A troubled teen who cuts on herself or himself is one of the best evidences for the truth of God, His Word, and His Way. I will explain this later in the article. Recently, a girl arrived at our boarding school whose arms looked like two U.S. road maps. Her scars will most likely be forever. One of the cuts nearly clipped an artery. The day she arrived, my wife was called to the shower house where it took her and two other staff members to restrain this ninety pound ball of super human strength. As my wife tried to keep the girl from slamming her own head against the concrete floor, the girl kept trying to bite her. Her head flailed to and fro with jaws snapping like a shark towards my wife’s fingers and hands. It was a vicious scene as the other two staff members tried to control her torso. No psychotherapy was administered to this troubled teen. As she was restrained, bible stories were softly spoken to her along with prayer. This is not our typical protocol; but, it was what the staff felt led to do. I know it sounds weird; but, it worked. After she calmed down, the girl was embraced with love and positive affirmations. After this; appropriate consequences were also given despite the fact that it would have been easy to forgo them since her consequences could be considered already self inflicted, albeit self–destructive in nature. Many secular professionals may have considered her ordeal “punishment” enough. A more compassionate route would have been most likely their normal approach. Compassion defined by the devil, accomplishes the devil’s ends.
It’s been nearly three weeks since the incident in the shower house with our troubled teen girl. We have loved this girl; but, the love has been as God defines love–not as Hollywood defines it. We haven’t mollycoddled her as so many kids are today. We’ve required much from her in the way of behavior and doing her part on and around campus. This is something I don’t think had been required of her up to this point in her life. Many “professionals” look at a girl who has self mutilated, like this girl, and want to cower to her every desire out of compassion for her situation, exactly what the spiritual part of her doesn’t want! One man said, “We can have so much compassion upon man as to be in high-handed rebellion towards God.” We have certainly exercised Godly love toward this girl, hugged her, and affirmed our love for her in every way possible, while taking care of her every need. Some of her desires, like calling an old “friend” from back home, haven’t been accommodated; because, they would be detrimental to her healing. We haven’t relieved her of the appropriate consequences of her actions, despite her ability to self mutilate.
What many people don’t understand is even though there is terrible turmoil going on inside individuals like this; it doesn’t excuse the fact that consequences still need to take place after an offense has occurred, regardless of the fact that the individual has a history of self injurious behavior. This will actually contribute to the individuals healing since they are seeking justice in the first place. What people need to understand is that, in so many of these cases, the reason these kids are harming themselves is because of their warped outworking of justice. Their desire for justice isn’t warped; but, there means of carrying it out is. How does one administer justice on one’s own behalf? Doesn’t justice usually require an authority figure to see it carried out? Nobody else is exercising any discipline on their behalf; consequently, they resort to a warped form of their own discipline all on the unconscious or spiritual level. All they know is that it relieves their emotional pain. This is why a fugitive turns himself in after ten years of running from the law.
There definitely needs to be an appropriate consequence for a sinful offense, perhaps even a painful consequence. However, there is a difference between hurt and harm. Harmful discipline leaves ugly scars and damage. On the other hand, appropriate “hurt” in the form of discipline brings healing and health. The “hurt” isn’t necessarily a physical hurt or pain, but it can be. Proverbs 27: 6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” Psalm 141: 5 says, “Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindness; let him rebuke me–it is oil only my head.” Oil was known as a healing agent. The surgeon that cuts you isn’t harming you, but helping you. So many kids today are exposed to and engaged in activities that deserve consequences in God’s economy. However; they are experiencing little or no consequences, their inner need for justice takes over, and it manifests in a warped sense of self flagellation. This could be averted if someone in legitimate authority would exercise their responsibilities before God. Unfortunately, almost nobody will, not the state; not the schools; not the parents; not even the church. Political correctness, legal liability, and in some cases, the law will not allow it. I would like to ask all those institutions how it’s been working out for them?
