How God helped Miss America Forgive Bullies

( [email protected] ) Dec 09, 2003 12:15 PM EST

Among all the pressures high school students go through in their regime to prepare for college, social pressures can especially parallel if not supercede that of any exam. High school students can usually be defined in 2 categories, those who are popular and those who are not. Being a part of the latter may not be detrimental to a teen’s self-esteem at all but when their association with the unpopular group is continuously being reminded through incessant insults known as bullying, a teen can began to feel terrible about herself. Forgetting the painful experience or even forgiving the enemy may be difficult. 2003 Miss America Erika Harold faced her own struggles with forgiving bullies. However, in the end, she was able to witness the great work of God who transformed the evil she experienced into good she could do for others.

Harold documents her bully experience as follows:

I clenched the side of my desk and stared at the clock, wishing desperately I could move its hands and make the class end. But the clock didn't move any faster, and the kid singing a made-up song about me didn't stop. His "lyrics" were full of cruel putdowns. I looked toward the teacher, but she acted as if she didn't hear a thing. So I sat at my desk, trying to pretend that I couldn't hear him, either. But I heard every word. Heat rushed to my face. I was angry and afraid. I felt so powerless. It was the middle of my freshman year, and the bullies who chose me as their target hadn't let up since the first weeks of school. I dreaded each day of the week.

I'm not exactly sure why they decided to pick on me. Sometimes they chose to make fun of my multiracial heritage—my mom is African American and Native American, and my father is white. Other times their nasty comments didn't have anything to do with my race. But the bullying was always ugly, and it always hurt.

My teachers rarely intervened, and an assistant principal even told me that if I would act differently people wouldn't tease me so much. But nothing I did made the bullies stop. To avoid being teased, I even changed the way I dressed and the way I wore my hair. My parents also talked to the school's administration about everything I was going through. But the bullying continued.

"God, why me?" I'd prayed more than once. "If you're a loving God, why are you allowing me to go through this? Why aren't you making them stop? Why won't anyone defend me or help?" I couldn't understand why an all-powerful God wouldn't use his power to stop the bullying.

During this terrible time in my life, my parents constantly assured me of their love for me. They told me how valuable and beautiful I was. And I also knew that God valued me and considered me beautiful. While I couldn't understand why he didn't stop the bullying, I really believed he saw me as "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). God had put time and thought into crafting me! I knew that my self-worth shouldn't depend on what these bullies thought or said about me.

I decided to stop blaming God for every negative experience. I also came to realize that things at my school weren't going to get any better. I didn't want the cruelty of those students to wear down my spirit anymore, so my parents and I decided I needed to transfer to another school.

I liked my new high school, but I still struggled with bitterness toward the people who'd bullied me. I knew God wanted me to forgive them, but it seemed impossible.

"Forgive them?" I remember praying. "They made my life so hard! They threatened me. They spread rumors about me. And they're not sorry! How can you ask me to forgive them?"

But I didn't want to shut myself off from something I felt God wanted me to do. I searched my Bible for verses about forgiveness. I copied many of these verses onto sheets of paper, hoping they would somehow jump from that paper into my heart. But I still struggled.

In time, though, my heart began to soften. God helped me see that forgiving those bullies would free me from bitterness and resentment.

I can't pretend it was easy to forgive those who hurt me so badly. It took a lot of time. But God did help me move past those experiences and look more closely at all the good things he'd brought into my life. My wonderful family. The friends at my new school. The gifts and abilities he'd given me. As I focused on all I had to be grateful for, my hurt and pain began to fade.

Even though my experience was difficult, I believe God used it to help me gain more self-confidence. The strength that came from standing up for myself in school now helps me as I carry out my duties as Miss America, especially when I have to give speeches and sing in public. It also helps me stand up for my beliefs, even when they're unpopular. And it helps me talk to people about ways to protect students from being bullied.

Now I have opportunities to reach out to students who are being bullied. Because of my experience, I can share with them that God believes they are "fearfully and wonderfully made," and that he will give them the strength to get through it.

I may never understand why my freshman year was so difficult. But I do know that God has used it to bring about a lot of good. That's what matters most.