Cut to the Heart

Malerie was a well liked 16 year old girl. She wasn’t really popular per se, but she was liked and respected. She seemed to be confident in who she was, even though she didn’t look the part of the fashion model. She had a bubbly, magnetic personality and was fun and outgoing. She was one of those students who you prayed might be led into ministry some day. She had the gifts! She came from a family that seemed very “normal”. She was intelligent, good at school, and seemed to have the world figured out as well as any other 16 year old.

But even on the hottest summer days, Malerie always wore long sleeves. I didn’t really think anything of it, until she skipped a youth group beach day. Now that was weird; Malerie never missed a youth event!

She finally revealed to me that she had been cutting. Self mutilating. Purposefully making scars on her arms with a razor blade. She wasn’t suicidal. She liked – if not loved – life. But the “pain” helped her feel better. With the pain she felt alive. It’s a paradox that I still really don’t understand; the pain made her feel good. It was all about control. She now was in control of the pain. And the control made her feel better about herself.

We got her help – and please understand this, when someone is involved in any kind of self mutilation, they need professional help! Pray with them and over them. Listen to them. Love them. But most importantly, get them professional help, quickly!

Malerie was checked into a facility for a month where she talked about her issues and was offered alternative outlets for her emotions and treatments. I would visit her a few times a week to check in and see how she was doing. She told me that one of the suggestions the doctors made was to sit in the bathtub with red food coloring and “pretend” to cut and bleed. She tried it and it worked – it actually made her feel better!

Hopefully you see that this issue is a deep one! And too often we address the symptom (STOP CUTTING YOURSELF!!!!) instead of the real issues. Everyone who cuts has different issues and motivations, and professional help offers them all different treatments and outlets.

When Malerie was released, she stopped cutting. She did have some minor relapses…like any recovering drug addict or alcoholic will tell you. And she said for years that she would still occasionally have the urge to cut. It didn’t just go away; it was a struggle to get healthy.

Unfortunately, I could also tell you about Abby, who was one of the pretty, popular, and very wealthy girls who never seemed to have any problems. Or Kathy, whose grandparents were founding members of her 100 year old church and was seen as being devoutly spiritual. Or Carl, who dressed the part of the “Goth” and finally found a group where he felt like he fit in. Or Courtney, who never knew her dad and had been bounced around from school to school and needed something to control in her life. These are all very different and difficult stories. And for those of you in ministry, know that these are all “church kids”, kids who grew up in the church, going to Sunday School, VBS, worship, etc. None of these students ever expressed a doubt of their salvation in Jesus…they just needed a way to control the pain. The stereotype of the teen cutter may not really apply anymore.

Download the talk sheet linked below for some tips on helping our students who cut.

About the author

Dr. Jacob Youmans has served as a Youth and Family Minister in Hawaii and California, and in July 2009, he started as the Director of the DCE (Director of Christian Education) program at Concordia University Texas. Jake has led and served on mission teams to every continent except Antarctica, authored four books: Talking Pictures: How to Turn a Trip to the Movies into a Mission Trip, Abba Daddy Do: Adventures in Child-Like Faith, Missional U: Life as a Mission Trip and Missional Too: Trip of a Lifetime. He has spoken to groups of students and adults all over the world. Most importantly, he's married to Christy, an artist and musician, and has two little princesses, Maile who's 10 and Leilani who's 9.
View more from Jacob

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