One of the first articles I ever wrote was back in 2012 on the subject of scars. I had just finished my degree and I’d not self-harmed for a year, I was eating nearly normally, embarking on a research degree and trying to work out how to live in this new place of recovery, balancing mental illness and hope.
I was desperately trying to work out living between two realities – the knowledge of the darkness I’d inhabited – and the hope of a real life to lead.
The battle was over; but the scars remained.
It’s not something we think of, what happens after an eating disorder or self-harm have made their march through a life, the wreckage and legacy they leave behind, and yet it was the thing I was faced with most starkly in those first few years learning to live.
I used to hate the scars my body bore. They seemed to tell my story to all and sundry. They spoke of the worst years of my life, and I wanted to forge a new path.
I didn’t know how to move forward when my past was so glaringly obvious.
I’ve been thinking more and more about what happens when the worst is over and you’re left surveying the wreck.
Matt Bays writes:
“To find our redemption, we must be willing to visit the scene of the crime and, unimaginably, stay there for a while. It will take some time to survey the damage to sit in the ruins with God and acknowledge its full impact on our lives.”
It’s a daunting prospect; to survey the damage done and sit with God in the midst of it, but as I’ve tried to do it this past year, I’ve seen something of God that I missed in the midst of self-harm.
My focus used to be, almost exclusively, on Jesus’ scars. They were proof to me that God cared; I hung my faith on the scars of Jesus because I needed to be understood at a time where I felt no-one understood.
The scars of Jesus tell a powerful story of redemption and hope – they tell us that our scars and our pasts need not define our futures – they don’t exclude us from the reach of the gospel.
Hope can be found in the wreckage.
And my hope is found in Jesus not coming just to empathise with our darkness – but to defeat it.
As he stood before His disciples, scarred palms open, He was showing them that He’d done the impossible and defeated death, for them and for everyone.
The Message translation of a verse from Isaiah 53 says this:
“He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.”
The power in these words sometimes gets lost, I think.
And as I’ve surveyed the damage, I’ve glimpsed something of Jesus who not only extended scar striped arms, but who also formed the stars.
In the mess and mire of self-harm, I’d missed God’s majesty and might.
God is greater than self-harm and eating disorders – and yet He meets us in their midst to bring comfort and show us something of the wholeness that awaits humanity on the other side of heaven.
It’s God’s care for us that reaches from heaven into our hearts and comforts us in our distress.
And it’s God’s care that flows through us when we reach out to those around us who are hurting.
As Paul puts in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”
Rachael Newham is the Founding Director of ThinkTwice which offers mental health awareness, training and consultancy. For more information head to www.thinktwiceinfo.org.
Twitter @RachaelNewham90 @ThinkTwiceInfo