Leaving Self-Harm Behind

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST DEALS WITH A SENSITIVE TOPIC RELATED TO SELF-INJURY DISORDER

My habit of hurting myself started young. Emotions became too intense or unfamiliar and I would hit myself, usually on the head. I had received messages of being bad, and bad kids deserve to be punished, so I would punish myself in a twisted attempt to become a better person. On top of this, I was taught certain emotions shouldn’t be expressed, so an entire range of feelings became unrecognizable and overwhelming to the point that I could only vent them in anger and misery.

Interestingly enough, this behavior didn’t make me a better person. As I punished “the bad kid,” I settled more into his role. Destructive relationships and behaviors became the norm, even as I was able to put forward a clean image when it mattered. Eventually, as an adult, those behaviors cost me a career, a sense of calling, and my sense of self at the time.

Now some might have let things end with that loss, but I was fortunate enough to have the support and access to help that enabled me to put some of my personal demons to rest. My behavior improved and I thought I was making real headway… Until my son was born.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to be his father. I love taking care of him full-time, with some part-time personal training to help pay the bills. I have found, however, that those feelings of not being good enough, that self-perception of being broken and inadequate, were all just waiting for a time to resurface. They did so with a vengeance.

I never hurt my son. Ever. But the hitting started again, and this time I have a couple of knots on my head to show for it. Fortunately, I have an amazing therapist who I was able to see yesterday morning for what became the most powerful step in my healing process that I have encountered thus far.

The thing is, Self-Injury Disorder is far more common than we’d like to think. Maybe you don’t hit yourself. Maybe it’s cutting, burning, scratching, breaking bones, or pulling hair. Perhaps you emotionally wound yourself with harsh words or thoughts, refusing to see the good in yourself but harping continually on any mistake you make. Some of us refuse to take compliments, berate ourselves, put ourselves in abusive relationships, or isolate ourselves from any intimacy, no matter how much we might want it.

My point is that even if you don’t fall within the most commonly held extremes, there is a good chance that you are not loving yourself the way you should. Many of us find creative ways to hurt ourselves, all because we learned somewhere along the way that we are undeserving of love.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In my session, I was asked to describe the hurt I carry. How heavy is it? What color? Where is it located? Finally…

What shape does it take when you picture it on the couch?

It was my 6-7 year old self. It was a little boy with dark brown hair, bright blue eyes, and a sad smile.

I was asked to talk to this boy. He was asking why he was being hurt. I told him that sometimes those who are hurting hurt others, but it’s not his fault. I was asked what I would do or say. I hugged him and just held on, as words didn’t seem necessary. I was asked how he responded. He cried and settled into me, and I told him it was okay to cry.

I told him I loved him, and I let him go. He needed to go be himself, knowing he wasn’t alone.

At the end of the session, my therapist asked if I would ever hit that boy.

I had never thought of things this way. I’m not big into such exercises, but this one got to me. I would never hurt my little boy, no matter how much trouble he got into. I don’t want to hurt anyone, so why does it make sense to hurt myself?

It doesn’t.

If I truly want to be a good person and live a good life, I can’t keep punishing myself for being human. I’ve made mistakes, many of them, but so has everybody else. It’s okay to feel things, intense things. It’s okay to not be okay, but if I have a habit of treating myself as “bad,” then my behavior will mirror that perception. The time has come for me to change the script of my life and understand that all I can do is be the best person I can be in every moment, and that is going to have to be enough.

I didn’t write this to give you some quick fix for your issues with self-injury, and I certainly haven’t been “cured.” I simply wanted to share my story thus far and let you know that you’re not alone. We all have something we need to heal, to make peace with, so that we can live happier, more fulfilling lives. I’ve decided to get help and make this cycle end with me. This won’t be something I pass on to my little boy, and I hope you will take steps toward wholeness for yourself.

There is no shame in telling a friend or family member what’s going on. If they make you feel ashamed, they weren’t much of a real friend/relative anyway. There is no shame in seeking professional help from your clergy, a counselor, or psychotherapist. There is no shame in therapy, medications, coping strategies, or other forms of self-care.

