Bully: noun. One who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.

Do you remember your childhood bully?

Mine was the boy next door. He seemed ever ready to meet my defiant ideas with pushing and the occasional kick. We didn’t agree on much. I was independent and vocal, though small and quite skinny. He thought he was in charge and believed his height and more developed frame secured that position. When I dared to challenge his ill-conceived notions, he responded with rage, thinking he could subdue me with physical displays of superiority. I was glad when his family moved out of state, but it took me quite some time to understand why our interactions were so volatile and how to address the more clandestine forms of bullying that have sought to sift me during my lifetime.

Variations on Bullying

The seemingly natural response of humans to bullying is a desire for justice, a restoration that balances power between parties. Today, all people live with the reality of the effects of sins, both inherited and committed. Humanity is on a never-ending quest to make right what we make wrong.

Maybe you didn’t have a bully. Perhaps you were the bully. We don’t often like to think of ourselves in this role, but we may fit the description on occasion.

Have you ever actively avoided someone who just didn’t fit in? What about laughing at that highly inappropriate joke? Perhaps you were embarrassed by someone and punished them with stares or silence. Maybe you take the opportunities to subtly redirect those you don’t care for to other spaces so you don’t have to sacrifice your comfort.

We imagine bullies to be large, aggressive figures who cause major disruptions. In reality, our unjust microaggressions can create an acerbic tone of exclusivity that corrodes the very fabric of what we were created for—relationship. Some of the most successful bullies are everyday Christians who forget that at any time Christ may visit them as the person they want to be around the least. It’s likely that you’ve been a bully.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matt. 25:40).

Answering Bullying

Jesus came to this world to restore the connection between us and God that was interrupted by sin. God makes every effort to connect with us, but we make Him feel unwelcome with the destructive patterns we employ to avoid confronting fear and pain. Emotional, mental, and psychological damage or entrenched hypocrisy leave us blind,* preventing individuals from being able to see who Christ is and the benefits of accepting His love.

When we don’t trust God enough to receive His love, it becomes difficult to offer love to others, especially others who don’t fit in with our human plans. This cycle of shutting out and shutting off love—God, that is (1 John 4:8, 16)—encourages us to place ourselves ahead of others and ahead of Him. Instead of pouring out our gratitude at the feet of Jesus, we find ourselves brandishing the terrible sword of bullying from the top down in the name of Scripture and holiness, as shown in Jesus’ encounter with one woman’s righteous accusers (John 8:1-11).

This is antithetical to Christ’s example of humility. He gave up a heavenly throne for us to have the option to join Him. Instead, in return, He was bullied to death. But the reconciliation He offers to be children of God for all eternity shows its compelling worth as we willingly extend ourselves to others and “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13). Giving preference to another over ourselves is a reflection of the love of Christ (see Rom. 12:10); but it also gives us freedom from the sin of worshipping the false god of self. This is humility.

Humility: noun. Freedom from pride or arrogance.

Humility helps mend many fractured interpersonal relationships by finding common ground. Sharing and understanding that which makes meaning for everyone provides a way of validating the contributions of all.

Though uncomfortable at first, open communication, authenticity, and relational intimacy demand that we confront the reality of a deep-seated truth—we are not always right. By facing the fact that I’ve been a bully, I give myself the option to choose humility now: humility enables me to stand free from pride or arrogance before others by embracing, accepting, loving, and acknowledging their worth, and that Jesus’ blood has paid for our common right to humanity and a heavenly inheritance.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).

In our unadorned spirituality we can experience God’s complete acceptance. He is always ready and waiting to forgive us no matter how many times we seek forgiveness. So why not admit that we stand in need?

Significantly, forgiveness has been understood to mean abandoning any hope of improving your past. We cannot change who we have been. But according to Acts 5:31, we can accept God’s gift of repentance and forgiveness for when we have gone wrong, and cooperate with the Holy Spirit to change our behavior to resemble Christ’s more closely. The scales of justice are balanced when we accept the weight of our guilt and give it to God. In exchange, He will give us a new way forward (Isa. 43:19). His new mercies every morning assure us that His love for us is constant, not measured by our past sins. His grace shows the path forward. It is the right and just path. And what does it require? Humility: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

* See Isa. 59:9, 10; Matt. 15:14; 23:16; Rev. 3:17.

