This week, my Lead Them Home blog will feature the impact of bullying on youth. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, yet the real reason for addressing this topic now is the recent rash of gay teen suicides. I will share many of their stories later in this series as a memorial to their lives. Today, I want to kick off this series by focusing on an issue that seems to be missing in the press. We tend to address bullying as if the bully is “over there.” I think it would be a failure to miss where the bully lies in our own hearts.
As I look back, one brazen memory still haunts me. I was a sophomore in an upper middle class high school. I knew what my friends could NEVER know: that I, Bill Henson, was attracted to guys. I felt nakedly exposed and more than a bit paranoid about others discovering my secret. I hungered for acceptance and would do almost anything to gain it.
Jonathan was one year younger than me. He was tall, thin and blonde. Extremely quiet. No one knew what was inside his heart either. Everyone, however, knew that Jonathan was a painfully shy and sad teen. One day at lunch, I felt a burst of “something” go off inside me. Maybe I worried: do people think I am gay? Whatever the case, the broken person inside me wanted to dominate someone weaker than myself.
Seeking to be cool, I shouted: “Hey Jonathan, watch this!” I then proceeded to toss my corn dog in the air toward him. It landed on his plate splattering ketchup all over his bright shirt — and his face. Immediately, I sensed deep regret. Somehow I intended to do harm, but somewhere deeper in my heart, God would not allow me to be that kind of person. To my shame, I was rebuked by my friends.
Bullying failed to medicate my identity hangups, and it certainly did not make me cool. I wounded not only Jonathan but also myself. Every so often, driving down a highway late at night, I still see Jonathan’s face. I wonder if he is alright. I pray that he knows God’s love. Several years ago, I wrote Jonathan to apologize and extend Christ’s love to him. I never heard back, but I did what I needed to do.
That letter, however, does not erase my offense. The weight of my action — combined with others who also bullied Jonathan — helped shape a wound in his heart. I must live with this reality. I can be forgiven, but the cost of bullying does not go away. Others who bully can be forgiven, but once they have inflicted pain on another — that pain can kill. Sadly, many who suffer from bullying do just that: they kill; they kill themselves.
Bullying kills. Whether the body, spirit, hope or all three: it kills; perpetrator and victim alike. Join me all this week as I look further at this issue. Click CNN to watch a special series offering various resources. If you are being bullied, I hope my series will encourage you to seek help. You are worth it.