I think there is a great deal of secrecy and shame for those who hurt themselves on the outside through cutting because of the pain that they feel on the inside. Years ago, people like this would possibly have been considered demon-possessed. (They would have been compared to the Gerasene demoniac who gashed himself with stones in Mark 5 and Luke 8.) There still might be groups that look at self-inflicted pain this way, but I think that only leads to more secrecy and shame.

Cutting and similar behaviors are really, I believe, a way of coping with an incredibly tremendous hurt on the inside. This young girl desperately wants the pain she is feeling inside to go away. She just want something that really works, and this cutting of herself works, even though it is also destroying her relationships and her life.

By myself, my faith-filled heart wants to say, “Jesus is the answer to all of your painful problems. He can make the pain that you feel inside go away.” But I can’t say that so easily when I am face-to-face with someone else’s pain. Sometimes a person can get mangled inside just as much as if they have been mangled on the outside in an automobile accident. Sometimes they might even prefer to have been in an automobile accident instead. Sometimes there are no easy answers and quick solutions. I know that Jesus can move and in an instant, people are changed forever. But what do you say when that doesn’t happen?

I think this is where the Body Of Christ comes in. So often we think of Jesus as being “up there” and maybe, if we say and do the right things, He will become engaged in our lives…maybe. But the reality is if we are baptized into Jesus, then we are living members of His Body, and He isn’t “up there.” He is right here, right now, in you and in me. Sometimes it’s up to you and me ministering through His power as His Body.

It’s not often easy getting involved in another person’s life, particularly when there are no quick two or three step solutions. Sometimes we can only say, “I’ll walk with you and stay with you until…” And we can do that as the Body Of Christ.

Here is the only part that I’m putting in bold. If you can relate to this and are struggling with this or know someone who is…seek counseling. There are resources available that can help you. I’m just drawing and writing from my limited perspective. But there are professionals that can help you. Seriously. Jesus is right there with you. He was beaten, bloodied, stripped, and crucified for all the world to see. He knows pain inside and outside. He will stay with you until all of the pain is gone, no matter how long it takes. Honestly.

“If God Walked With People In The Cool Of The Evening…”

This comic strip is an extension of the questions “Who do you say Jesus is?” and “Do you believe Jesus is who He says He is?” These go together because how you answer the first question may not necessarily be the same as how you answer the second question. For example, you may say “Jesus was a great teacher teacher” (or Rabbi as in John 1:38, 49), but you may not believe what Jesus said about Himself, things like “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”

For a Bible passage to go with this comic strip, I was a bit lost. You see, I am at times a bit lost, and I feel that other people are a bit lost too. I think, “If I really believe that God became flesh and dwelt among us, if Jesus really is the Christ, the Son Of The Living God,” then my life should be radically different in some way. And likewise, if the church as a body across denominational and regional boundaries really does believe this, then the church should be radically different in some way. (Like without any teams or divisions…A church body where nobody is left out. Nobody.)

But I’m not always seeing that. 

The characters in the comic strip seem to be so sure that if only God would come and walk with them, everything would be different and better. Yet this is set in the same time period that Jesus Christ actually did just that. For a companion Bible passage,  I finally settled on this parable that Jesus told about a rich man and a poor man in Luke 16:19-31. It just seemed to best summarize what I’m feeling about all of this.

I had always considered the parable to be about believers (Lazarus, the poor man) and non-believers (the rich man). Now I’m wondering if maybe it’s not about me too as I think about how the parable ends.

“…He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:30-31 (NRSV)

If I really and truly do believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, shouldn’t that radically change how I conduct my life? How I treat other people? How people who believe as I do build a community of faith?

The beginning of a radical change, I believe, just might be spending some time with just Real Life Jesus in the cool of the evening. 

“It’s Not About Staying In Your Box”

The images used in this graphic page contrast two different worlds, yet whatever the Gospel is, it must have a message for both worlds.

It’s not always easy for me to choose words for pictures which carry so much meaning and emotion. The image of a child’s hand reaching out from that dark enclosed space through a small hole cut into a locked metal door is troubling. (I believe it was from a news story that I came across many months ago. It was about the imprisonment and forced labor of children in some country on the other side of the world.)

How can something like this be? What do you say to that child? What is the Gospel for that child? These questions create a feeling of helplessness in me. The only Bible verse that comes to mind is this.

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (NASB)

But is that really what we would say? “Believe in Jesus. He will make you free.” And then walk away from that small hand reaching out for help. Does that seem as uncaring to you as it does to me? My heart cries out for immediate rescue. I do not like the idea of any child shut away in a box.

What if that image strikes our hearts so deeply because it is really a representation of what each life is like without the light of Christ? Then aren’t we all the same as that child with the desperate hand? If not physically the same, then certainly spiritually the same without God’s intervention? Perhaps that is why it touches the heart so deeply.

This week I found the other image to pair with it. There is a small hand in it too, except it is expressing desire, wonder, and amazement at all the bags of candy and treats available inside a glass display box. What if we are so focused on what we want for ourselves and become so blinded by our own desires that we are unable to see the desperation of others? Have we not then created our own dark box of imprisonment?

While I chose it as an opposite, the more I study the two together, the more similarities I see. The first shows imprisonment to the desires of someone else. The second shows imprisonment to the desires of oneself. But both show imprisonment. I am also now less sure of which life is better. The first makes me think of people who have said, “My life is like Hell, so can Real Hell be any worse?” The second makes me think of people who have said, “Yeah, I’ll end up in Hell, but at least I’ll have fun getting there!” These perspectives are troubling. It is as if we must be imprisoned, either to someone else’s desires or to our own desires, but in the end, the result is the same. We just may be fortunate enough to choose our box of imprisonment. That’s really all the hope there is.