Kryselle Craig is a doctoral candidate in Marriage and Family Therapy Studies.

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9).

Through the years, decades, and centuries that the United States of America has suffered its racial divides, one astonishing element of its history has been the deafening silence of many who self-identify as Christian. God’s calls to justice through His ancient prophets, for the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed (Jer. 22:3), clearly show where He stands with regard to this nation’s historic systems of human oppression and exploitation—slavery, sharecropping, prison camps, segregation, discrimination, devaluation, and privilege. God’s voice has resounded in echo of His demand through Moses to  “let my people go” (Ex. 5:1; 7:16; 8:1, 20, 21; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 4). It appears that our dominant culture’s acknowledgment of the presence of oppression is finally reaching the status of being politically correct.

The impetus to dismantle the systems that perpetuate oppression is present, though it seems to have become socially acceptable among many Christians to have “a form of godliness” that acknowledges past injustices, while “denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5) by not working to close the gaps of inequality.

In the current climate, absent any major initiative toward creating a racially inclusive society, absent also major public programs for active learning about “others,” fear may now be an element of communal sympathy; ignorance a socially accepted standard; insecurity an insulation from responsibility; confusion an excuse for inaction; and obliviousness the argument for institutional absolution.

Letting go and letting God has been difficult work for today’s Jeremiahs.

A Challenging Calling

Their ancient model, the prophet Jeremiah, struggled with his calling. It made him a social outcast, living in perpetual discomfort as God’s Word through him assailed the status quo. Jeremiah wanted to protect himself from the scorn of those who knew that his proclamations for social justice were right but undermined their standard of living.

It must be difficult to know that the only thing separating you from comfort and acceptance is your mouth. Perhaps this is why many Christians keep silent on the subject of race.

But we can learn two things from Jeremiah’s dilemma that may aid in any quest for racial reconciliation within American Christianity:

First, we have an active choice: when Jeremiah contemplates silencing the Word, he recognizes that he has options. He may choose to obey God and speak His Word, or to rebel against God’s wishes. Jeremiah could choose to keep fighting a losing battle with God; or he could let go and let God use him for His divine purposes.

As followers of Christ in a world that needs inspirational moral leadership in the area of justice, Christians too must decide whether to hold back or let God use us: to embrace differences in Christ; to become uncomfortable in the name of truth; to bless the oppressed. Or we can continue protecting ourselves from ridicule by slinking back, holding our peace, and muttering prayers to heaven while the fire of the Word reminds us how thinly veiled is our hypocrisy and how anxious God is to bring His relevant message through us.

Second, wrestling and struggle build muscle: Jeremiah’s wrestling was necessary for his own strengthening. The temptation to abandon God led him to seek God in prayers of complaint. His conversations with God led to a conversion moment in which he resolved to choose God’s way and let the fire of God’s Word flame out on what God knew needed burning.

Called to Action

God’s Word is indeed like fire. It necessitates action, a response from the human heart. The Word comes in hot to burn out the selfishness and superiority we’ve learned and inherited. We all have the choice to allow the process to refine us as people of God, or to let it define us as rejecting His love. The social challenge American Christianity faces is whether or not to love one another as Jesus does; whether or not to relate as God requires.

And what does God require? “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Fairness, caring, and meek obedience is God’s requirement for all. Discrimination is a hot topic. But God has fire for burning it away, purging the guilty of their dross and bringing us all out shining as Heaven’s gold. Being part of His better world begins where we are in the one we occupy. And there’s no spiritual sense in waiting until later to live for Christ, show His love, and make our corner of His universe a better corner because He is in that space with us.

Kryselle Baptiste-Craig is passionate about encouraging authentic relationships through the power of Christ. She and her husband, Jason, preach from the same text (see pp. 56, 57).

Being a parent is a tremendous challenge, made all the more difficult when trying to decide if it can be done successfully while working outside the home. Lots of circumstances make working outside the home a necessity. Here we share two (of several possible) perspectives about the topic.

