Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
Warning: The following commentary addresses a sensitive issue that may not be suitable for young children.
It is not unusual for people to lash out at others to release pent-up anger and hopelessness. At Prison Fellowship, we have seen this over and over again, with prisoners who resort to violence as a way of dealing with abuse, loneliness, and fear. But there is another way that people respond to these feelings-they take it out on themselves.
Today, between two and three million Americans resort to self-injury as an emotional and physical response to negative feelings. Self-injury includes everything from cutting oneself, burning oneself, to even pulling hair. It can be life-threatening, and it always points to a deeper issue.
Recently on “BreakPoint,” we talked about a movie called Wristcutters that attempted to normalize suicide-if not even glamorize it. While suicide is utter despair and self-injury is a coping mechanism, they are both external expressions of hopelessness. To present either of these self-harming behaviors in a flippant manner is despicable, to say the least.
Obviously, Hollywood has plenty to say to those who take a razor to their wrist. But what are Christians saying? One group of young people from Orlando does not need to say much-their love speaks for them.
Several years ago, when 19-year-old Renee Yohe turned to cocaine and razor blades in an effort to deal with a lifetime of sexual abuse, depression, and suicide attempts, her friends stepped in. A rehab center had deemed Renee too great a risk to be admitted immediately, so her friends stuck by her side for five days straight. They bought her drinks from Starbucks, took her to concerts, reminded her that she was beautiful. On the last night before she was allowed to enter rehab, they gave her gifts, hugged her, prayed for her. In response to their love, she handed them her last razor blade. It was her symbol of pain.
The experience with Renee led one of the friends, Jamie Tworkowski, to start an organization called To Write Love on Her Arms to offer hope to people, like Renee, who are dealing with depression, self-injury, and suicide. The group has rallied the support of bands like Switchfoot with the simple message to love the brokenhearted.
Jamie writes on his website: “We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all the mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way.”
Jamie and his friends have refused to buy into the culture’s downplaying or even glamorizing of self-destructive behavior. Instead, they are shining examples of the love of Jesus-a countercultural love that refuses to stand on the sidelines. As for Renee, thanks to the loving intervention of her friends, she has been clean from drugs for two years!
With two to three million people in this country engaging in self-injury, there is a good chance you know of someone caught in a cycle of despair. Are you ready to step in? Maybe God is preparing to send you, in the words of Isaiah 61, to “bind up the brokenhearted.”
Visit our website at BreakPoint.org to find out more, along with links to organizations that can offer guidance and help.