The only shame would be if you kept yourself from experiencing the beautiful soul you already are.

In my spirituality, you are precious and worthy of love because you exist. There is nothing to earn, punish, or harm that will make you more lovable because you yourself, as you are, are a beloved creation and a beautiful part of this world. The only thing left is to get the help needed to help you understand this basic, fundamental, and powerful truth. It may seem daunting, but rest assured that you’re not alone, and there is always hope.

Peace be with you!

** If you are having thoughts of harm or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255; if you need immediate help, call 911. Don’t wait.**

 

 

 

When Your Best is Your Worst

Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. — Luke 11:35, NRSV

We humans have a tendency to focus on the negative. If you’ve ever been in any kind of relationship at any time, you ought to be aware of this. We tend to notice and emphasize the flaws in ourselves and/or each other, and negative memories are often closer at hand than positive ones. Obviously, this isn’t good for us, but what do we do?

In the Scripture for today, Jesus reflects on the healthiness of our “eye,” for it “is the lamp of the body” (Luke 11:34). As such, the health of our “eye” determines whether or not we are full of light or darkness. We are cautioned to “consider whether the light in you is not darkness,” in order that we may be “full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays” (11:35-36).

This teaching of Jesus has a prophetic quality to it, meaning it is something of which we should always be aware. At any time, that which should lead us to living lives of light could become a means by which we stumble and bring about darkness. However, this also works in reverse!

When we face our darkness or that of others, it’s important to remember that the same qualities that drive us nuts are also part of what makes us beautiful. The trick is acknowledging this and tempering those qualities so that our light shines brighter and brighter.

For example, I deal with depression. I feel things intensely, and this can obviously cause problems for myself and others. However, it’s also true that this emotional turbulence is actually the inverse of the ferocity with which I love and care for other people. My wife deals with anxiety and is always looking for the next thing to accomplish or the next “life stage” we can get to. It drives me crazy! Yet I am also aware that this is simply the extreme of those qualities that make her the most gracious, accommodating, and driven person I know.

The light in us can easily become our darkness, and this is a life-long balancing act for which we should be graciously and compassionately prepared. Our gifts can quickly become our curses if we are not careful, and we can also be too quick to judge the darkness in one another without considering how these qualities are a part of what make them a source of light in the world. Likewise, when all we can see is the darkness, we should be encouraged by the knowledge that light is always close at hand!

You may be in a place in life that’s limiting your vision to your faults or those of others. Take heart, and remember that the light is never far. Sometimes all it takes is getting back into balance and focusing our energy on those parts of us in which God delights.

Peace be with you!

 

“You’re Worth Everything to Me”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. — John 3:16, NRSV

I don’t know about you, but there are many times that I don’t feel like I am worth much. Whether I’m struggling to feel deserving of love or the inability to forgive myself, there are just times when I can’t seem to see much good in who I am. This is a common affliction for many people, especially those of us who deal with depression, and that’s why I thought this story needed to be told.

Over the past year or so, I have been more or less stuck in a constant state of low self-worth. The loss of my career, calling, and spirituality all in one fell swoop left me reeling, and while the resulting personal growth has been tremendous, it’s come at the cost of my sense of identity. About two weeks ago, things had been particularly rough in that regard… But then I went to Mass at our Episcopal Church.

Now this isn’t a story about church or prayer fixing everything. I know things aren’t typically that simple, so don’t check out just yet. But as I was sitting in prayerful reflection before service, kneeling in the pew, my crucifix in my hands, I had an experience that I’ve never had before.

In the midst of pouring my heart out, pleading for guidance and consolation, words came into my mind. I didn’t hear a voice, but they were just… there. As I knelt there agonizing over my life and whether or not I was doing or being anything worthwhile, the words, “You’re worth everything to me” came to mind. The thought was so out-of-place, and it caused me to look down at my beloved talisman with new eyes.

