Thursday, November 10, 2011

Change What?

There's a kid in James's class who is really hurting and expresses it by lashing out at others. And by that I mean there's a class bully. And by "class bully" I mean really, really needy nine year old.

James is a bit of a bully target. He tends to respond in ways bullies quickly exploit. Jeff and I, James's teacher, the school counselor, and even James's grandparents are all working with James to teach him how to respond appropriately to bullying. The school officials are also working with the other kid to teach him to stop picking on his classmates.

This morning, before James left for school, he revealed some more mistreatment by his classmate, and after I sent him out the door, I saw down and bawled, so frustrated with the way James is being treated by this other kid. I composed an email to the school with fairly aggressive language in it. I said things like, "I want this to stop, and I want it to stop now!" And "Don't tell me you were unaware of the situation because I discussed it with you in person on such-and-such a date!"

I knew I couldn't send that email.

Jeff and I talked about what our options were regarding the bully situation, and we are, in our right minds and with rational, assertive speech and grace, going to make the school more aware of how James is being treated.

I can count on my fingers the number of hard circumstances I have wanted to change more than I want this circumstance to change.

I want this circumstance to change, and I want it to change now.

As I said the above to my Abba Father, something our worship pastor said on Sunday morning drifted back to my mind. He said so often we pray that God will change our circumstances, and we forget that He allows our circumstances to change and mold us, and He is good and loving and totally involved, and He knows all about our circumstances. Our worship pastor said instead of praying, "Lord, change my circumstance," we ought to pray, "Lord, change me."

I argued with God about that. And Jeff. I told them both, in the midst of bitter tears and a glorious snot sculpture on my upper lip, "Asking God to change me won't make James's classmate stop bullying him! So that prayer doesn't really work right now."

Jeff held me and let me cry myself out. Then he got me a kleenex. Good man.

Then he said, "Well, in this case, the prayer should be about James. That God would change James, not his circumstances."

My protective mother's heart railed against that! No! James shouldn't have to change anything! The classmate should STOP. BULLYING.


But the voice of reason broke through my consciousness and reminded me that the world is full of bullies, and it is imperative that James learn how to respond appropriately to them. And what a loving God James has, to teach him this lesson in the fourth grade, where the worst phrases his classmate can think of are "you idiot" and "you're stupid" and "your dad cheated on your mom" and "you're a big sucker at dodge ball".

Horrible, hurtful words, yes. And we will speak to the school officials about it. But we will speak to the school officials about it, not the police or the judge or the jury or the coroner.

Through a fresh round of tears, I sputtered, "That is what I want for James. I do want him to learn how to respond to bullying. I want him to learn to stand up for himself and walk tall and be courageous and even love the people who are unkind to him. I do want that."

Jeff squeezed my shoulder supportively. And with a shaky, torn, protective mother-heart, I asked Abba to change James.

As Jeff and I went about our day, my heart kept wandering to the school, wondering how things were going, whether or not certain events had turned out okay, and generally feeling anxious.

When I went to pick the boys up, James got in the car and announced with conviction, "I have a new goal at school, starting today."

"Oh, really? What's that?" I asked.

"Make peace," James replied without missing a beat.

"That's wonderful!" I exclaimed, delighted. "And how did you come to have this new goal?" I imagined his teacher pulling him aside and finally getting through to him what we have all been telling him about ignoring, walking away, making the staff aware, having compassion for the hurting kid, etc. But it was none of those things.

"Well," James told me matter-of-factly, "I just decided I'm sick of fighting with my classmate, and I want to make peace."

"Wow!" I said too loudly for ears confined to the closed space of a passenger vehicle. "I'm so proud of you, James!"

"Yeah," he nodded, "And the way I see it, it's probably going to take a loooooong time. But that's okay. I want peace."

My cheeks started to hurt from grinning so hugely. I could not wait to get home and tell Jeff the good news. Jeff doesn't really ever display the kind of exuberance I do (unless he is mimicking me in his best falsetto) but he looked right into his son's eyes and said with an affirming nod, "That shows a lot of character."


I told James that his dad and I had prayed for him that very morning, and I said I was pretty sure God had helped him decide to make peace. He agreed and went off to play.

There are other circumstances in my life that I would like to change. In fact, I'm pretty sure there will always be circumstances in my life that I would like to change. But they have all contributed to my growth and my knowledge of God, so I must give thanks for them and trust that when God doesn't change my circumstances, He does change me.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

~James 1:2-4