During premarital counseling our pastor asked, “How do you plan on raising your children?” I was shocked when I heard my lips answer that I’d prefer to be at home with them for three to five years. Was this the same career-driven woman who had spent years in school gathering the tools to ensure productivity and a steady paycheck? who had just landed a great job with a world of potential? My fiancé had just noted that he wanted to start a family in a year or two, and I had agreed. Through the lenses of love the future looked fluorescent, but how would we pay the electric bill to ensure the lights remained on?

A Tough Decision

A year into marital bliss the expectations of my role at work seemed to leave me breathless by the end of each day. We wanted to extend our family, but thoughts on when and how to do so were cloudy at best—until we became pregnant.

We revisited the questions asked in those premarital sessions and found ourselves even more dedicated to the idea of keeping a parent at home. As three younger siblings and two nephews had primed me for parenting in a way my husband had yet to identify with, we decided I would be home with our children until they were old enough for formal education. We began making plans for our first little one to come, not knowing how God would provide, but trusting that He would.

We had no clear replacement for my income when I informed my boss I would not be returning to work. There was no change in the number of bills that would be due every month. With my husband dedicated to seminary studies by night and church ministry by day, additional employment remained out of reach. So many negative notions existed, but so did God.

My husband and I committed to counting all we were gaining in place of what we were losing with our decision. Our child would have a safe, loving environment in which to learn about the God who created him. He would always be surrounded by music, stories, and language that elevated and honored the Lord. This child would have what every child needs most: an opportunity to meet Christ while growing in love and life.

God Provides

Six months after our son was born I was offered a position with income far exceeding any other I’d previously earned—and I could work from home and choose my part-time hours. I now work during naptime or after baths with rubber duckies. My full-time assignment is to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6, NKJV).*

Our family has been blessed, and there are no needs for which we lack provision. God honors His commitment to provide for His children as we commit to providing for our child.

“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Ps. 78:4).

* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Kryselle Craig lives in Odenton, Maryland, and says she will “live right or die trying,” as she and husband Jason do their best to keep up with life and Ezra.

A Blueprint Helps

How my husband and I balance parental roles

I am a mother. Having grown up in a family and a culture in which women often worked to help support their families, I intended to do the same myself. I remember as a young adult the first time I met a mom who stayed home with her children. I was both fascinated and drawn to this as an option if I ever got married and became a parent. After she delivered her third child, her oldest began school while she cared for the younger two. When they were ready for school, she worked at their school. I admired and respected her ethos: a loving, welcoming, safe environment for her young family. I saw her commitment to being easily accessible to her children and husband as my own potential family blueprint.

The journey to parenthood was not simple or painless for my husband and me. When we determined after five years that we were ready for children, we experienced heartbreak and disappointment: we mourned the loss of our first two children. I learned that every couple does not immediately have their prayers or desires fulfilled.

But then, a month after our tenth anniversary, we welcomed our son. The only thing I was sure about was that I would love him and take care of him in partnership with my husband. His arrival was part of a new season in our lives: moving to a new state; becoming denominational employees; becoming parents. With prayer, reflection, and lots of conversations we decided that I would keep working. It was time, after many iterations, to put my blueprint into action. The basic tenet was our commitment to providing a loving, nurturing, child-friendly home.

We adjusted schedules once I returned to work after maternity leave. We created a flexible co-parenting practice that we continue to adjust. Morning worship, mealtimes, and set nighttime rituals involved both parents more times than not. The children travelled with me when I did until they were 2 years old. I was thankful that my husband thought about making meal preparation simple, so that when I returned home from work I could spend more time with our children.

I had to learn to manage my time and create boundaries. I learned that I couldn’t do it all. I also learned that asking for help was a sign of strength, not weakness. I shall always be grateful for the mothers who have come alongside me. Their words of encouragement, accountability, and affirmation have helped buoy me up over the years.

When our son began kindergarten, I remember meeting and observing moms who were available to be class moms or go on trips. At first I compared myself to them and wondered if they were judging me for being a working mother. Then I remembered that we were not in competition with each other. These moms are actually allies, who have also been given the gift of motherhood.

Over the past 12 years my husband and I have shared almost equally the responsibility of caring for and nurturing our two children. He has gone on many school trips and coached, while I have worked on projects and crafts. Our blueprint has allowed our children to experience time with their father and me. We’ll be learning better and better parenthood even as they mature into adulthood.

Dilys Brooks is campus chaplain at Loma Linda University.