So back in part 1 I discussed the details of self-harm, what drives people to it, and my experiences with it. Now I want to move on to a slightly different discussion. I want to examine what St. Paul has to say about this issue. Of course, he wasn’t addressing this issue in a specific sense, but his words still apply.
To clarify if confusion arises, I’m using the NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition) Catholic Bible, so the quotes might be translated a little differently than the ones you’re familiar with if you use a different bible.
Lets start with some reasons why self-harm is sinful. Might as well get the painful stuff out of the way first, right? Self-harmers, this isn’t to heap burning coals on your head. It simply offers some spiritual reasons for why you need to keep making a serious effort to stop– or better yet, not start in the first place. I am NOT pointing fingers here. Remember, I’m just as guilty as you when it comes to self-harm. I’m one of the perpetrators, and I’m addressing myself as much as you.
Lets start with a quote that most Christians are probably pretty familiar with from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
That’s pretty straight forward, but let’s unpack it line-by-line.
If you’re Christian, you probably go to church. Maybe you don’t go every Sunday. But you go to a church building to worship God. Would you ever consider scrawling graffiti on the walls? How about carving things into the pews or breaking a window or two? Would you knock over the altar, or rip pictures and crosses down and smash them? Of course not. Why on earth would a Christian want to vandalize God’s temple, right?
I’m sure you already know what I’m going to say. Your body is God’s temple. When you self-harm, you are doing that exact same thing as what I just described you doing to your church. But it’s a little worse than that. See, if you look at the rest of that line you’ll notice that you received your body from God. But it’s not yours. He’s loaning it to you. So you aren’t just trashing a church–God’s home. You’re also smashing up the car you’re leasing from the all-mighty Creator. And if you read a little further you’ll see that it’s an expensive car. Jesus died to redeem that car (not to mention it’s driver).
I look at that and wilt. Yeah. I not only vandalized my Creator’s house, I also damaged the high-end, expensive sport’s car He loaned me. Okay, so it’s a bit harder to drive than some of the cars other people are borrowing. But I didn’t accidentally damage it. I did so intentionally. And God was expecting me to respect and cherish it. Whoops.
Now that we’ve reinforced our guilt, lets move on to something a little more encouraging.
“What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” Romans 7:15
I don’t know about you, but that strikes a chord for me.
“For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” Romans 7:19
So what can we take away from this admission by St. Paul? We’re sinful. All of us. Every single person is a sinner. We’ve all messed up. Assuming we don’t die within the next 5-10 minutes, we’re going to mess up again at some point. That’s just the way things are. Have you made the resolution to not self-harm? Are you feeling discouraged because you’ve broken that resolution? Guess what: St. Paul get’s that.
“For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.” Romans 7:18
Those of us who are mentally ill would probably be the first to admit that good does not dwell in our flesh. Our bodies seem to be constantly out to sabotage us. Sometimes it feels like just making a resolution to improve ourselves guarantees that we’re going to fail. Why should we even bother?
…Oh, right… we’re vandalizing our Dad’s house and wrecking the car He paid for with His Son’s life. That’s a bit of a problem. We can’t really afford to keep that up. So what do we do?
“So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand… I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” Romans 7:21-24
Miserable one that I am!– I think it’s safe to say that St. Paul sympathizes.
It helps to recognize that messing up and breaking our resolutions doesn’t make us failures. It’s normal. Yes, it’s something to be avoided at all costs. But it’s normal. What’s more important to recognize is that this isn’t something we can do alone. In fact, trying to do it alone is prideful, and we all know what pride leads to (here’s a hint: it involves hitting the ground. Hard.) Pride is a sin. We’ve got enough trouble with sin already if we’re self-harming. Let’s not add to it. It should actually come as a relief that we aren’t expected to fix ourselves on our own. God expects us to go to him for help.
Think of it this way. If you were to put an enormous, eye-catching, cringe-worthy scratch in the paint of your human dad’s sparkling new sports car (pretend for a moment that he has one), would you rush into the garage, grab a can of deck-paint that’s roughly the same color, and use it to try and cover up the scratch? It’s a given that going and admitting to your dad that you just badly scratched his new car probably isn’t going to make his day. In fact, depending on your dad’s temperament, the odds of him blowing a fuse are decently high. But how much happier would it make him for you to attempt the above mentioned solution to the scratch? Wouldn’t he much prefer you to allow him to get it repainted properly?
