I grew up in a pretty typical Catholic Christian family – we went to church every Sunday, said prayers before meals and bedtime, and I even attended Catholic school. But in fifth grade, I started being bullied. Obviously I was called lots of mean names, excluded from certain lunch tables and friend groups, pretty typical stuff. It was hard, and I struggled to like myself when no one else did. But eventually I grew a thick enough skin where it didn’t bother me as much.
I went to a Catholic high school, the place I hoped I would finally escape the bullying. Only, instead of getting better, it got much, much worse. It’s what counselors and psychologists now call “character assassination.” Kids would call me horrible things, accuse me of doing things I didn’t do so I’d get sent to the principal’s office, physically hurt me, spread awful rumors, even tell me to commit suicide because the world would be better off without me. I had to quit sports teams, I avoided certain hallways, I couldn’t go anywhere alone. I felt nauseous on a daily basis just due to pure anxiety of what the day would bring, and I almost always left school before my third class because I couldn’t handle it. By spring of my sophomore year, it had turned into sexual harassment, and my life was spiraling out of control.
I often thought, “Everyone hates me. And if everyone hates me, then something about me must be intrinsically wrong. God, I bet you even hate me too, don’t you?”
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I left that school, hoping against hope that I might finally feel okay again. I was so hurt by everything I’d gone through, I carried this mass of negativity and bitterness around. I was in a very dark place.
That July, I was blessed with a mission trip to Long Island, New York to rebuild houses for Hurricane Sandy victims. While I was there, I was absolutely blown away by how kind everyone was to me, and how they all thought I was a really cool person and worth befriending. It was beautiful and baffling. I didn’t understand it.
On the last night of the trip, all the different attending groups gathered to hear a talk. The speaker described a time in her life when things felt painful and utterly hopeless, yet God still worked miracles and sent blessings to her and her family. She then passed out index cards and pens and told us to write down whatever weight we were holding onto that was separating us from God’s love.
I realized I had been carrying around so much pain and bitterness that it literally felt like I had an anvil pressing down on my chest every day. So I wrote down all the names of the people who bullied me, harassed me, betrayed me, or hurt me in any way. And I folded that index card up.
One by one, we filed up to a large wood cross at the front of the room. When I got to it, I knelt down, placed that index card right in the spot where Jesus’ heart would have been, and nailed it down, the loudness of the hammer smashing against my eardrums.
When I stood up, I literally felt the weight ripped off my chest, and I could breathe again. I was hit with a wave of love, and peace, and joy that I had never felt before. I knew in that instant that God really did love me, and even when it didn’t feel like it, He was fighting for me. He had never left my side, He had been there all along. And I knew, in that moment, that the entire world could hate me and I wouldn’t care. Because knowing I was loved by Him was enough. As long as He loved me, I could go through anything this world threw at me.
Since then my life has completely changed. I started waking up early every morning for prayer; I read the Bible daily; I went to Mass everyday; I listened to Christian music; I switched schools; I prayed for true friends and was blessed with amazing ones; I was joyful; my relationship with my family changed, and now we are closer than ever.
But that doesn’t mean my life became instantly perfect. I still go through tragedies and suffering. I still deal with some of the old insecurities I felt back when I was bullied. But I know that even when life is absolutely horrible, it will get better, and He will carry me through it, just as He has before. I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me. (Phil. 4:13)
Song suggestion: “Alive Again” by Matt Maher. This song sounds just like how it felt when Jesus finally pulled the weight off my shoulders, and I realized I was loved.