A few weeks ago I ran across a great article in Morf Magazine called “Why do Kids Cut?” I have only worked with a few students who cut in my ministry experience so far so I was very interested in reading the article. The article helped me understand more about why students cut as well as how to work with them in a loving and Biblical way (You can click here to read the article in digital format). I hope you will take a few minutes and read that article since much of what I will share in this post will come directly from it.
From reading the writers thoughts on cutting from the article as well as some of my experience in ministering to students who cut, I want to share a few thoughts that we need to remember when we are working with students who cut.
Understand what cutting is as well as why students do it. Many students today struggle with what we call self-harm, self-injury, or self-inflicted violence. Cutting is just one way students may go about harming themselves. Other popular ways are burning, biting, slashing, pulling off or plucking hair to an excessive degree, and intentionally breaking one’s bones. However the students do it, they are intentionally harming themselves in either minor or sometimes major ways. The question many of us who work with these students ask is “Why?” The writer of the article explains it best, “The majority of sufferers cut or burn because they seek relief from seemingly uncontrollable pain or deadening numbness.” They are seeking a momentary fix or escape from something in their world. Before we can effectively minister to students who cut, we must understand what it is as well as why they do it.
Choose your words carefully. Usually when you notice signs such as scars on a students arm from cutting, or when they confess to you they are struggling with cutting, you don’t know what to say. There is this weird mix of emotions from wanting to force them to stop while your heart breaking for them. Once the situation sets in, please choose your words carefully. Try and understand the deep pain that is leading the student to cutting and realize your words hold great power. Don’t talk down to them or act like “you have all the answers” because you don’t. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words this suffering student desperately needs to hear.
Understand how the Gospel plays a vital part in helping them heal. I want to be careful here and explain what I mean by this. I am not suggesting that pushing a cutter into a “quick salvation decision” is the way to help them. I believe many good-hearted pastors and youth workers believe the answer for students who cut is to “turn it over to God” or “read your Bible more” or “you just need to get saved.” The writer of the articles explains it this way, “Despite their good intentions, people who counsel self-injurers to pray their problems away and read the Bible more…do no service to understanding the complex nature of self-injury.” As pastors, let’s not think we can solve all the issues by “getting people saved” or “getting them in the Word more.” Don’t get me wrong, these things are great and foundational, but working with students who cut may mean walking for months alongside the student in their struggle. It may mean many late night phone calls, long talks with parents, and probably many desperate tears and prayers to God in your own time.
Now let me explain what I do mean by the Gospel is key to their healing. Faith and trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross and the regeneration that comes from that, is the starting place for the healing of the student who cuts. The Gospel is what will change their life and help them cope with the pain they are going through. Even though the Gospel is the first step, it is not the “quick fix” to everything. Many of the students who cut will have a personal relationship with Jesus. The healing the cutter needs not only comes from the Gospel, but what we call sanctification, which is he Spirit’s life-long work in their life after salvation to make them more like Christ. Chuck Swindoll says, “Conversion is a miracle of a moment; sanctification is a process of a lifetime.” The writer of the article sums it up nice by saying, “Spiritual healing for the self-injurer comes from embarking on and preserving in this journey of growth [sanctification].”
Much of the content in this post came from Jerusha Clark and her article in Morf Magazine. Jerusha is author of several books including Inside a Cutter’s Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-Injury.