Her name was Randy. She was working in a fast food restaurant in her mid-teens when I met her.
Apart from her nametag, she blended in with the rest of the people she worked with. Same uniform, average height, normal build. But when she turned to reach for the Choco Taco I had just ordered, my attention rested on her arms.
They were scarred.
And not just once, but each arm had dozens—probably 50 or more between the two.
They were not normal bump-into-something type scars. They were concentric circles that were obviously obtained from a cigarette lighter. They had been self-inflicted.
When she returned with my treat, I gently grabbed her by the wrist and asked, “Why do you hurt yourself?” Pulling her arms back and trying to hide them from me, she said, “I don’t anymore.”
My experience with Randy was many years ago, but it dramatically impacted me. It was the first time I realized there were young people who actually hurt themselves because they don’t know where to find peace. They are so deeply scarred internally, emotionally and psychologically that they scar themselves externally, trying to cope.
But that is just one of the destructive tendencies adopted by young people to deal with the questions of life that remain unanswered and the issues that remain unresolved.
Randy represents a portion of the teenage population known as “cutters” or “self-mutilators.” But others turn to immoral behaviors and illicit relationships to distract themselves from the pain, or substance abuse to control their emotions. Others simply play games that allow them to lie to themselves and others about the peace and joy that seems to continually evade them.
Their masks sometimes remain convincing until permanent damage is done, leading to major consequences or, on occasion, completely unexpected suicide, which they believe is the only valid option left that allows them to escape once and for all.
At groundwire.net, our volunteer coaches deal with students daily who struggle with these diverse challenges, but one thing we have learned is that these behaviors are just symptoms. Whether they cut or jump from bed to bed, they are just acting on an internal issue that remains deep and painful. Whether they are succumbing to pornographic urges or binge-drinking, they are looking for solutions.
The symptoms are many, but there is only one answer. There is definitely a place for psychology and different types of effective therapy, but I am convinced that the battle for young people is first and foremost spiritual, and the answer to their significant questions of value, purpose and healing is Jesus.
He knows them perfectly, loves them deeply and is the only thing that offers hope and healing.
I want to remind you to look past the scars and behaviors of the young people in your life. Look into their hearts, and allow God to reveal their pain. When He does, pray for them. Then offer them hope. Love them in tangible ways, and then introduce them to the One who loves them unconditionally.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Sean Dunn is a speaker, author and the founder of Groundwire, an organization that exists to broadcast hope to anyone who may be struggling or in crisis. Operating 24 hours a day, hundreds of volunteers man Groundwire's chat platform, which is available to anyone at anytime who may need help, encouragement or affirmation. Sean and his four children live outside of Denver, Colo.