This isn’t a very good comparison because God isn’t mad at us. But the childish solution of trying to fix the scratch with deck-paint is similar to us trying to dig ourselves out of the pit we’re in without asking for assistance. Our heart might be in the right place, but that doesn’t mean that what we’re doing under our own steam is going to fix the problem. Maybe it is working right now, and that’s great. But keep in mind that when we start feeling self-sufficient, we are very close to falling. When things are going well we need God’s grace just as much as when they aren’t.
“The concern of the flesh is hostility towards God; it does not submit to the law of God, nor can it;” Romans 8:7
According to Paul, your body really is out to sabotage you. By “flesh” he technically means our carnal nature, not our actual physical bodies. But the desires of our bodies fuel that nature. The only solution to that is God’s grace.
If your attempts to give up self-harm haven’t been working, or if you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle to avoid starting in the first place, it’s time to turn to God and ask for his grace and guidance. As I said before, He isn’t mad at you. He doesn’t see you as some colossal failure because you ended up down this road.
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14
In other words, He understands what we’re up against. He knows our weaknesses and how difficult it can be for us to do what is right. For those of us with mental illness, He (unlike some people) actually understands exactly how much that handicaps us. He knows how heavy our cross is. He allowed us to have it in the first place. But he has a purpose for it, even if we can’t see what it is, and He wants to help us bear it. Do you feel like you’ve put an impossible wall between God and yourself, and that God couldn’t possibly want you anymore? That’s a lie that satan loves to feed us. Do you recall the parable of the shepherd leaving his flock of 99 sheep to chase after the single stray and bring it home safe? That shepherd isn’t mad at the sheep. He wants to rescue it. And He wants to rescue you, but you have to be willing to let Him.
Sometimes when we ask for God’s help, there is a part of us that only wants the help if it’s the kind of help we want. We don’t want just any help. We have a specific sort of help in mind, and that’s what we’re expecting from God. But what we want isn’t always what is actually best for us in the long run.
Here’s something to consider: At the wedding in Cana, when they ran out of wine, Mary (wisely) turned to our Lord for help. But stop for a moment and think about what she actually did, specifically. She asked for help. She didn’t get the answer she was looking for. In fact, Jesus’ answer seems a bit cold.
“Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” John 2:4
Look at Mary’s response to this. Does she get upset with her son and tell him what she expects him to do? Did she tell him “Listen, I want you to turn water into wine and help these people out. I’m your mother. It’s the least you can do!” No. She didn’t. She didn’t even demand a miracle, even though she knew her son was more than capable of it. Instead, she put her trust in him completely, knowing that whatever he saw fit to do would be best.
“His mother said to the servers ‘Do whatever he tells you.'” John 2:5
She had complete trust in him to find a way to fix the problem. He could very well have instructed the servers to rush out and buy some more wine. But he didn’t. Instead, he rewarded Mary’s faith and gave her a miracle. The idea of his fixing the problem by turning water into wine probably hadn’t occurred to her. It only seems like an obvious solution to us because we’ve read about the story over and over again for years. It’s not an obvious solution. It probably wasn’t what Mary had in mind. But she allowed him to do what he thought best, and he did something marvelous.
What I’m saying is that you have to be truly open to whatever God wants to do for you. You have to be willing to listen for His advice and then accept it. If you recall from the previous post, I demanded help from God. I knew He could fix me, and I didn’t understand why He wasn’t doing so. And to my surprise, He gave me a very direct answer. I can’t say I was terribly happy about it at the time. Telling my parents was quite literally the last thing I wanted to do. He very well could have just taken away the urges. But that isn’t what He wanted. And there turned out to be a very good reason for that. Had I not opened up to my parents at that point, I never would have been able to open up to them later on when I faced the much more dangerous temptation of suicide, and there’s every possibility I wouldn’t be here today to write this.
I’m not necessarily suggesting that God’s solution for me will be His solution for you. Your family might be drastically different than mine. Maybe your parents are abusive, or simply wouldn’t care. Or maybe you’ve even tried to reach out to them already and they refused to help. Everyone’s situation is different. The only thing I can guarantee is that God does have a solution for you, whatever it might be, and He wants to communicate it to you. Once again, I don’t know how He will choose to do that. I can count the number of times I’ve received a communication from Him that was that unmistakably direct on one hand and have fingers to spare. He has many different ways of communicating, and some ways wont work well for some people. The main thing is that you truly want His help.
If you’re feeling frustrated by the lack of concrete ideas for you to try so far, check out Part 3 of this post. I discuss some coping mechanisms you can try (along with a few more verses of scripture). The most important thing is to persevere in prayer, even when it feels like no one is listening. He is. And He will help you if you let Him.
Take care and God bless,