This life is hard. Seriously. If I had a dollar for every disappointing, painful, awkward, miserable, confused and straight up difficult moment in my life, it would be ridiculous. I.e., that’d be a lot of dollars.
And really, my life has been pretty good.
Some people have it harder. Some are born into extreme poverty, and death is on their door, every day. Some spend their whole lives struggling with an esoteric disease, a mental illness, or a deforming physical malady. Others suffer verbal, social, and physical abuse because of who they are or because of the choices they’ve made.
Some people have a network of family and friends to support them in the hard times, people who understand what they are going through and know how to respond, who they can rely on to lend a helping hand, but others don’t. Differing levels of support abound- today, with the internet and its associated technologies, there are even more ways to build that type of support1, and likewise, even more to tear it down. The circumstances surrounding the suicide of Tyler Clementi are just one example among many, even in recent weeks.
I am deeply saddened by these events, but I cannot say I am shocked. We like to think we are so enlightened, that years of progress and societal reform have brought us to a place where we should know better. We should, but we don’t. We distance ourselves from these events by saying “Well, certainly, me and my friends, the people around me, we know better. I would never do such a thing.” But the propensity for evil, even unintentional evil, lies deep in each of us. Tweets from the student allegedly responsible for the for the video recording sound like a man oblivious to the emotional damage he is about to wreak. Even with best intentions (and his were certainly not), we can cause incredible damage to those around us. I am reminded of the song “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”, by Sufjan Stevens. A strangely sympathetic reflection on the serial killer, Stevens ends the song by acknowledging that “…in my best behavior, I am really just like him- look beneath the floorboards, for the secrets I have hid”. We have different checks and balances within our communities, and within our hearts, but the potential for evil is there, and will, at different points in each of our lives, make itself known.
I hope that we will take these recently publicized events seriously. I hope we will be vigilant against violence, in all of its forms, against all people- no matter their appearance, beliefs, or choices, and regardless of whether we approve or disapprove of their behavior. I pray that, presented with the opportunity, we will find a way to intervene and stop this kind of bullying and abuse. I pray that we will find ways to teach others that this is wrong. The sad fact, though, is that the people who can make a difference will not always be around- there is truth in the prototypical bully appearing or acting out just after the parents disappear. We cannot, in our own strength, completely wipe out evil, no matter how hard we try. So the message that it gets better is an important one. We need hope to see past our current circumstances to the future that could be, if we hold on.
At the same time, it doesn’t always get better, especially right away. The It Gets Better Project is most specifically directed at kids in school who are dealing with abuse in relation to the perception of their sexual identities, and I suspect that for most of them, it will get better after they graduate. Sometimes however, it gets worse, even much, much worse. Bullying is only one of innumerable challenges most of us will face throughout the course of our lives. Sometimes, simple hope is not enough; sometimes, only the strongest will survive. This is not natural selection- this is about the choices we make. And the best choice I ever made, the choice which has given me the most strength in the hard times in my own life, was asking Christ into my life. I remember crying out in my bedroom in my high school years, literally singing Psalm 13: “How long will my enemy triumph over me?” More recently, I’ve identified with the stories of Job and Joseph, individuals who lost everything they knew only to be restored and even exalted by God later in life. But these tales only make sense if you believe that the God who is found in them is real. He has proven it to me many times over, and although at times I struggle with it, I do. I am given a deep conviction that although I do not understand it, the hard times I have suffered and continue to suffer are making me stronger and more prepared for what is to come. How can I doubt it? This is the God who gave Horatio Spafford the grace to pen, even after losing his son, his fortune, and his four daughters, “It is Well with My Soul”. I can’t imagine making it so far without him. And although it is a constant battle, I know he is quelling the evil that lies within me, step by step, little by little, giving way to his grace and his life. This is the evil that would lash out at those different than us, that would take advantage of others for our own selfish gains, and even lead us to our own destruction. We cannot win alone.
This hope is available to any who will receive it. One thing I want to make clear, and that I think those of us who identify with Christ have largely failed to express, is that this invitation is extended to everyone- to the losers, the dropouts, the failures, the rejects, those questioning their own identities, and those who have found a home nowhere else. Jesus says “Come. Come as you are, and I will receive you, though the rest of the world turns away.” It will not make your life easy. It is not guaranteed to turn you perfect2, beautiful3, or smart45. But it is real, and you will have a companion, every step of the way.
It’s really amazing to see the extent to which a community like reddit can band together for (virtually anonymous) members in trouble. Like any community, it’s not without it’s faults, but certainly in this aspect, it is worthy of our respect. ↩
At least not right away. ↩
Although it may change your perception of what beautiful is. ↩
But it will make you wise. ↩
All in due time. ↩