A few months ago, I sat around a campfire staring at the flames while toasting marshmallows with 14 friends at our last Growth Group (Bible study) meeting of the school year. I have always loved fire. I grew up camping with my family and am used to having a camp fire nearby to cook over and keep warm, but mostly to toast marshmallows to a perfect golden brown for s’mores (a small but passionate hobby of mine). However, I have not been able to go camping with my family or anyone for a long time. Thus, sitting around a small fire in Steph’s backyard with these few friends with whom I had started to get close was an immensely pleasurable experience for me. We talked and laughed, played a few worship songs and enjoyed each others’ company one last time as a group before finals brought the school year to a close, before seniors graduated and moved on to the next phase of their lives. All the while, I studied the flames as they gradually waned from the strong, bright yellow-white flames into smoldering, red-hot coals, and finally died out, leaving cold grey ash in the bottom of the pit.
Just as gradually as the flames diminished, I began to think over my past struggles and the different phases of pain and growth I have gone through in the recent past. As we talked, I thought over the entire process of the fire, from dry wood lit by a small spark, fanned into a blazing flame that gradually got smaller, yet somehow hotter until its fuel was finally depleted and it died out. As I turned this metaphor of the flames as a representation of trials in our lives over in my mind, I thought of how my struggles with self-harm started innocently enough – an accident provided the tiny spark which would ignite a long, raging battle inside and outside of me.
Yet once the spark was established, the winds of adversity and the enemy’s lies fanned into flame that which without further provocation might have easily fizzled out into nothingness.
Things steadily got hotter – my battle with lies from the enemy, self-hatred and cutting incrementally got worse until one day I woke up to discover how far deep I had already gone – without realizing it along the way. Like the flames, things increasingly got hotter and hotter; when the outer flames of self-injury seemed to die down, that was when the fire was in its hottest state: burning-hot coals. During that time, encountering torturous thoughts of temptation, extreme insomnia, and experimentation with other forms of self-injury occurred daily. I cycled through hateful thoughts towards myself, my life and everything about me, hurting myself while abhorring it, and then loathing myself for allowing myself to do it once again, finally coming full circle to harm yet again.
From my life and upon hearing other peoples’ testimonies of living through hardship in their lives, I have come to the conclusion that the cliché “the darkest hour is just before the dawn” is actually often true. It certainly was in my case. The coals are the hottest stage of the fire, and everyone knows that after they cool down, they are reduced to a dull gray ash. Some may argue that the smoldering coals would be the “darkest hour” part of the fire; the time when hardship is at its height, temptation at its strongest, and pain at its most intolerable. Yet in my experience, although hardship, temptation and pain are inevitable truths in the coals stage, it is not the stage containing the “darkest hour.” Perhaps surprisingly to some, the darkest hour is in fact the ashes stage which immediately follows the coals.
After the heat has tempered and smoke signals the demise of the fire, what remains in the fire pit are the cooling ashes. This is the point at which ambition, courage, and most importantly hope begin to die out. Whilst the literal fire dies and turns to ash, defeat replaces dreams, pain overcomes faith, despair conquers hope. In short, this is the dying stage. For me, it was a literal death. After enduring the hell-on-earth experience of the coals, I lost all desire to live and decided death was the next and only option for me. This was my ashes stage. But the amazing fact that I am here writing this means that my life didn’t stay in the ashes stage. Obviously, I didn’t die, though I tried so hard, at best I only came very close.
But guess what: there’s good news.
According to the Bible, what rises from the ashes is not dead at all, it is Beauty. As in my case, it takes a lot of time and hard work to rise from the ashes changed, made new, and beautiful. But it can be done, when you give your whole heart and control over to Jesus accept His forgiveness and allow him to break your chains, bind up your wounds and bring His brilliant light into your dark life.
Jesus takes your ashes upon himself and in return gives you His crown, His joy, His strength and His beauty. His love overwhelms everything else if you only let it.