Paul teaches us in Romans 5 that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” In that moment, I realized the truth that before I even existed, before I ever did anything considered good or bad, God, in Christ, gave His very life that I may know the extent of His love. He did this not just for me, but for you as well. Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are to serve as reminders that God’s love for all of us is powerful enough to overcome every doubt and fear.

Since that moment, I have known far more peace than I ever remember having. I still have my depression and self-doubts, but I also have this experience from which to draw strength, and I wanted to share it with you in the hopes that it might remind you how loved you really are. The symbol of faith that I have always loved, the crucifix, used to be a reminder to me that sin costs life. Now, it is a reminder that the love of God is limitless, and that God saw us as worth dying for before we ever set foot on this planet.

I’ve become painfully aware in recent days that we are more and more obsessed with measuring each other’s worth in terms of whose side we are on. What do we accomplish? Did they get the right education? Did he vote for the right candidate? Does she agree with me? All of these questions and more seem to be the new standard by which we determine whether or not someone is deserving of our love and respect. It seems to me that such harsh judgment is an indication of how hard we actually are on ourselves, projected onto others.

Your worth does not consist of what you do or don’t do. Your value is not based on how you look, what you possess, or what mistakes you do or don’t make. God decided long before we were here that we are to be called “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and that we are to bear His divine image for the benefit of the world.

It is my prayer that this brief testimony serves you in whatever way you need. I hope you come away reminded of the insurmountable love God has for you, and that you always remember that you, as you are, are more than enough.

Peace be with you!

 

And The Lord Saith, “Do Nothing”

But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur. — Luke 1:20, NRSV

Traditionally, we look at this passage in Scripture and proceed to contrast the story of Zechariah with that of Mary. Zechariah disbelieves Gabriel’s message while Mary embraces it. In standard teachings, Zechariah is merely the negative foil to Mary’s exquisite faith, apart from being the faithful father of John the Baptist.

When I stumbled across this passage recently, though, something different caught my attention. When Zechariah asks, “How will I know this is so?”, he is looking for security, assurance. Sure, he is doing it in the face of a divine messenger who literally appears out of nowhere, but it is something we all do. We crave security, and we want to have as much control as we can in life.

In ancient near eastern culture, childbearing was the greatest sign of blessing. For Israel in particular, bearing a child was a physical reminder of God’s promise to prosper the nation, making them as numerous as the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5). This is why the Bible has such strong opinions on marriage and procreative sexuality. It is also why Zechariah and Elizabeth were considered to be in disgrace, because, despite their righteousness, they were a barren couple.

When we understand that, Zechariah’s skepticism (which mirrors Abraham and Sarah’s), makes sense. He wants to be assured that when he tells his wife (and others) that they’re going to have a baby, it freakin’ happens! Otherwise, their disgrace would be amplified.

The first problem with this, though, is Zechariah’s source. Gabriel, the messenger of God, is probably not one to come play a cruel prank. This is a divine message, not some cosmic episode of Punk’d.

Second, and more importantly, there are no guarantees in life. It’s a cliche, but it’s a lesson we desperately need to learn, just like Zechariah. You see, Zechariah is being told what’s going to happen (“until the day these things occur,” 1:20). Outside of sex with his wife, there is nothing Zechariah is expected to do to bring things to fruition. The results do not depend on him, and we all know how scary it is when important aspects of our lives rest outside of our ability to control them.

In response to Zechariah’s questions, Gabriel does something that seems punitive. I mean, he takes away the guy’s speech, which also probably made seducing Elizabeth hilarious. I imagine lots of eyebrow waggling and gestures… Anyway.

When we look a little closer, though, Gabriel’s action is more of a “blessing in disguise.” All Zechariah can do is sit back, go (quietly) about his regular life, and wait to see what God does. This is also all we can do.

I know this isn’t what some of us want to hear, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Whether it’s a job interview, pregnancy, asking for a date, or awaiting diagnosis, there is a broad spectrum of life events with outcomes we cannot determine. We normally view this as a horrible aspect of living, and many of us refuse to accept or admit it, but what if it is actually a blessing?