What most people (parents in particular) don’t seem to understand, or believe, is just how much exposure to sinful, harmful stimuli our kids are getting these days. Parents are even less aware of how much of it their kids are actually engaged in, and even less aware of the adverse effect it is having on their hearts, minds, spirits, and brain chemistry. The world has always had its Greek, Roman, and Sodom and Gomorrah societies down through history. But, it’s never had it all piped into every home, hand, eye, and ear 24/7 as one’s own personal self destructive instruction manual for sin–never! Whatever perversion adults used to be exposed to or engaged in didn’t happen with the frequency, intensity, or expediency of today’s techno–push-button–world, and certainly not with the sanctioning of the entire society. But, whatever damage today’s stimuli is doing to adults, it is magnified infinitely in today’s young people. Young kids are having their brains cross wired with this stuff. I’m talking science here! But, just because there is science to give empirical evidence for my point, it doesn’t negate the fact that this is spiritual at its root. Science gives evidence to the spiritual. Most people know of the scientific studies that show what happens to the human brain when a person is exposed to pornography.
As far as pornography goes, it used to be that young people would sneak a peek at adults having sex. Today, it’s often older people openly and unblushingly watching kids have sex. Unfortunately, the voyeurs are all too often other kids who eventually become active participants in their own home movies and other perversions of God’s design for sex. Each encounter stimulates chemicals in the brain which make these encounters more and more appetizing to the flesh. Unfortunately, the more the flesh becomes gratified, the less the Spirit of the individual becomes satisfied. The result is a painful exponential separation between body, soul, and spirit. Sadly enough, it’s a separation that sin is so infamous for.
The cutting phenomenon is only about a dozen years old, about the same time political correctness and the Internet came into play. Now a kid can observe and engage in all the rebellion and perversions of the world with none of the appropriate consequences. Consequently, to feel halfway normal, kids inflict inappropriate consequences on themselves. There is an argument that tattooing is just a lesser form of a similar thing, a way for others to notice what’s going on inside them. I couldn’t argue it either way. What I find interesting is, once again, doing things God’s way has brought a smile and laughter to the face of another child who so desperately needed to experience the love of God as God defines love. Like so many other troubled teens have done in the past at our boarding school, our newest girl who was self mutilating, recently thanked a staff member for holding her accountable and for our “don’t give in and don’t give up” approach to nurturing her.
Any good athlete is made better with a good coach who understands the concept of “no pain no gain.” What makes the coach good and effective is that he doesn’t care how the athlete feels about him during the tough exercises the athlete is made to endure. He is looking ahead to the prize for which both he and the athlete can rejoice in the future. A good parent does the same. Just read Hebrews 12.
Right about now, one may be asking the question: “If kids are inflicting their own pain, how is the pain of discipline from a legitimate authority figure going to be any more effective?” Good question; but, I think I can give a good answer. Pain inflicted by harming one’s own body is certainly warped. True Godly discipline isn’t about harm, though it could hurt. In addition, it is administered in love by a legitimate authority who has taken the time and energy to enforce a boundary that, deep in the spirit of a child, they know they need. In fact, they desperately want it, even though they can’t always immediately articulate this. It spells “love and security” to a child. As they mature, they will eventually be able to articulate it; I see it all the time. The way I bring this to light for adults is by way of traffic lights, yes traffic lights. Nobody I talk to likes to be detained by them. In fact, a lot of road rage takes place because of them. Interestingly; everyone I’ve ever talked to about traffic lights have always affirmed that if they had to vote them in, or vote them out, they would vote them in. Traffic lights are a discipline they would want imposed on them because of the security it brings them to be free of harmful accidents.
We must remember, one sure sign that something is going on in the spiritual realm is our inability to articulate what we are trying to communicate or what is being communicated to us. There are times when you and your spouse are not pleased with one another; nothing has been said verbally, nor any body language expressed, but you just know something isn’t right. Discipline, when properly administered, is a deeply spiritual exercise in communication. It communicates a deeper side of love that transcends articulation. The strange thing for most carnally stifled human beings to understand is that this deeper side of love can sometimes hurt deeply; yet, it never harms.
In general; when a legitimate authority figure, who the child loves and respects and has a healthy relationship with, administers consistent appropriate discipline at appropriate times, self injurious behavior (SIB) doesn’t happen. A great problem today is that very few parents have committed themselves to a biblical worldview anymore when it comes to their role as loving, authoritative disciplinarians. In many cases, the culture, political correctness, and even the law, have made parents to feel they are without recourse. I’ve polled many parents who claimed their biggest fear raising their teens today is not sex, drugs, rock and roll, gangs or guns; it’s going to jail for trying to exercise appropriate disciplines and restraints. Our governments, in an attempt to curb abuse, have now created a scenario where kids are abusing themselves in much more insidious ways than an abusive parent ever could, and in greater numbers. In addition, the abuse kids are inflicting upon themselves is harm, not just hurt.
