I was bullied; a lot. It made me frustrated, angry, resentful and at times depressed. It was not just me though; in fact, there were a number of children that were bullied in various ways when I was a young boy. I recall one day when I was fourth grade and on the way home from school, a large group of boys my age started picking on me; they yelled, taunted, and hit me. It was rude, crude, abusive, and filled with cruelty. I felt shamed, intimidated, and desperately wished that I could "beat them all up". That never happened, and now I cannot even remember exactly who they were; names and faces are completely gone from my memory.
Yet, in all those years going through elementary, junior high, and high school, there was never--in my recollection--anyone who committed suicide as a result of bullying. I think if it had occurred, we all would have been told since it was so unheard of. It may have occurred somewhere, but even there in southern California we did not once have it come into our experience. It is not as though we were untouched by tragedy; I saw fellow students taken away by police for drugs and gang activity; there were teen girls pregnant, and some getting abortions; there were fights (sometimes even physical fights with teachers), and I know of a 15 year old that committed suicide, but not because of being bullied; we had our share of bad stuff even back then.
So what is it that is making children today choose suicide when they are bullied? I read about an eleven year old girl this last week who committed suicide because she had been bullied (yes, 11 years old!). I am not about to pretend that I can discern the heart of any of these children who have taken their own lives, but I do want to consider my own experience and postulate a theory. Might it be possible that bullying has not actually gotten worse? Though it may in some instances be more hateful, it does not appear to be the case overall. Rather, is it possible that we (and children in particular) are responding to it differently?
What I am saying is, I believe that children are not often being raised with the sense of hope that allows them to deal with adversity (especially wicked adversity). Think of our forefathers who died at the hands of evil tyrants millennia ago. Take the story of Blandina, for instance; a young virgin in the second century that stood faithfully in the arena as the pagan Romans tortured her and her companions. They were all about to die for their faith, and she stood firm and gave them an encouragement to trust Christ. Imagine what it would have been like if all the persecution that led up to that moment had resulted in Blandina committing suicide. It is not as though the Christians of that era lived peaceful lives until the day they were martyred; they were often hated by society for their faith, and all kinds of persecution would go along with that.
Now, I am not saying imagine the loss of Blandina's example of faithfulness (though that is immense). I am saying imagine what it would be like to read in history that the Catholics who went before us committed suicide in the face of persecution. I know of no instance of this being the case [someone write to me and let me know if you have heard otherwise]. They stood firm in everything that led up to their martyrdom, and today children kill themselves when bullied. How were the martyrs able to stand firm? Hope. That is the only thing that will make a difference in our lives as well. Adults and children bully others; it is not right, but it is not likely that we can put a stop to it easily. It is a part of the sinfulness of men to attack others in order to make them feel better about themselves.
If we have no sense of hope or strength, then we can easily be beaten down by bullying, and we will find it difficult to overcome the selfish behavior of others. I do not personally know any of those children that we have read about in the news lately who have committed suicide, nor do I know their parents, so this is not a judgment call on them or how they were raised. Yet, it is a statement that hope cannot be taken lightly. Hope in Christ is something that can help us to overcome the lions of the arena, the knives of terrorists, and the taunts of a selfish teenager.
Someone once said to me (excuse me if I have told this story before) that he did not like the confession of sin that we use in the Divine Worship Mass because "we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness" and it mentions God's "wrath and indignation against us"; apparently both of those lines made him uncomfortable. Were we to refer only to these things, and not to the unfathomable love and forgiveness that God offers us, then I could understand what he meant. In our liturgy we talk about the depth of our sins in a number of places, which could easily make us completely depressed, if there were not given to us any sense of hope. We must hear the "sad stuff" about our sins in order for the "good stuff" of redemption and forgiveness to mean anything at all.
Having had this critique of the Divine Worship confession of sin spoken to me a number of years ago, I now am thankful to hear those exact words of the confession of sin. They hold an even deeper meaning to me. A meaning which reminds me that if I take them lightly and ignore their true depth, then I have become callous and heart-hearted. They remind me that it is no small thing that God reaches out to help us -- because if we begin to think that we deserve it, things are way off track.
So how do we deal with the "bad stuff" of life? Because, there is quite a lot of it out there today. How do we deal with it when people "speak evil of us" and persecute us (whether for the sake of Christ or not)? We must teach our children a (balanced) sense of hope so that they have the anchor of the Lord to keep them from thinking that suicide is a means of overcoming pain. The Saints overcame their persecutors because of their hope; "And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." (Rev 12:11). Let us seek that same hope.