When we obsess over the details and outcomes of life various issues, are we being healthy? When last I looked, continuous stress contributes to declines in physical and emotional health (it’s science). Our enjoyment of life is made less and less possible as we try to guide (force?) life to go the way we would prefer.

But what if I told you all you were in charge of is living your life? What if, instead of fighting or fearing the truth of our limited power, we embraced it? Life would consist of actual living, where we take care of business, but also make space for the Spirit of God to do its work. Uncertainty would serve as a reminder to take time to enjoy our short time on this earth as opposed to obsessing over it.

I believe this was Gabriel’s message to Zechariah, and it is God’s message to us. If Gabriel (and God) wanted to punish him, the birth of John could have been given to someone else. Instead, Zechariah gets to learn a powerful lesson about his own powerlessness as he also experiences the birth of his son. In the end, both of these things prove to be sources of joy.

So for us, that which normally worries us can actually provide us happiness. We cannot control everything in life, nor are there any guarantees. When all we can do is wait and see, perhaps it is best we employ a bit of faith and spend our time doing what we can by loving those around us, honoring the gift of life and the One who gives it to us.

I’m not suggesting some “pie in the sky” view of life. I suffer from depression, and I know many of you may suffer from anxiety. It’s important that you realize, dear reader, that I am not advocating the view that anxiety, stress, and worry are sinful. Rather, I am affirming the need for us to engage in self-care and seek treatment so that we may live life fully. It is true, however, that we must be willing to admit when we are being unhealthy, accept our dependence, and find a way to move forward.

So no matter what you have going on in your life, I hope you will accept this teaching from Zechariah. Yes, there are things you and I cannot control, and worry is an inevitable response, but we can also learn to respond with faith. When we understand our own limited power and that each day is ultimately a gift, we are free to guide our efforts away from what we cannot affect and toward those people and causes in our lives that mean the most to us. This is God’s gift to us, and I pray you’ll join me in accepting it.

Peace be with you!

 

 

The Holiness of Nothing

And you shall do no work on this same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. — Leviticus 23:28, RSVCE

I was thumbing through Leviticus 23 this morning, which addresses all of the major feasts and festivals to be celebrated by the nation of Israel. I noticed the ideas of Sabbath and rest occur pretty frequently in this passage, and so I thought, “What better topic for a Monday than rest?” Indeed, I think it is an underappreciated mandate of the Old Testament, especially for all that Hebrews has to say about it.

In our current non-stop, competitive culture, “rest” is what you do when you have a little spare time. Rest is what we are to do after we clock-out, finish our various tasks, and squeeze every last ounce of productivity from our bones. Too often, our notion of “rest” is limited to the 5-ish hours of pseudo-sleep we allow ourselves before doing it all over again.

This refusal to recover contributes to our obesity and heart disease crisis, in addition to negatively impacting our relationships with God, ourselves, and each other. We even wear our exhaustion and poor health as a badge of honor, bragging about who sleeps, eats, or uses vacation days the least. On the other side, those who miss work or nap are considered lazy or unproductive. Those who take mental health days are considered “sensitive” or “snowflakes” who haven’t yet matured into proper, self-damaging workers.

Turning to the religious realm, salvation is viewed in relation to what we do or accomplish. Sure, we are “saved by faith” in the Christian world, but properly living out the Gospel involves action. Mission trips, committees, Sunday School, repairs, Fall Festival, soup kitchens, prayer meetings, weekly worship, and private devotional life are all ways we “keep connected” to God and the Church… But what about Sabbath?

What about that pesky commandment that encourages us to find holiness in… nothing? What if we took one day per week to just “be?” Surely our bank accounts would hit zero, our kids would starve, and we’d lose our connection to our Savior… Or not.

In the Leviticus text, every festival that requires a holy convocation simultaneously functions as a Sabbath. “You shall do no work.” By my count, this command occurs at least 8 times in chapter 23. Clearly, this is an important part of Israel’s holy convocations, but why?

