Suffering, redemption and another perspective on sin.
The first week of October holds special meaning for me. Like most folks who've achieved recovery from an addiction, I mark my "sobriety date" — the date I achieved abstinence from my addiction — with gratitude and remembrance.
On Oct. 5, 2003, I thanked God for allowing me to reach three years without cutting myself. Achieving abstinence from that destructive behavior was immeasurably difficult. It took every ounce of courage, grit, and determination God gave me, and a lot of help, including the professional kind, but I've found true healing and recovery. In the journey from the psych ward of the local hospital to three years of abstinence, I learned a tremendous set of lessons about brokenness, humility, spiritual poverty, and the love of God.
I started cutting myself during the summer I turned 13. I was struggling with self-hatred, and cutting provided a way of making my outsides match my insides — ugly, wounded and scarred. Its precision hooked me: I could suddenly control how I felt. I was clinically depressed and filled with emotions too powerful to understand or process by myself. I didn't cut as deeply as I tried to, but I learned something — the infliction of pain provided relief. The pain in my body was a focal point, something to think about that gave me distance from the emotional anguish of hating myself and, somehow, relieved it at the same time.
If that sounds like childish immaturity combined with almost pathological self-centeredness ... well, it is.
My self-injury continued throughout high school and into my time at college, which I began at age 17. Shortly after I turned 18, I got my own place and spent the next 18 months medicating my depression with alcohol, drugs, and cutting. My drinking quickly progressed into alcoholism, but my cutting was worse. Almost anything was enough to trigger an episode — any instance of rejection, any failure or setback, any instance in which I didn't meet my own impossibly high standards of performance — any excuse to hate myself a little more.
Words cannot express how deeply I was hurting.
Though I wouldn't call them enemies, there are people in my life with whom I'd rather not interact, given the choice. I cannot fathom cutting any of them, no matter the provocation, even if the legality of such an act wasn't an issue. I simply respect and care for other people too much to imagine harming them that way — even the few who annoy and anger me with some regularity. Yet, for years, it was a driving urge from deep within me to do such things to myself. My self-loathing was that deep.
In April of 1998, I got drunk and recklessly cut myself with a knife. That was a first for me — my previous cutting episodes had involved X-acto knives when I lived with my parents, and straight razors once I got out on my own. The move from small, precise cutting tools that allowed me a lot of control to a large kitchen knife represented the greased slide into utter chaos my life was traveling. I was becoming more self-destructive by the day, and no longer really cared if I lived or died. That episode landed me in the psych unit, as the counselor I was seeing at the time rightly feared that I might end my life.
Of course, such levels of despair and self-obsession separated me from God. I did not become a Christian until I was 21, despite the fact that I grew up in a Christian school and church. My late grandmother was a devout Christian who prayed for and with me on a regular basis, and my mother, as well as my teachers and pastors (of course) were Christians. Through my own character flaws, or deficiencies in my upbringing (most likely, a combination of both), the only aspects of Christianity that got through to me were the do's and don'ts, the rules and the God-is-gonna-get-yas.
Shortly before my meltdown in the spring of 1998, God brought a Christian mentor into my life who became a father to me. He never preached; he just loved me unconditionally and spent time helping me work through my problems. He gave me my first taste of a father's love and acceptance, and that made me hungry to know my Heavenly Father.
I knew I was broken. I knew that on my own, I was helpless to stop hating myself. I knew that my very best efforts had led only to shame heaped on top of shame. I was a slave to a painful past, and only one thing was clear: Left to my own devices, I would destroy myself.
Like everyone else in this broken world, I needed a Savior.
My biggest breakthrough came after reading the works of Brennan Manning, a former priest now turned evangelist. Manning's books, especially his most well-known, The Ragamuffin Gospel, showed me a different God from the one I was raised to believe in. Rather than a fearsome Master whom I dared not approach in my weakness, who was listening in on every thought and making a list of every transgression, I learned from his books that God wanted to be my Abba, my Daddy, my confidante, my very best friend.
Some Christians, including Jessica Inman, the author of the Boundless article "Human Clay: Thoughts on Spiritual Poverty," feel that leaders like Brennan Manning, with their emphasis on human frailty and weakness, implicitly condone sin.
This has not been my experience.
Sometimes I question whether we, as Christians, really believe what we say. We call ourselves God's children. We refer to Him as our Father. We say we believe the Bible, which states that He is perfect, utterly and inexplicably good beyond measure.
If we really believe that such a Father loves us and claims us as His own, how can that become a license to sin? I know that my best efforts will never approach the holiness of God — my righteousness will always be, compared to His, nothing but filthy rags. Rather than saying "I'm only human," and giving up on overcoming my problems, my knowledge of His love and perfection and my own spiritual poverty just makes me love Him more. His acceptance of me despite my brokenness makes me long to please Him, to make Him proud of me and to be like Him.
I wonder if those who focus on rules over relationship really understand their childhood in God's kingdom. Jesus called His Father "Abba," the Hebrew equivalent of baby talk. As a Father delights in His babies, God delights in us.
This is the message I didn't get until, one on one, I was shown the love of God. This is the Truth that a hurting, broken world is crying out for, and it's a message that many of them are, quite literally, dying to hear.
It's up to us to show them.
PART 2: Back to the Potter's Wheel »
Copyright 2003 Holly Dawn Hunter. All rights reserved.