Stop bullying—with love

Q: How can I pray about being bullied?

A: I’m so glad you know that prayer is powerful, and that it’s an effective approach to dealing with bullying. That’s what I found when I faced bullying during my first year of high school.

In ninth grade, I joined the high-school swim team after taking a break from the sport for a few years. I was a bit out of shape, and I also didn’t have many friends among my fellow swimmers. This made it challenging to find my place on the team. When I swam in the lane of swimmers that matched my athletic ability, there were a few boys in that lane who liked to make fun of me and harass me during and after practices. When I sought refuge from them in the less-crowded and more elite swim lanes, I was constantly lapped or swum over by the faster swimmers who didn’t have much patience for a lane partner who was out of his league.

There were a few boys who liked to harass me during and after practices.

After several weeks of struggling, the thought crossed my mind to give up. Why not quit and avoid the double hassle of getting in shape and dealing with bullying? But when I talked with my mom about the problem I was having on the team, she encouraged me to think about what I was learning from Christian Science Sunday School that could help me. Of course, we could have gone to the coach, but my mom and I both felt confident that praying about the situation could keep me safe, and help the boys who seemed to be inclined to be bullies.

What came to mind for me were Jesus’ words from his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus encouraged his followers to “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). Bless and even pray for the boys who were treating me badly? That wasn’t going to be easy. But I also knew from Sunday School that Jesus lived what he taught. He faced a lot of harassment as he went about his healing mission, but over and over again, he responded with love. Now “love” could sound like the foolish or wimpy response. But Jesus’ life shows us that the pure, spiritual love that blesses an enemy is powerful; it actually melts hatred.

So, the first thing I did was to bless those boys who were giving me a hard time by looking for one good quality about each of them every day. When my mom would pick me up from swim practice, she’d ask me, “What Godlike quality did you see in so-and-so today?” I have to admit: This was really hard at first! So initially I went for the more obvious qualities, praising their swimming skill or the strength that I knew was an expression of divine Spirit. 

But the awesome thing was that the more I looked for evidence that these boys were children of God—spiritual and good—the easier it was to see a quality of their character that was Godlike. For example, courtesy to let a teammate lead the next set of laps. Or good sportsmanship when someone would swim a personal best. You could say that I was starting to see the spiritual qualities that had always been there in these boys, but which previously seemed to be hidden. 

The bullying completely stopped.

It wasn’t long before I wasn’t just seeing genuine Godlike qualities in each of them; I was no longer the target of their bullying, but actually the beneficiary of changed, improved behavior in them. It wasn’t like these boys just found another boy to bully. The bullying completely stopped.

And there was another wonderful change that coincided with my prayers about bullying. That year on the team, the captains took a stand against a number of hazing traditions directed at the youngest swimmers, and discontinued them altogether. A stronger, healthier team spirit emerged, and we all benefited.

If you’re being bullied, or are concerned about someone who is, it’s a good idea to talk to a trustworthy adult—like a Sunday School teacher or parent—who can support your prayers (and take practical steps if necessary). And you can always ask God, divine Love, for the right ideas to keep you safe and to help you make progress. As you lean on Love, you’ll find what you need to love even your “enemies” with the kind of Godlike love that heals. Jesus’ radical words show that this is possible, and his life proved it.

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