The Year of the LORD’s Favor
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
The whole journey of transformation has many stages, but the Ashes turned to Beauty step is, in my opinion, the most vital. You can choose to stay in the ashes stage, miserable, broken and bound. Or you can choose freedom. Only Jesus can break you free from your past and make you totally and completely new. All you have to do is choose him. I did; and He has changed my heart and given me life again. Will you choose him too?
Do you feel like you “just can’t live like this anymore”?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been hurt many times in your past, but you’ve simply refused to deal with your pain, burying it deep inside, hoping that the popular saying “time heals all wounds” will be true in your life. Do you often avoid dealing with your pain by subsequently creating yet another wound for yourself (either physically, emotionally, or spiritually), which inevitably welcomes even more pain that continues to mask that original pain – the ROOT? If any of that describes your life at all, today is the day to STOP DISTRACTING YOURSELF and deal with that beastly pain once and for all.
The first thing you must do to begin healing is to: acknowledge your current pain. In order to acknowledge your “condition,” you have to uncover your wounds, essentially remove the “masks” you have hid behind for so long. You must rip off that old band aid! Because by covering it up, you are denying your pain ever happened, and that simply causes more festering (rotting, spoiling, decaying, destroyed, weakening, tainted, corrupted, polluted, and contamination) of your wound. When you keep a wound covered and in the dark, it heals slower. Sunlight actually heals the wound faster than keeping a band aid on it! Jesus can “shine a light on the dark places and fill up those gaping wounds in our hearts” (*Beckham). So let that light shine on the dark, hidden places in your life!
“Behold, I will bring it to health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security…I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.” -Jeremiah 33:6,8
If a wound stays in the dark for too long unattended to, it becomes INFECTED.
“He shall remain unclean as long as he has the infection. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” -Leviticus 13:46
An infected wound HURTS! Satan, your enemy, can use that pain to imbue (permeate or infuse) emotions such as bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness inour hearts. These toxic emotions only lead us into more pain, despair, and hopelessness. Isn’t it lonely when you’re hurting? And you isolate yourself even more when you’re hurting, by lashing out in anger, withdrawing from relationship, or wallowing in your pain. But – in order to heal in infected injury, the doctor has to slice open the wound so that it can heal from the inside out.
Jesus said, “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may also be clean.” – Matthew 23:26b
The opening of the wound will hurt more, BUT your wound will never heal until you take off that bandage and let God slice open your heart.The chorus of the song “From the Inside Out” by Hillsong says, “In my heart and my soul / Lord, I give you control / consume me from the inside out.” This speaks to me personally, and tells me that I I have to surrender to God everything: my heart that’s wounded, my soul that reasons away the pain, and my mind that seeks to control the situation. IF I do that, THEN the Great Physician and our Ultimate Healer will heal my infected wounds “from the inside out.”
Your wound inevitably will be ugly, especially if it’s been kept in the dark for a long time, but you must look at it and admit that it happened. It’s yours, you have to take ownership for it! And it has to be dealt with, not just coped with.
The second thing you need to do to start healing is to take a look at how you got here in this condition, with hidden and infected wounds. In order to move forward with your life without your wounds, you have to move back – travel back in time – to find when and how the wounds were initially inflicted. God already knows what and who have caused you pain; yet revisiting memories is not for God’s benefit, it is for yours: for you to learn something and ultimately to be healed. I don’t know what has happened in your past, but you certainly do. Often, we hold bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness in our hearts. When we do that, though the infected wound may begin to heal and maybe even scab over a little, but as soon as something or someone reminds us of our painful past, those memories flood in and that scab rips right off and becomes a blatantly open wound once again.
