Cutting to the Heart of the Matter

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“Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes” (Job 2:8 NRS).




(Image courtesy of downwardspiralintothevortex.blogspot.com)

Poor Job.  His only crime was that he was so good that God took notice of him.  He finds himself the subject of divine testing, and it costs him big time.  He loses his livestock and servants which are the means of his livelihood, all his beloved children who are the heirs to Job’s line and estate, and then he loses his health being inflicted with sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.  In a state of mourning, having first torn his clothing and shaved his head, Job picks up a broken piece of pottery and sits among the ashes.

The most highly regarded of biblical commentary, such as The New Interpreter’s Bible, simply skim over this text.  They assume that Job took this sharp piece of pottery and intended to relieve himself of  the physical pain and discomfort of the sores by scraping himself, along the lines of scratching.  I might have done the same except I have friends and family who have struggled with cutting.  Cutting is a form of self harm, self mutilation where one cuts their flesh to create physical pain that will offset the emotional pain they experience.  They will cut where they can easily hide the wounds and the scars, often on their inner arms, their thighs, their bellies.  Those that cut are the victims of inner turmoil, agony from which they cannot escape.  The pain is within, but constant and abiding.  They cut their own skin, releasing the inner pain in the outward rush of blood and physical pain.  It is truly horrific to see and the scars are permanent.  It’s not about enjoying the pain, but about finding a pain that they can control because they have no control over the cause of their internal suffering. 


(Image courtesy of slitwristsandbrokenhearts.tumblr.com)

Self harm is a struggle in which more and more of our youth find themselves immersed.  Like Job, they find that they are dealing with more than they can handle.  They are twisted up and hurting inside.  Whatever the cause, they are not dead and dying, but they feel such pain that they need relief.  Having no idea, no means at their immediate disposal to be healed, they hurt themselves in a new way.  But now they find that they are in control, they have some say about the pain they feel.  It’s not at the hands of transgressors, abusers, or those with power over them.  Now they have power, control, and a say about when and where the pain comes.  Job was stripped of all that he held dear, all his most prized joys in this life.  In one fell swoop his finances and his family were wretched from his hands.  So he does what we all would do; he mourns.  He had no control over this loss, no means with which to combat the invisible forces at work destroying his life.  He sits down in the ashes, the place where destruction has passed through, the place of remains.  There he is left in his misery, seeking some form of relief.  Perhaps he does simple scratch himself, or perhaps he cuts all that he has left: his own flesh, as afflicted as it is.

Brings a new perspective on Job, doesn’t it?  One that speaks to the thousands upon thousands that cut every year, that take the blade of whatever instrument they prefer and slice into their flesh.  Maybe they feel as hopeless and helpless as Job.  Maybe they have no other means of recourse for their pain and suffering.  Maybe they have no idea what else to do.  Perhaps their friends and family are as useless as Job’s, offering advice and insight without true illumination.  Perhaps all the words are more convicting than comforting.  Perhaps they just need someone to sit with them in silence, not attempting to fix, but sitting together in the darkness, that place of despair.  So that, for once, they are not alone with their pain, alone to suffer in silence.

We are so quick to offer words and phrases to those who are in pain and sorrow, those that suffer everything from illness to the loss of a loved one to personal tragedy.  But sometimes the hard truth, the harsh reality is this: there are no words.  One of the hardest lessons from ministry is that.  There have been too many times that I had no words that I could offer that would help, that would be just.  Words cannot gloss over the loss of a child.  They cannot repair the brokenness of divorce.  They cannot bring back the dead.  They cannot fix physical destruction of the body.  More than once in my life I have discovered the power of presence, the ministry of touch.  That my hand on the shoulder, my hug has been enough.  Other times it was just my willingness to be there and to sit with those who suffer.  To share, in some way, the pain and the silence of that room.  We have children and youth, indeed even adults, all around who are suffering.  They do not need our words, but our presence.  A physical sign that we care about them even if we cannot heal them.  That’s God’s role.  Ours is to be with those who suffer. 

Prayer:
God of Healing and Wholeness,
You can cure with just a word or a touch.
We, your servants, long to be a balm for the aches and pains of this world.
Sometimes it is we who are hurting, who are suffering.
Other times it is those around and in our midst.
Help us to be willing to sit in the ashes with others.
Teach us to close our mouths and open our hearts.
Where there is suffering,
Lead us in the paths toward recovery and healing.
May your Son be that light in the darkness of the lives of those,
Who combat inner pain the likes of which we cannot fathom.
Let us bear his light in our being.
There is no wound that you cannot heal.
No hurt you do not feel.
Extend your healing, loving touch to this world yet again.
And your Holy Spirit will revive us.
May it be so and to your glory, Almighty God.
Amen.
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