Someone may think that a troubled teen who exercises self harm is exercising all the justice and consequences needed. This is a demonic justice. Kids are starving for boundaries; and for someone who is older, wiser, bigger, stronger, and more determined to do what is right than they are to do wrong to enforce these boundaries. This is where their sense of security comes from. It is also why gangs are so popular. Gangs give boundaries and enforce them! But, like self mutilation, it’s warped and evil. Appropriate consequences given by an authority figure the child trusts and respects is the remedy for delinquent behavior. It is how God has ordained things.
Atonement is a God ordained remedy for sin. What these kids are attempting to do by cutting themselves is a demonic counterfeit of the Atonement. Tell this to your garden variety secular theorist, and in their eyes your credibility as a counselor or therapist will go right out the window. They don’t see what we see, living with these kids around the clock for a year. Once kids understand that Christ has fulfilled this for them on the cross, the light bulb comes on and the healing begins. God dictates the guidelines of atonement, not man. What these kids are attempting to do is deeply spiritual. It’s just not Holy Spiritual. They are attempting to atone for their own sin, atonement sponsored by the lie of the devil. Cutting themselves brings them a semblance of relief from the mental, emotional, and spiritual torture that their exposure and indulgence in sinful activity has provided for them. It is a catharsis, like any sinful behavior, feels good only for a short while. Modern psychology doesn’t understand this, because it is spiritual in nature and outside the bounds of their professional discipline.
Today’s kids are exposed to and engaged in infinitely more sin than any generation in history. It’s not that previous generations where never exposed to and engaged in these things. It just never happened with the frequency and license as it is today. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are virtually crammed down their throats in every direction they turn; at every button they push (and there are many today); on every screen, billboard, or magazine they see; out of every speaker they hear; and, available from every person they encounter. They can’t even get breaks during the commercials without someone telling them they need to be larger longer and do it more often!
Man becomes weary of pleasure before he becomes weary of pain, especially when it’s sinful pleasure. Too much pleasure makes even the pleasure painful. Isn’t it interesting that on the flipside pain can actually be pleasurable, as in the case of cutting? Have you ever eaten too much? Hell is being insatiable. Heaven is balance. These kids know nothing of balance. Life is about balance. But, our culture pushes “more” is better.” When the “more” is grade A sin everywhere you turn, and all the time without anyone stopping you, you go nuts. Ravi Zacharias has stated: “The loneliest time in a person’s life is when he has just accomplished what he thought would bring him the ultimate, and it has let him down.” Our kids have too often pleasured themselves into imbecility, and we have let them.
We have let them; because, we are too busy. Now they feel like lonely, unloved, damaged goods. There is a deep emotional, psychological and spiritual pain that comes from this. While our kids are cutting, our busyness keeps us clueless. In the 1980’s there were shirts and bumper stickers that stated the mentality of our times, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Well, now our kids are playing with all those toys without us; because, we are too busy working so hard to pay for all of them. We have choked out our families with stuff to the point of a 50% divorce rate and a generation of kids who are poster children for the fact that affluence and materialism isn’t the god we once thought it was. The sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960’s has worked its way to its natural end. Now we are paying for it with our kids’ blood. Sin rarely, if ever, affects just the sinner.
Getting back to our latest encounter with kids who cut, just a few short days later our girl’s countenance is transformed. She is glowing and is now high stepping and taking in a totally new way of looking at life and reality. This girl is reviving! She is just one example of many I could tell you about. Unfortunately, there will always be those who will choose to wallow in their suffering and pain, because they can never come to grips with the fact that Jesus Christ is who He claims to be; did what His Word claims He did; and will do what His Word said He will do. To do so would mean to them the surrendering of their own will to the God who created them. It would mean bringing to light the darkness they have been so in love with, the darkness they have enjoyed because their deeds were evil. Those who have not allowed Christ to atone for their sins will still glorify Him despite their rebellion. Unfortunately, they will have to go to hell for it. For so many kids, that hell has already begun in the here and now. Cutting is their atonement; but it will never save them from their sin — not in this world, and certainly not in the next. These kids need what kids and adults of all ages have needed from the beginning. They need atonement via the only qualified entity possible. They need Jesus Christ.