Yesterday I blogged about bullying, calling all of us bullies. Today I’m talking more about an alternative identity– instead of bullies, how else could we identify ourselves and others? Tomorrow I’m going to write about practical ways to handle “bullying,” sharing some links, resources and ideas that hopefully will help. Today I’m not touching on physical bullying much– I promise I’ll get to that tomorrow.
A teenage kid takes her life and all reports seem to say she did it because she was bullied. It’s more than a new story when this time a teenage boy kills himself closer to home. Suicide breaks my heart and it makes me furious. Grief is a strange and complicated thing. People grieving over a suicide want a scapegoat. It’s easier to blame bullying. Bullies don’t kill suicide victims and people who commit suicide aren’t victims. Please don’t take that as insensitive. It’s just truth. Suicide is a (bad, sad) choice by the person doing it. The problem is deep and I think it has to do with identity.
We have a crisis of identity. Teenagers and younger kids are hurting because they don’t know who they are and they don’t realize their own worth. Voices of haters are loud. Media and marketing are bombarding us with messages of who we should want to be. Teens and kids need to be loved and they need to know they matter.
“Henry called me dumb!”
“Are you dumb?””
“Then don’t worry about what Henry says until Henry starts telling the truth.”
Name calling is rampant and from what I see in youth ministry, it’s not just a kid thing. I overhear parents at games complaining that their kids get less playing time because another kid on the team has the right last name. I’ve heard parents say to their son that another kid in their son’s class is spoiled and bratty. The name calling is painful from peers but even worse when parents get involved. I’m sure parents want their kids to be friends with the good kids but there has to be a better way than to label certain kids or families as bad.
“Hey Melanie. Are you coming to the retreat?”
“I was going to but then I heard that Sally was going and Mom doesn’t want me to hang out with Sally so I can’t go.”
“You’re not going to be alone with her. There will be plenty of adults around.”
“I know. Mom doesn’t want me to be her friend, though. Sorry.”
Teens throw names at each other, too. I cringe when I see words like whore and slut being used. Using the word “gay” to describe something that’s not cool drives me crazy. I don’t buy that “we’re just joking around.” Words have power. Where should teens find their identity?
Shared genes and habitat make family a logical place for identity formation. It’s hard, though, when families don’t have as much time for each other. (I’m not going to dive into the excuse of being busy today, but later when I’m less busy, I’ll get to it.) Divorce complicates family identity. When a parent or step-parent dissects the other parent it tears the kid apart. Honestly, it’s another kind of challenge to find identity when your last name is different from your custodial parent. Step parents can be awesome… even better than biological parents in some cases. Family structures weaves its way into identity. At the end of the day, though, kids and teens need regular, quality time with a parental figure– be it a bio parent, a step-parent, a grandparent, a foster parent or so on. (More on specifics tomorrow.) We need to feel loved at home if we’re going to feel loved when we’re not at home.
Teens and children need good friends. Friendship is a lost art that adults can help teenagers and kids relearn. Demonizing certain classmates doesn’t lead teens or children to make better friends, though. I promise. Forbid your daughter from being friends with Emily and I promise you, Emily is suddenly you’re daughter’s very best friend. And now, you have a daughter in a sneaky friendship with Emily, who you don’t trust. There are subtle ways to encourage kids to make better friends, but heaping labels on “bad” kids just adds more pain to the labeled kids who are already struggling with more than we know.
Teens get identity from romantic relationships with each other, too. Somehow we need to teach them that those relationships are valuable for learning but rarely permanent. I’m not going to dive into that right here, right now. I love Chad Eastham’s take on that stuff. If you want more on that, go read his books or watch some of his videos on youtube.
I think we need to remember to look to God for our identity. Last week at youth group, I shared a reading of Bible verses with middle school and high school youth. I encouraged both youth groups to remember that who they are comes from who created them. The identity God gives us trumps who others say we are. It even trumps whatever identity we want to have. Maybe reading through what’s below will remind us of our identity in Christ.
(These Bible verses were strung together by Neil T. Anderson in his book The Bondage Breaker. I haven’t read his book and thus, won’t vouch for it, but these verses are powerful strung together and I’m thankful to have them to share.)
I am the salt of the earth! (Mat 5:13)
I am the light of the world! (Mat 5:14)
I am a child of God! (John 1:12)
I am part of the true Vine, a channel of Christ’s life! (John 15:1, 5)
I am Christ’s friend! (John 15:15)
I am chosen and appointed by Christ to bear His fruit! (John 15:16)
I am a slave of righteousness! (Romans 6:18)
I am enslaved to God! (Romans 6:22)
I am a son of God; God is spiritually my Father! (Romans 8:14, 15; Gal. 3:26; 4:6)
I am a joint heir with Christ, sharing His inheritance with Him! (Romans 8:17)
I am a temple – a dwelling place – of God. His spirit and His life dwell in me! (1Cor. 3:16; 6:19)
I am united to the Lord and am one spirit with Him! (1Cor. 6:17)
I am a member of Christ’s body! (1Cor. 12:27; Eph. 5:30)
I am a new creation! (2Cor. 5:17)
I am reconciled to God and am a minister of reconciliation! (2Cor. 5:18, 19)
I am a son of God and one in Christ! (Gal. 3:26, 28)
I am an heir of God since I am a son of God! (Gal. 4:6, 7)
I am a saint! (1Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2)
I am God’s workmanship – His handiwork – born anew in Christ to do His work! (Eph. 2:19)
I am a fellow citizen with the rest of God’s heavenly family! (Eph. 2:19)
I am a prisoner of Christ! (Eph. 3:1; 4:1)
I am righteous and holy! (Eph. 4:24)
I am a citizen of heaven, seated in the heavenly with Christ right now! (Eph. 2:6; Phil. 3:20)
I am hidden with Christ in God! (Col. 3:3)
I am the expression of the life of Christ because He is my life! (Col. 3:4)
I am chosen of God, holy and dearly loved! (Col. 3:12; 1 Thes1:4)
I am a son of light and not of darkness! (1Thes. 5:5)
I am a holy partaker of a heavenly calling! (Heb. 3:14)
I am a partaker of Christ; I share in His life! (Heb. 3:14)
I am one of God’s living stones, being built up in Christ as a spiritual house! (1Pet. 2:5)
I am a member of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession! (1Pet. 2:9, 10)
I am an alien and stranger to this world in which I temporarily live! (1Pet. 2:11)
I am an enemy of the devil! (1Pet. 5:8)
I am a child of God and I will resemble Christ when He returns! (1John 3:1, 2)
I am born of God, and the evil one – the devil – cannot touch me! (1John 5:18)
I am not the great “I AM” (Exodus. 3:14; John 8:24, 28, 58),
but by the grace of God, I am what I am (1Cor. 15:10)