There must be an alternative. What was it again that Jesus said?

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (NASB)

Many of us have looked at our lives and said, “I do not know what else is out there, but it must be better than what is in here.” Even in the darkest cell created by others or created by ourselves, some light gets inside, and some hope remains.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5 (NRSV)

There are hearts shut away in boxes all around us. We don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to find them. It doesn’t matter whether they were put inside to fulfill someone else’s desires or by trying to fulfill their own desires. We are called to be His Light Bearers to every heart in every box. This is where inward attitudes and outward behaviors, I believe, come together to be the Body Of Christ.

“Tiptoeing Through The Flame Tulips”

With Mother’s Day come and gone, we can only imagine what that day may have been like for this cartoon family. (Remember, last Sunday’s comic strip was pulled to make way for the “Spokeschick“!) I imagine that the fancy award and title were just as artificial as the oversized bouquet. These were appeasements for Margie, “Flamethrower Mommy.”

So what do you think about fancy titles, awards, gifts, and being in the spotlight? I must admit that they are kind of nice at times, but they really do fade quickly.

When you think of a title like “The BEST Christian Mother Of The Year,” how do you feel about that? At first I’m thinking that’s fine, and there is sort of an understanding that most people believe their mother is “The BEST,” but I have to say I wonder about putting the word “Christian” in there. Does that imply that Hindu mothers and Buddhist mothers and Muslim mothers and Jewish mothers are somehow not quite as good? That their loving actions are somehow inferior in some way? I’m just asking. Sometimes little things like this make a difference in how we are perceived.

But this comic strip really isn’t about the question, “What makes a good mother?” or even “What does motherly love look like?” It’s more like “What does love look like?”

Does God even look at any of our love the way that people do? What if God perceives love somewhat like the way you and I perceive color? We see bright bold rich colors and we see dull drab poor colors. Could love be like that? Through God’s eyes?

What if Jesus has the ability to see love the way that we see light and color? It would be an astounding thing, wouldn’t you agree? Wouldn’t He see His own divine love radiating out from Himself, being reflected and dispersed through the lives of His followers just like each of us was a small prismatic mirror reflecting His divine love throughout the world?!?

What would Jesus call these people, these prismatic mirrors who have received and shared all that He has to give? What would be the greatest and BEST name or title He could give them? Surely it would be the longest most elaborate one ever, right?!?

No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. John 15:15 (NASB)

He would call them “Friend.” Can you really imagine a better title for yourself? “His Friend.”

Now back to the comic strip before closing! Amazing, isn’t it, that I waited until the end to point out how that the big yellow flame tulip looks remarkably like a blast from “Flamethrower Mommy” at her most unloving?!? If you don’t see the similarity, just browse back through a few “Flamethrower Mommy and Ghost Dad” comic strips! But tiptoe carefully!

“Warning: This Doesn’t Apply To Stupid Things!”

So what do you think about pain and hurting? Is it at its core basically the same for all of us regardless of what caused the pain? (Honestly this question is probably best NOT answered if you’re already in pain and hurting.) Can you create a hierarchy of painful things based on the cause? (Is losing a child in an automobile accident more or less painful than your spouse dying from cancer?) Would you discount Nate’s answer? (I’m guessing you probably would, but why? What makes it “stupid”?)

Here’s what I have learned from my life experiences about pain. (You don’t have to agree with these things. I don’t mind, and new experiences may change my perspective completely.)

Pain is pain, no matter what causes it…abuse, illness, loss, death.

Pain is like air, it tries to fill whatever vessel into which you place it…like how air fills a room or a balloon.

Pain can even make a vessel explode if the pain is beyond the capacity and strength of the container…a human heart.

When I think about the question, “What is the very worst thing ever that can happen to a person?” in light of these ideas, I must also ask, “What was the very worst thing ever for Jesus?”

I think most of us would agree with an answer somehow related to His crucifixion. “Waiting in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested and crucified” is what I think was “The Very Worst Thing Ever” for Him.

So if we want to know what to do when someone is dealing with pain and hurting, maybe it will help to know what Jesus wanted from His friends when He faced His own “Very Worst Thing Ever.”

Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” Matthew 26:38 (NASB)

He asked that they remain with Him, stay with Him, be with Him. “Remain here.” I think that is what we are called to do before anything else, at least at first, particularly when helping someone through something that is traumatic. There will be time to speak later, but listening and just being with someone should probably come first.

As for “Keep watch with Me,” I have always heard that was keeping watch for the Roman soldiers who were coming to arrest Him. Now I’m wondering if maybe “keep watch” might also mean “watching for Our Father’s answer to prayer, whatever that answer might be.”

I think perhaps this path is more difficult than saying things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “It’s all for God’s glory” or “God never gives us more than we can handle.” (These things might all be true, I’m not sure, but truth is more of a “mind thing” where pain is really a “heart thing.”)

It often takes a special kind of strength to “just be there” and walk silently and supportively with someone through their darkest days. In closing, I would like to suggest that we first apply this next often-quoted Bible verse to ourselves as listening helpers who are dedicated to “just being there” before sharing it with those we seek to help.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

Sometimes it takes a great deal of Christ’s own strength in us to help others, particularly when that help involves being mostly silent and listening. But we can do it, I believe, because Real Life Jesus knows the value of having someone to “remain here” in the painful circumstances and “keep watch” for Our Father’s answers to our prayers, whatever those answers may be.