After praying over this question, it came to me that in Leviticus (and the Bible as a whole), holiness is not the product of human effort. Rather, it is the result of God’s presence, and the Sabbath reminds us of that. No amount of sacrifices, office hours, Bible studies, mission trips, volunteering, sleepless nights, or heart attacks will earn us the peace and holiness that come from God alone. We are mortal, finite creatures that need rest, play, and time spent in unproductive community for its own sake.

I don’t even like that some people try to justify rest as ultimately productive. “Well it is productive because you have the energy to achieve more later!” You’ve missed the point. Rest is good because it reminds us of our dependence. It is good because our bodies and spirits need it to survive and thrive. Sabbath rest is a necessary reminder that God gives us this world and this life that they may be enjoyed. We are reminded that holiness comes from a relationship with God that extends beyond all our external religious expressions.

I know that we all can’t always afford to set a whole day aside to nothing, but that is okay. How about an hour a day? What if we took a little time every day to just “be?” Take a nap, read a book, watch a garbage television show, play, or talk about nothing with your loved ones. All the while, keep in mind that this is God’s gift to you, reminding you to lean on Him and the holiness He grants to us as an act of grace. After all, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Peace be with you!

What Everybody Wants

And [God} said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” — Exodus 33:14, RSVCE

Rest is amazing. It is something we all desperately want and need, yet it is also one of the most elusive states of being in existence. Shoot, I just spent the last week not sleeping well at all due to my own struggles with depression/anxiety, as my routines had been disrupted and I had been admittedly lax in maintaining the practices that help keep things well-managed. Over the weekend, though, I picked up my consistent journal habit again, and I eliminated some “clutter” in my life (both emotional and physical) that had been adding to my stress as opposed to helping it. Add to that a weekend spent with family and friends (including the furry one killing me with snuggles, pictured above), and I found myself able to finally get some much-needed sleep after my 5:30 am training appointment today.

While all of these physical and emotional aides provided much benefit, it was the spiritual revelation of the weekend that really helped me to find my center again. While reading Exodus 33, I came across the passage wherein Moses earnestly requests that God’s presence be restored to the people after their idolatrous worship of a bovine idol in the previous chapter. This incident led to a questionable slaughter demanded by Moses, followed by a plague from God (a trend in Exodus), all of which resulting in God’s withdrawing from the people in order that they may not be consumed (33:3). After some time, however, Moses makes a request that I feel gets at the heart of our desperation for some true rest and peace.

In our quest for finding peace in life, we turn to a thousand different things. After all, if we only had that dream job, car, family, high, degree, president, spouse, house… THEN everything would be okay, right?

Ha. Sure.

What ends up happening is a meltdown, because turning to temporary things only produces temporary results. We invest so much time and energy into things that can be taken away in an instant. Our identities get bound up with what we do, who we know, where we live, and/or whatever we happen to accomplish in the eyes of humanity. All the while, true rest and peace continue to elude us because a good, spiritual return on investment cannot come from devotion to secular things.

So now that I have ruined that for everyone, I suppose you want to hear something positive.

… Fine.

While rest will always elude us if we place our hope in our own accomplishments, there is a way we can gain real peace in this life, here and now. No, I’m not selling some miracle drug or quick fix. I am, instead, issuing an invitation to the very relationship Moses manages to salvage in the passage for today. You see, Moses isn’t trying to use God to gain victory over foreign armies, nor is he begging God for more miracles by which to convince people of their need to change. He is simply asking that the relationship between God and Israel be restored because it is that relationship that makes the entire nation worth anything in the first place. As Moses says, “Is it not thy going with us, so that we are distinct” (33:16).

I am not promising that turning to God will get you everything you want, but I do guarantee you will get what you need, and that includes precious, precious rest. Your identity as a child of God, one who bears the Divine image (because you do, indicated in Genesis 1:26-27), can never be taken from you. It is irrevocable. In Christ, God is with us “always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20), and that presence brings with it immeasurable and insurmountable peace and joy.

