Can prayer stop a bully?

Oh no. There it was again. As my friends and I left the cafeteria, the familiar name-calling started up behind us. The next thing we knew, we were being forcefully pushed out of the way by the group of girls who’d been bullying us all year. As we stumbled, they laughed and continued down the hall.

At the time, we were in eighth grade, and the adults in our school didn’t seem to be aware of the well-timed taunts and shoves by this group of girls. And rather than telling on them, my friends and I just sort of put up with it.

Our parents, Sunday School teachers, and youth pastors assured us that it was OK to report these incidents, and I know if we'd been scared rather than just frustrated, they would have insisted on our reporting the problem and even gone with us to talk to school authorities. But my friends and I were way more annoyed, so what the adults in our lives really encouraged us to do was pray. The subject came up one day at lunch, and despite some initial eye-rolling, my friends and I agreed that prayer probably was the best solution. 

In my prayer, I found this passage from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy especially helpful: “At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you” (p. 571).

Rather than retaliating with our own bullying behavior, my friends and I, through our prayers, were responding with the healing love Jesus taught.

I reasoned that even when I see what looks like evil—anger, hatred, unkindness—I can perceive the presence of their opposites by understanding not only God but also His creation, which encompasses all of us, as completely good. This was my prayer—to see the genuine goodness in these girls rather than the ugly, hurtful stuff on the surface that seemed to be hiding that good.

I also considered Christ Jesus’ words “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Rather than retaliating with our own bullying behavior, my friends and I, through our prayers, were responding with the healing love Jesus taught.

I realized, too, that one important aspect of that loving was to remove the “bully” label I’d assigned to these girls and to recognize that they were included in God’s good creation just as my friends and I were. The “victory over evil” wouldn’t be a victory for one group or another, but a victory for good, which would benefit us all. And we all could be safe from having any part in hatred.

One day I overheard one of these girls talking with her friend about going to church. I have to admit that my first thought was, How can you go to church and still be so mean? But my second thought was that she must have some understanding of God, and therefore, of good. I started to move past the “us versus them” feeling and to know that it was natural for everyone to want good and to be good. Who wouldn’t want peace, kindness, and happiness?

I was starting to feel more peaceful at school. Still, it wasn’t long before one of my friends was once again pushed down hard in the hallway. I dropped my books in a nearby classroom and went to help her. Our other friends encouraged us to go to the principal’s office, and they came with us. 

There, we explained what had happened. Despite the unsettling scene in the hallway just moments before, the whole situation felt calm and under control. My friends and I were confident and articulate, and the principal was kind and understanding. I saw this as a result of our collective prayers. 

It might seem naive to think that prayer could stop a group of bullies, but that’s exactly what happened.

When I returned to the classroom to collect my books, they were nowhere to be found, and I had the feeling another student had taken them. I was upset, but it wasn’t the time to stop praying. I knew there had been progress that day, and I needed to continue to pray and bear witness to the real identities of these girls until there was complete healing.

The next day, one of the girls who had bullied us confessed to having taken my books, and she apologized. I thanked her, but added that she needed to return them to me, which she then did. And that was it. While these girls had been called to the office many times before—for incidents with other students, too—the changes to their behavior this time were permanent. The bullying stopped. There were no further incidents and no more drama. It was just over. 

In a situation like this, it might seem naive to think that prayer could stop a group of bullies, but that’s exactly what happened. The power of good prevailed, not only for my friends and me but also for the other group of girls, and even for our school. I love thinking about the potential this suggests: If the prayers of a small group of eighth graders could peacefully settle a conflict, what wider healing effect could come from the unified prayers of all individuals who love good?

Originally appeared online in the teen series: Trending - January 19, 2021.

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