When I arrived at my Salvation Army corps (church) on a Sunday morning, I greeted Sara*, who was standing near the door. She was early and the band was still rehearsing. Sara was a teenager who had experienced considerable abuse and pain in recent times. The first time she attended the meeting, her mother had come with her. We were pleased that over the past few weeks Sara had continued to come on her own.
I was not surprised to see her wearing black, as she liked to dress in Gothic style. However, I was surprised to see the armbands on her wrists. It was a warm day, even by Tasmanian standards, and they were a strange match with the rest of her outfit.
While I was setting up the hall, Sara approached me and asked for some band-aids. I found the first-aid kit and rummaged through it. As she peeled back the armbands, I realised why she had chosen to wear them. There were scars across her wrists where she had recently self-harmed. Sara took the band-aids and went to sit outside.
I followed her and sat beside her. “Do you often hurt yourself?”
“Yes,” she answered her eyes downcast. “Does this mean you don’t like me any more?”
“Sara, of course not. I just don’t like what you’re doing because I care about you.”
As we kept talking, I was relieved to discover that she had regular appointments with a psychiatric nurse. They were working together to address her self-harming behaviour.
I wonder, though, if we sometimes turn to God with a similar question to Sara’s. When you think or say or do something that hurts others or yourself, do you question whether God still loves you? Perhaps we think this way because we have experienced the rejection of friends or family when have we hurt or disappointed them. The love and acceptance of others can be conditional on our behaviour. Unfortunately, this can occur even within Christian communities. Yet God’s love is unconditional.
Nothing that we do, or fail to do, will change God’s love for us. There is a wonderful quote from the Bible that reassures us of this. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, NIV).
No matter what we are experiencing, God has open arms for us. He looks at our scars and makes them beautiful, reminding us that we are always loved by him.
If you are struggling with self harm, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.