Biblically speaking, you will reap only that which you sow. Thus, if I sowed good seed, such as tithes or words of affirmation to a friend or mowing my elderly neighbor’s lawn for her, I will reap good things, which could manifest as any number of things like prosperity, a promotion, breakthrough in a particularly rough relationship or situation, etc. God wants to bless us, but He will only do that if we are sowing good seed. In your life, just as mine and everyone else’s, you have no doubt suffered pain and injustice caused by others and/or by yourself. These would be bad seed sown into your life. Thus, you have developed as a result, those wounds that have become infected that I’ve been discussing. But you can change all of that today by doing what I am suggesting. The means to turn your life around are at your fingertips; all you have to do is sow good seed – go be good to someone who has hurt you, or who is hurting and bless them – and God will in turn bless you.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
Jesus wants you to confess your sins to Him and to each other so He can give you what you’ve been craving all along: unconditional love and acceptance. When you speak out loud and acknowledge the truth, it WILL set you free!
Jesus said…”If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.” – John 8:31-32, 36
Sow confession to REAP healing:
Rip off the old bandage
Expose those wounds to the light
Allow God to heal you through confession
“Get Over Yourself!” by Jennifer Beckham
This consuming desire
A craving that cannot be undone
Symbolic for the pain
Emptying my body – numb
No space to run
That which I cannot contain
There is no rational
No real or imaginable
Only desire uncontrollable
Consuming my will – irrevocable
This consuming desire
Engulfing the mind
Wants aflame inside
Spiraling out of control
Not a crevice to hide in
No hope in which to abide
There is no rational
No real or imaginable
Only desire uncontrollable
Consuming my will – irrevocable
The fire continues to burn
White hot with desire
No chance of putting out the flame
Not a safe place to turn
This consuming fire
If there is a difference between who you are being and who God created you to be there will be conflict, and that conflict will cause pain.
People exist in 3 inseparable realms: the spiritual, emotional and physical, and pain can exist in or even inhabit one or more of those realms. Sometimes pain can’t be traced to one specific realm, because they are interrelated. But God heals the brokenness by restoring the girl to wholeness in all 3 realms. We are called to “carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” in Galatians 6:2 and to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed” in James 5:16. This means there are 3 aspects needed for healing prayer. 1) the girl to confess her sins 2) the intercessor, or person to whom she confesses, and 3) the Holy Spirit who is irrevocably involved when a person prays. But the one catch is that the girl must listen and hear the truth in order to be healed. When God speaks the truth to her, it will transform her mind and allow her to understand her identity as God originally intended.
But challenges to our God-given identity will always occur as a result of faulty conclusions that we draw. These steps are: 1) I observe 2) I interpret 3) I conclude 4) I choose 5) I act 6) I am. A misinterpretation or a bad conclusion will cause an unwise choice. Your identity is formed by the things you believe and the actions you take as a result. Maybe you think I am a cutter (identity) because I cut myself (actions) and rely on it (choice) to fill some need (conclusion). But that is not my identity. Sometimes I think it is. But being a “cutter” to the core is not who God created me to be. It causes me pain to be labeled as a cutter, because it does not line up with who God created me to be. The only way to change this is to change the conclusion (that I am a cutter) you make as a result of your interpretation (because I cut myself) from the observation you first made (seeing my scars).
Mutilation is the badge that can never be taken off, and sets us apart from all others. Pain is important to the bonding—a physical horror that bonds us ever tighter to all those who have partaken. The intensity of the experience helps to widen the gulf between us and those who have not shared. –Clive Barker, Pinhead
You might imagine that a person would resort to self-mutilation only under extremes of duress, but once I’d crossed that line the first time, taken that fateful step off the precipice, then almost any reason was a good enough reason, almost any provocation enough. Cutting was my all-purpose solution. My scars ought to be a charm bracelet of mnemonics, each a permanent reminder of its precipitating event, but maybe the most disturbing thing I can say about the history of my cutting is that for the most part I can’t even remember the whens and the whys behind those wounds. It didn’t take much to make me cut. Frustration, humiliation, insecurity, guilt, remorse, loneliness—I cut ’em all out. They were like a poison, caustic and destructive, as though lye had been siphoned into my veins. The only way I could survive them, I thought, was to keep draining them from my blood. I was trying to get equilibrium from two extremes: either I was so upset that I had to cut myself to relieve it, or I was so numb that I had to cut myself to get back to being there.
