Some thoughts on self-harm and the church
Something I have wanted to write about for quite a long time is self-harm.
Maybe about a year ago, an online community, which I have been involved with for quite a long time, started a discussion on the topic, which I suggested.
It was this … a) what is church’s response to self-harm … and b) what should the church response to self-harm be
Following those topic starters, there was a little conversation, which dried out after a few days, but it is one that does not go away for long, for me. Even if I don’t think about it for a little while, somehow, somewhere along the line it will come back.
I was going to write something on this a long time ago, and had lots of really interesting conversations with people about it… so thank you to those people who openly talked to me. I would like to point out I don’t have any answers, just thoughts.
Christianity is a faith, where on the whole people believe in Jesus. Christianity believes that Jesus has created all things, that Jesus is in control, and that He is Love.
But still, I have heard it said many times, by many people that they see mental health illness/issues as destroyers/wounding and something where hate filled thoughts can reign.
Those are two huge contrasts … God goes hand in hand with Love, and often mental health illness (including self harm) go hand in hand with Hate.
What happens when that Love and Hate collide?
(Thanks to Ali for discussing this topic with me too, and helping me form this post)
Personally, as someone who is both a Christian and a self-harmer, when that Love and hate collide it equals grey, not always a helpful colour to have.
I sit here, typing about this topic, not as an academic, in fact I am anything but, but as someone who has already got the life tattoo scars forever.
I sit here typing about this topic, without any degree, which says I should/could, or can but just as someone who has experienced the practice of self-inflicting bloodshed on my body.
I am worried/concerned/interested in this topic and how it relates to Christians and the church. I probably have more questions that I do anything.
I want to know how churches deal with mental health illness generally, but also the things that probably come under its umbrella but are an issue its own right.
Thing is, unless I am not being very generous, my opinion is that ‘the church’ don’t do a very good job of supporting people who self harm. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. Not sure that they are very good at responding, maybe that’s because they don’t know how to, maybe it is because they don’t want to.
(At this point I would like to point out there are some organizations that do some great work: and I will high light a couple of those in part 2)
Maybe it is pure ignorance, of the topic, the issues and what to do … maybe it is just that some people think that if they turn a blind eye and ignore it, then it will go away.
The news is: it wont.
I believe, firmly, that ‘the church’ has a responsibility to not brush this topic and many others that come in with the mental health illness thing, under the carpet. A responsibility to actively not ignore it.
The church has to open its eyes to the reality. The church needs to accept that with some things quick fixes are not ‘it’. They need to recognize and understand that ‘praying for someone’ is not going to simply make it disappear.
Is not one of the roles of the church to be a welcoming safe haven? Somewhere people can go … a place where there are people to turn to. A place to be secure, and safe in whatever reality is life for them at that time?
Too often people are turned away, or made to feel as if they have no place in a community such as a church. That is simply not good enough or fair.
The church should be a place where people are loved, welcomed, supported and accepted, not judged or condemned: which sadly is often the case.
Personally, it is my view that self-harm is a very misunderstood topic, and one that is very misunderstood within the church, that’s if some churches even know what it is.
Maybe it is time for the church to rise up, and challenge itself. To get itself more in the know, because in this day and age, especially with such methods of communication and ways to learn about things, ignorance and ‘just not knowing it exists/about it’ is not acceptable.
But maybe, somewhere in all this, there is a challenge for people like me too.
Because I sit here, knowing that churches need a better awareness, educating, to learn, to know, and I am fully aware it isn’t the easiest of things.
Maybe I could be as bold as to suggest that if there are people who have the ability/heart to raise this issue, and to see change come about within our Christian communities, and in how it supports and deals with people who self harm. Maybe there has to be a responsibility somewhere among people who do know about it? I am not suggesting that those who cant should, but maybe there are people out there now, right now, who have a voice, and are able to use it, express, talk openly, honestly, and by doing so in turn are then educating others … maybe there needs to be people who have a voice out loud on this issue, on behalf of people who don’t.
I am interested in letting people know self harm or not, we’re still loved, and accepted and I am interested in letting people know, in the church, the non self harmers that we are also loved and accepted.
I would like the taboo topic to be non-taboo. I have no idea how it’ll happen but I think that it should and that it is important.
While writing this, I asked on twitter, the questions, mentioned above. Many responses came. Below are three.
@revdal what should the church’s response be … ? coz I am not sure we’ve got one apart from ‘how we can help’?
@tschakaroussel : love, Jesus, love, friendship, love, gospel, love, acceptance, love, holy spirit, love
@bourach I think the church response should be love. I don’t think it should be to collude but love, acceptance and humility go well.
Thank you for those replies folks.
I’d be really interested in other peoples ideas/thoughts, so please feel free to respond. I have not written this to be controversial, so whether you agree with me or not please get in touch… and I have some more thoughts I’ll write up soon.