Does this mean life will always be happy? No. If anything, challenges will multiply, as resting in God runs totally counter to our current culture. However, this is entirely worth it. Imagine a life wherein your worth is not determined by what you accomplish, what job you have, your family dynamics, your national identity, or any of the other temporarily satisfying criteria the world tries to force upon us. Imagine that your worth has been irrevocably established by Jesus Christ, who saw fit to die for you in a heartrending expression of Divine love. Imagine you now stand in the freedom to live a life full of the peace and rest that only God can give. Now imagine no longer, because it is true.

Self-care is absolutely necessary for us to live physically and emotionally healthy lives. To be spiritually healthy, however, our needs can only be met through relationship with the One who would die for us, and whose radical love imparts to us an identity that cannot be shaken down or taken away. It is my prayer that you will accept this invitation, and finally receive your share of the rest that God so yearns to give you.

Feel free to share your thoughts by commenting, or reach out to me with your own thoughts, topics, or ideas via the Contact page!

Thanks for stopping by, and peace be with you!

Love God? Love All

“O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.”

— Psalm 26:8, NRSV

On a Sunday, few things could be more fitting than to discuss the House of the Lord! For many of us, that means our church, our local place of worship. For the author(s) of the Psalms (and much of the rest of Scripture), that term referred to the temple in Jerusalem. Judging by the state of the so-called “Holy Land,” there are many who still see God as especially present in that particular area, though the idolatrous violence would indicate otherwise. I, on the other hand, believe this Psalm, in conjunction with a little New Testament, can point us all in a better direction, closer to the One who loved us first.

What does it mean to love the house in which God dwells? Perhaps our good friend Paul can shed some light on this. If we look at 1 Corinthians 3:16, we are taught that we “are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in” us. This makes sense, considering the fact that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands,” indicated in Acts 7, with Stephen quoting Isaiah 66:1. Further, this understanding of us being the temple of God puts us in position to fulfill a very important commandment… the greatest one, actually.

Matthew 22:34-40 teaches us that the greatest commandment is that we “love the Lord [our] God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” How do we do this?

Wait for it…

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” BOOM.

You see, one a fundamental level, the Spirit of God dwells in all who live. After all, Genesis 2:7 reveals God forming humanity “from the dust of the ground, and breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life,” making the first human into a living being. The Spirit is God’s breath, God’s wind, present at the moment of creation. In this sense, all that have the breath of life, especially humans (made in the image of God), are imbued with the Spirit of the living God, and thereby serve as a dwelling place for God. Now, believers are given a fresh awakening, a powerful outpouring of that same Spirit that transforms their lives, but fundamentally, all things are God’s, regardless of how they use that gift.

The point? How we love ourselves and each other is how we love God. Don’t believe me (or don’t want to)? Check out Matthew 25, wherein Jesus teaches us that whatever we do (or don’t do) for others, “you did it to me.” In order to truly love God, we must truly love ourselves and others. Why? Because God is not found in the rocks of the Holy(ish) Land, nor is God especially present in the cathedrals, garages, or worship centers we attend. God is found within His creation, within His people. As such, we must love ourselves and each other if we ever want to truthfully claim to love God.

Crafty, right?

Now, I know. Loving ourselves and each other is a hefty task. It means facing some things about ourselves we don’t want to. Perhaps it is getting the counseling or help we need so that our destructive cycles can stop (as in my case). Perhaps it is recognizing that we don’t have all the answers, and those of different opinions are just as valuable as we are in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it means starting to reduce, reuse, and recycle, ordering less food, and caring more for the world we have been trusted with. There are many ways to start truly loving, we just have to have the grace and the courage to get started.

It is my prayer that today you remember that God loves and dwells within you and others (yes, even those you don’t want to like). God earnestly desires us to understand this, evident in the teachings of Christ revealed in the Scriptures. If we can learn to take those baby steps toward loving ourselves as we are, and loving others where they are, we can look forward to the heavenly blessings God intends to shower upon this world. I believe in you! Pray for me!

Peace be with you!