How will you know I am hurting,
If you cannot see my pain?
To wear it on my body
Tells what words cannot explain.
–C. Blount (English deistic writer) [1654-1693]
Scars are the results of the natural healing processes of the body; which occurs when the body suffers and injury. The body’s defenses rush to save the injury, and as the injury heals, scars form. In fact, the skin does not heal exactly the same as it was before. Scar tissue is inferior to normal skin because scars are flat and lightly colored as a result of less access to blood, sweat glands are damaged or destroyed, hair doesn’t grow back there, and there is less resistance to ultraviolet radiation. Scars form as the result of injury to the dermis, a layer of skin that is deep and sensitive. Collagen fibers surge to the injury when damage to the dermis layer of the skin occurs.
“It’s not so much how deep a wound is that determines whether a scar will worm, but rather the location of the wound and that person’s genetic tendency to form scars” says Brian Flyer, a doctor from California. The type of scar that will form depends also on the person’s age, heredity, sex, nutrition, and of course the severity of the wound.
There are several types of scars:
1. Hypertrophic: raised and often red lump on the skin, form when wound is under tension thereby raising the healing tissue; occurs when there is an overproduction of collagen.
2. Keloidal: like hypertrophic but more serious because they can continue growing into a large neoplasm, spread beyond the boundaries of the original injury, raised hard growth that forms because some bodies rush in a lot of collagen to the injured site and the healing tissue is more than is required; can occur on anyone, but are more common in dark-skinned people.
3. Atrophic: opposite of hypertrophic and keloidal, leaves depressions in the skin, these are sunken recesses in the skin which have a pitted appearance, caused when underlying structures such as fat or muscle are lost so they cannot support the skin; associated with acne, chickenpox, surgery, and accidents.
4. Acne: pitting caused by the stretching of pores, aka atrophic
5. Contracture: flat, tight scars that constrict movement, often caused by burns
6. Stretch marks: caused when skins is stretched rapidly (such as during pregnancy) or put under tension during healing process (near joints); usually improves in appearance after a few years.
Scars can never be completely removed; there are supplements such as vitamin E and creams to help speed the healing process of scars, but they will never completely go away. There are surgeries available to remove scars but often the surgery will produce another scar and there is no guarantee the former scar will be less obvious. Topical treatments, radiotherapy, steroids, dermabrasion, laser resurfacing, and injections of collagen are other options to rid the body of scars. There are many methods to treat scars as well; however, even with all these methods, there is no way to absolutely remove a scar.
I lost my phone charger, so my phone died, and I didn’t have the time so I was late to my class. So I tried the next best thing to get the time, my watch. Of course the battery was dead. So I went to the store. They were out of the particular one I needed. So I went to a different store and got the battery. Then I couldn’t open the back of my watch to put the battery in. My third option: an alarm clock slash calculator I have. The batteries were dead in that too. Finally, I had to resort to using my ipod to tell the time. Has this ever happened to you? Where you try one thing after another to achieve a certain goal and every time they each fail you? It is a chain of events that once started, almost always leads to the same ending result. That is what it is like to cut oneself. The chain is even more common than one might think when dealing with cutting specifically. It is a chain of events that once begun, cannot be stopped until the final act has been completed, and maybe not even then.
One thing happens first that sets off the whole chain of events; you accidentally cut yourself. That leads to doing it again to try to get a similar feeling. So you find something sharp. The closest thing to you is a pin. So you scratch the skin until it is raw. But that isn’t enough for you, so you find the next best common household thing: scissors. Of course that doesn’t do the trick either. So you look in the toolbox and find something a little sharper. The one you like. But eventually even that isn’t enough. Finally, you decide to resort to killing yourself to make everything that you started stop. And that is how you finally end the chain of events. Yet sometimes, the chain keeps on going even after this deadly event. And that is what is known as the cutting circle.