I was going to fly under the radar, avoid being noticed and do my best to survive.
There were only a few months of school left, and the atmosphere was increasingly becoming tense. There were various groups; one in particular seemed to have taken control of the hallways. The leader was a young man who towered over the other students as well as most of the teachers. He was muscular, showing signs of being more man than boy. His voice was deep, and he seemed to be afraid of no one. We will call him “Dennis.”
His locker was four doors down from mine. Keeping my head low and never looking in the direction of Dennis or his friends, I did my best to avoid any kind of attention. I heard and saw things that were unsafe for me to know about. I decided being deaf and blind would be a good decision. On the occasion that I did look up, I was quickly informed that if I ever opened my mouth, I would regret it.
I had a few classes with this young man. The teachers seemed to share a certain amount of fear with the students, doing their best not to anger him.
My prayers that year centered on one thought: to get through each and every day alive and well. There were other threats to be considered. One student found pleasure in making me her personal punching bag. I was doing my best to avoid her and praying that she would find something else to set her attention on.
How can you love a bully?
When you are young, it can seem that loving your enemies is a tall request. It is a tall request for anyone, but it is a valuable one to honor. In Romans 12:20, Paul shares an insight with us: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
In fulfilling a need of your enemy, you may cause him to see his error and perhaps in some cases even warm to you. As an enemy softens toward you, he may not become a friend, but the process could yield some unexpected results.
During history class, I sat two seats behind Dennis. He came to class one day, obviously in some distress. He raised his hand and asked if he could go to the restroom. Seeing him suffering, the teacher seemed to get some pleasure. He refused to let this young man leave the classroom. He had never turned down this kind of request, and I found myself feeling pity for Dennis.
Within a few minutes a young lady showed up at the classroom door. She asked to see Dennis. I knew her to be his girlfriend, although I had never spoken to her. The teacher denied her request and even laughed. Again I felt as if something was very wrong, and the teacher was enjoying it. She begged to be able to just give him a note. She was again denied. As she turned to walk away, our teacher looked at Dennis with a smile. I no longer had any doubt that the teacher was enjoying it and taking pleasure in his power over the situation.
I am not sure why I made the decision that I made, and I see now it wasn’t the wisest or most respectful one. However, in spite of that, I believe that I personally experienced what it can mean to heap coals on the head of your enemy.
I raised my hand and asked if I could be excused to use the restroom. I was granted my request and left the classroom. As I reached the hall I broke out in a run, catching up with the young lady. As I reached her, I put out my hand and told her to give me the note. I would see that Dennis got it. She pulled her hand back, questioning my motives. She did not trust me, anymore than I would have trusted her.
Explaining that I did not know what was in the note, but just wanted to help, I held out my hand again. She slowly placed the note in my hand and wiped a tear from her cheek.
Random act of kindness
I had asked to go the restroom; I made my stop, and then proceeded back to the classroom. I walked past Dennis’s desk and dropped the note in his lap. I thought I was being so clever. As I took my seat I began to notice everyone was looking at me. All eyes, including that of the teacher, were turned in my direction.
My heart pounded and I questioned the wisdom of my decision. I sat there looking at my teacher, waiting for what was to come. At that moment Dennis stood up and walked out of class. He looked so ill; my heart went out to him. With the attention on him, all eyes left me. I was glad, hoping to again take my place under the radar.
By the end of the day, it was obvious that any chance of going unnoticed had passed. What happened that afternoon had become common knowledge not only among the students but the teachers as well. I waited all day, believing that I would soon be questioned by the principal. My prayers never changed—I just wanted to survive.
The next day I saw that I was no longer going unnoticed. Other students were pointing and whispering. Approaching my locker, I came face to face with the young lady who spent her days finding ways to make mine miserable. She told me that after school, she would be waiting; it was time that I had a real beating.
God, are You listening? All I could do was pray and believe that He was listening. I am not sure how it happened; I only know that it did. I felt an arm go around my shoulder, and I looked up to see Dennis towering over me. My heart jumped, and for a minute I thought I might pass out. A group was forming in the hallway, and I was going to die (at least that is what I thought).
He leaned forward, and shared his thoughts with the young lady in front of me. Anyone who even thought about hurting me would have to answer to him. He then looked at the crowd and told them to leave. He said nothing else; he went back to his locker and his friends.
Unexpected answer to prayer
The young lady left and never bothered me again. My prayers had been heard, and although the tension in school increased, I was able to feel a sense of security knowing that God did hear me. I continued in my prayers for protection, but always added my thanks for what He had done.
Dennis and I went back to our usual way of doing things. I did my best to not draw attention to myself, and he continued to rule the school. Once or twice he smiled in my direction. It was his way of letting me know he had not forgotten me, and that I was safe. Although I found it reassuring, it was for other reasons. I knew God had heard me, and Dennis was His answer to my prayers.
Those in my school who meant harm to one another, and at times even to me, were no match for God’s strength. Paul shares another thought with us in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” This verse allows us to see how much God cares about our daily lives and struggles.
The next year, Dennis and many of his friends did not return. The school took on a different atmosphere, and the students and teachers alike seemed to be less tense. The young lady who had previously been a problem for me had lost interest.
I do not advocate making decisions that could cause us or those around us harm. I believe that God honored my soft heart toward an enemy. He also answered my prayers for protection. He expected me to learn from that lesson and to be careful about the kind of decisions I make in the future.
I have learned to trust Him more fully, carrying the many lessons learned in this one event throughout my life. It has also taught me to see my enemies as human beings who are at times vulnerable and fragile. I look forward to the day that Dennis and his friends learn the truth about living God’s way of life.