Self harm, including cutting, is a sad reality in our culture, especially among our young people. When sitting with them, heart to heart as part of my job, I have felt some of the deep pain and sadness they carry and it’s overwhelming. And yes, many of them, like me are followers of Jesus, walking out their faith, learning to trust and live in their newly adopted spiritual family.
We all have our ‘stuff’ and ‘our way of coping’ – do we not? Many of us self harm in other ways – perhaps not so physically obvious as cutting for example, but through poor decisions, self hatred or neglect.
Here’s a notion I have. I may be wrong in it. I would hope it holds some truth. Here we go.
Imagine the creator of the universe sends His Son to earth bent on getting back the deep relationship with mankind He once had. Imagine He purpose built mankind for union and intimacy with Himself, others and creation. Imagine the best expression of that relationship He desired for Himself and mankind was an intimate marriage. This covenant marriage agreement would be available to all the nations of the earth.
I think we can see where this story is going. In Ephesians 5:25-27 and other passages, the bible uses the imagery of the church as bride and Jesus as the bridegroom.
So what if this corporate body of people that make up Jesus bride don’t necessarily get along much? What if part of the bride isn’t impressed and happy with another part of her own body? Perhaps one part sees itself as having arrived at the pinnacle of religious revelation, rendering all others as wrong? Maybe one part sees itself as more important than another part? More theologically correct? More relevant, spiritual or liturgically astute? More loved by her groom? What if she doesn’t see the beauty of her whole self and begins attacking herself? Cutting herself? What if her heart and mind are divided? What if cancer develops on the inside and cells attack one another?
Question: How would you feel, as a husband, if the woman you gave your life for began attacking and harming herself in such a way?
If we were talking about Jesus and His bride, I think the answer is He would love her unconditionally. He loves her now. Always has. Always will. But I also believe it grieves His heart to see her attack very radiant self – not knowing her eternal worth.
What is it that leads us, as followers of the One who placed love above all things, to make personal attacks on our own spiritual flesh and blood? Why do we so quickly excommunicate others from our hearts?
I think the answers are plentiful. Some may be very specific. But, are they really justified before the bridegroom and His Father the righteous judge?
Foundationally, I think we can attribute this sadness state of heart to the simple fact that we don’t really know the Father and the bridegroom as we can and perhaps ought too. I get the sense it’s why Jesus warned His disciples in John 16 concerning the church of the day.
John 16:1 These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. 2 [a]They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. 3 These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. (NASB)
If we knew the Father, His passion for His Son and His bride, His passion for the lost, broken and outcast, I think we would see those that we ‘cast out’ of our hearts and speak of disrespectfully in a very different light. If we came to really know how Jesus so deeply loves the church world wide with all her expressions, gifting and colours – I think we’d watch our mouths, judgements and motives a lot more.
I have a confession to make. I can be found in the ranks of those who have created the outcasts and attacked the very body Jesus died for and desires for. I don’t know the full extent of the damage I have done. Most of it would be internal bride damage I’m sure. In my private words and in my thoughts, I have basically murdered cells and members of my own body. I don’t exactly know the effects of that. Perhaps it’s manifesting itself in a cancer or ulcer in the bride? Perhaps they are things He cuts out? Whatever it is, it’s sad and I’m beginning to see how foolish I’ve been. In my own lack of knowing the Father and the Son I have harmed my very own body. The church. Jesus’ bride. And I have come into a space and place where I am beginning to see her worth, value, strength beauty and potential world-wide, across denominations, race and expressions like never before. So I have some major repenting and re-thinking to do.
Here then is my prayer of repentance and restoration. Feel free to make it your own:
God have mercy on us. Help us to love from redeemed hearts in the same way you do. Father we desire to know You more and repent for the evil and self harm we’ve done to the bride simply because we don’t know You and Your heart for others. Help us, especially as Pastors and ministry leaders, to put to death the selfish ideals and images we’ve built on what the church should be and look like, only to excommunicate and attack those who don’t subscribe or bow to our the idols of form, denomination, liturgy, theology, lifestyle or doctrine we’ve built. These are unhealthy strongholds which we ask You dismantle and destroy in us. We repent of the bitter judgements we’ve made against our brothers and sisters and ask you bring an effective end to all associated reaping through the work of the cross. In our hearts, we ask you build new ways of loving across differences and help us see and draw out the best in others. Holy Spirit guide us in all things and to truth that is Christ. Amen.
Finally, if you’ve been hurt by the church, would you allow me to say, as a minister, that I am sincerely sorry for the pain caused to you by the church. I want to apologise on behalf of other ministers, plus brothers and sisters in Christ, for the way you were mistreated and cast out. As a man who is privileged to teach God’s word from the pulpit, I want to repent on behalf of other men for the misuse of scripture for selfish gain and control where you, perhaps as a female, were belittled and not counted rightfully as an equal in Christ and as a human. Please forgive us.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
When you love your leaders, when for years you have followed them to your own hurt, when you have forgiven, but you see the trail of damage in the lives of others around you whom you also love, and the potential damage… when you find it hard to trust again, when there is no openness or approachability… but you love them still, and you know it is not their heart to cause such harm, certainly you are praying for them, but do you stay or do you go? Lord show me what to do…