It’s funny how your childhood programs you for life.

As a kid, I was overweight and non-athletic. I grew up never really learning how to throw a football like other kids. However, I soon found there was one playground game at school at which I could excel…

Red Rover was this fat kid’s moment of glory.

Each team would stand on the opposite side of the field and call the name of an opposing team member to run over and try to break through the linked arms of the opposing team. As opposed to other game where agility or strength determined the winner, you could own Red Rover just by matter of sheer girth.

I soon learned I could simply plow over the smallest kid and finally win at something.

I still remember how one kid looked as I ran over him. His eyes got so big, his face frozen in a silent scream. I believe only a squeak emerged before I fell on top of him. I was a human wrecking ball. Please now imagine me running in slow motion, as the Miley Cyrus song plays in the background. “You’re welcome” for that mental picture).

Finally, I was soaking up what it felt like to finally be the “big man on campus”…literally. It was quite intoxicating. That is, until I found out the kid was hurt.

Usually, landing on them just knocked the wind out of them. But this kid had to be helped off the playground. Nothing broken, but watching him broke me. I was done causing pain. Moving up the elementary school food chain was not worth the guilt I felt at seeing that little guy hurt.

From that point on in my life, I was determined never to hurt anyone else. There were times after that I didn’t take up for myself in confrontations, choosing instead to let the other kid do the damage. It was worth it, I thought, because I knew as long as I careful and caring, I would never feel responsible for someone else’s pain.

Well, at the time it sounded reasonable enough in my head.

Since then, I’ve learned there are people you’ll meet in life who are bullies in disguise.

No, they’re not usually big guys beating up kids for their lunch money. That’s too obvious. Their tactic is counterintuitive: to play the victim and make you the bad guy. It’s their modus operandi – their pathology. You must be the cause of their problems, because if it’s not you, the only one left to take responsibility is them.

Be prepared – some people will engage you simply because they need villains to validate the story they tell themselves. Without a bad guy, they can’t play the hero…

…and so you must avoid getting pulled into their fiction, and instead write your own book.

We see these people in the church often. That’s because church is the one place where, regardless of how much a jerk you are, people are supposed to love you anyway. I remember one guy we’ll call Jim whose life was pretty much a mess when I met him. But he started coming to our church, and seemed to begin to grow a bit. However, I could tell he needed to be seen as important by others.

One Sunday, I decided to honor everyone who’d volunteered in the church over the past year. In preparation, I went through our list of ministries meticulously to make sure no one was left out.

But after the ceremony, church members began telling me they’d received a call from Jim, expressing outrage his name wasn’t included. How could I have left him out after all he’d done for the church? These members asked if there had been an oversight.

Well, the problem was really quite simple. Jim did nothing in the church. Nada, zip, zero. I guess you could give him points for showing up occasionally, but he never volunteered to help. We were a mobile church meeting in rented space, but he never offered to put up chairs or carry equipment out to our trailer. He would watch as women smaller than he carried boxes out. It was really pretty amazing how well he avoided work.

Eventually, I got him on the phone. I asked if there was a problem. He explained he was offended and would never return, and that I should be ashamed. I then had the awkward duty of asking him exactly what ministry he’d served that I neglected to mention.

The silence on the other end was deafening.

You see, Jim had two choices after that service. He could’ve noticed that almost everyone in that church, including little old ladies, did something to help. He could’ve listened to God convicting him of the need to view church as something more than a Sunday fashion show. He could have started that day helping after the service, picking up a few chairs, knowing that he’d be included next time people were thanked.

But instead, he took the second choice. That path says instead of owning your own actions and taking responsibility for your own embarrassment, you distract from your own mess by accusing someone else of wrong. And surely no one has the gall to blame the victim.

Unless the victim in this case is actually the bully.

Hurting people will often attack the very one who is trying to help them. When a person has a bottomless pit of need, they’ll indict you for not having enough love to fill it. Ironically, it’s often the ones you’ve invested the most personal time in who strike out at you the harshest. For pastors, that fact is unfortunately a cliche. So there you are, back at that schoolyard, being accused as a bully, when you’re the one being plowed over.

In this life, you have to decide if you are going to let people make you an emotional hostage. They’ll blame you for things you never did. They’ll be hurt by things you never meant to be hurtful, and use nothing more than their feelings as the evidence against you. You have to realize they’re the real bully, and not you. Then, you have to decide if you’re going to get on their level and defend yourself.

Don’t respond. It’s a game you’ll never be allowed to win.

In the end, you’ve got to believe the life you live will speak for itself. You also learn the unfair attacks you endure often say more about the attacker than it does you. In their story, you’re just a stand-in for the person they’re truly mad at: an absent father, ungrateful boss, emotionally absent spouse…

“In this evening’s performance, the role of the villain will be played by YOU”...unless you refuse to play along!

Know when to walk off the stage, even though you haven’t proven your innocence. That’s a losing game, because in truth, no one’s completely innocent. We’ve all said or done things that may inadvertently bring hurt.

But healing is not the goal of the emotional terrorist. His end game is self-justification and power over you.

So don’t retaliate. Simply trust that Someone else has your back. His opinion is all that matters.

So let them say their peace, and trust in the power of your own silence.

There will always be people who want to blame you for their problems. But the game only works if you choose to play along.

You may also wish to read <em>All the Pastor’s People: The Wounded Attackers – “I’m hurt. You’re going to pay!”