Rev. Harrison Goodman
When I was 17 I had a broken friend whom we'll call Ashley. Ashley tried to cope with being broken by carving into her own flesh with razor blades. She said bleeding was the only way to release all the pain that built up inside of her. She couldn't stop. She didn't know what to do. Ashley was not okay.
Ashley came to me and asked for help. She made me promise not to tell anyone. I had no idea what to say, but I felt like I had to say something. I just didn't want to see my friend hurting. If I'm going to be honest about how ugly I am inside, I didn't want to feel guilty if something happened to her either.
I tried to help. I said all the wrong things. They felt like safe things to say. They're called platitudes. Platitudes are those little phrases we tell each other because they sound nice, even though they don't actually help. My favorite was "It will be okay". I wasn't sure it would ever be okay, but I really wanted it to be. Sometimes I told her to focus on the positive. I said, "Smile, and the world smiles with you". I said "What doesn't kill you will only make you stronger," which really just means "man up."
Platitudes didn't work. When I told her "It will be okay" she looked right through me and said "Do you really know that? Are you really sure?" I wasn't. I just wanted her to not be broken. She did, too. Really wanting to be better wasn't enough.
When I told her "Smile and the world smiles with you" what I really meant was "Have you tried just not being sad?" It was a stupid thing to say. It's sort of like going to the hospital and asking all the cancer patients "Hey, have you tried just not having cancer? Because that would be great."
I stopped saying "What doesn't kill you will only make you stronger" after she tried to kill herself the first time. She couldn't just man up. She wanted to. It just didn't work.
Every last platitude I fed to Ashley didn't work. Each one was a lie. There was never certainty. Change your heart. Convince yourself things will get better. Stop being sad. Man up. Each platitude only ended in an attempt to bury the problem instead of actually facing it. Fake a smile instead of dealing with the truth. The brutal reality was that Ashley really wasn't okay.
The platitudes made things worse. Before religion could ever come up, all the lies I told Ashley set the stage for something very different. Our religion isn't "Man up." Our religion isn't about fixing yourself. Our religion is Jesus Christ saves sinners by dying on the cross. He's the way, the truth, and the life. He's the only thing that saves us, because we can't save ourselves. But sometimes there's a disconnect between our religion and real life.
Sometimes we have a habit of dealing with our faith as if it's really only meant for inside the church. Sinnin's bad, mmk? Mmk. Jesus saves, mmk? Mmk. Now go out there and deal with real life. We treat this stuff as if Jesus dying on the cross really only cancels out sin-points that only God can see and only God cares about. We treat sin as if it's not great, but since we know Jesus died, we're back to square one. This is NOT most certainly true.
Ashley actually understood this. She was aware of something most of us work very hard to unlearn and ignore. Sin breaks stuff-the sins done by you, the sins done to you, all of them really do break stuff. All of them really do have a cost. That cost really is blood. The wages of sin is death.
Sin is not just a theological concept. It rips apart God's creation. Pick any commandment. Things go worse when God's law is broken. The world where nobody steals and kills is better than the one where everyone kills and steals. When we sin, and when we're sinned against, it really breaks things. Platitudes don't work because they assume we aren't sinners.
The truth is, sin can't be pushed aside by a smile and positive thinking. Sin is brokenness and hurt. The wages of sin is death. We can't smile ourselves from death to life, but we don't have to. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6.23).
This gift of God is for broken people. Jesus said "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2.17). Sinners don't have to save themselves. Jesus saves sinners. Jesus came to save Ashley.
What I wish I had known to tell Ashley is "You're right. You're not okay. Only blood can cover that much pain. But it doesn't have to be yours. It was Christ's. He bled for you. He paid for your sin. It is finished." Every single sin that Ashley thought she had to take a razor to her arms and legs and stomach over was already bled for by Christ. Sin is real, but so is Jesus. Sin breaks stuff. Jesus heals. Every single pain that Ashley tried to bear on her own was already borne for her. And Jesus bore every nail, every cut, every sin FOR YOU, too. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5). It was His flesh that was wounded, but by His stripes, we are healed. That's real. That's yours.
Forgiveness isn't just a theological concept. It's not a hidden feeling that you just have to discover to stop being sad. Forgiveness is the blood Jesus shed for you. Forgiveness is delivered in stuff that you can touch and taste and hang onto. That forgiveness isn't just for you to think about when you're at your lowest. You don't have to turn your heart from hurt and broken to happy and whole. It's delivered right to you. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:13)? You drink the very thing that saves you.
Over and over, God makes the things we hope in external, outside of ourselves, because He knows the inside can't fix itself. You don't have to make yourself okay. He applies healing from outside of you. He sent His Son to die on a cross. He gives you communion, the blood shed so you don't have to bleed.
When I was 17 I had a broken friend who we'll call Ashley. Ashley cut herself. I wish I had known to tell her that Jesus already bled for her. He forgives and saves. That's the peace that doesn't only exist when you're happy. It's the peace that's given for when you're hurt. God bears your pain for you and He is with you.
Pastor Harrison Goodman serves St. Paul Lutheran Church in Winside, Nebraska and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Carroll, Nebraska. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Created: September 2nd, 2015