we surrender control over our lives to our Creator. (Listen to the story behind Dear X here)

So, think about this: Are you listening to the voice that comes to destroy— or the one that comes to give life? The one you listen to is the one that will control your destiny.

Candi Cushman is Education Analyst for Focus on the Family and director of the Day of Dialogue Web site.

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