Let the children come to me

Hospitals in Britain are treating almost twice as many girls for self-harm as they did 20 years ago. Hospital admissions have increased from 7,327 in 1997 to 13,463 in 2017. The number treated for attempting an overdose has increased tenfold from 249 to 2,736. The number of boys admitted to hospital for self-harm has stayed the same but the number of boys attempting an overdose increased from 152 in 1997 to 839 in 2017. A spokeswoman for the NSPCC said: “Sadly, these heart-breaking figures are unsurprising. Many children are being driven to self-harm as a way of dealing with the pressures and demands of modern-day life. Young people are crying out for help.”

Jon Goldin, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “I think there are a range of factors putting pressure on young children – academic pressures, social media, the fear of missing out and comparing yourself unfavourably to images you see online.” He added that girls may be more ‘sensitive’ to the pressures than boys. One girl aged 14 said: “Recently I’ve lost some people who were really close to me. When I started to self-harm, it seemed to mask the emotional pain I was feeling. When I get the urge to cut, I can’t seem to stop it until it’s done, otherwise I get really upset and angry.”

Children and young people are more vulnerable today than they were 20 years ago. Social media and smartphones mean that they can never hide or escape. The Photoshopped images of celebrities present a false body-image of perfection. Teenagers, and others, are pressurised into thinking that your image, clothes and possessions are what really matter. However, what matters most is not our outward appearance or possessions but the people we really are. Peer pressure can also be very cruel. If others don’t like me then I don’t like myself and so I punish myself through self-harming.

Jesus taught that children are precious in God’s sight. When parents brought their children to Jesus he said: “Let the children come to me. For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” He also gave a very solemn warning to those who mistreat or exploit children: “If you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck.”

A radical alternative to materialism

Materialism has been adopted by many people in the developed world as the basis for their lives. They believe that nothing exists except physical matter and that the universe in which we live is evolving. We, too, are caught up in an impersonal evolutionary process. Materialism tells us that we are all essentially animals and that physical things are the only things that exist. As a result, some people have become materialistic, seeking to accumulate wealth and possessions in the pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction.

One very serious consequence of a materialistic life is that the true value of people is lost. The Urban Dictionary defines being materialistic as, “The act of caring more about things than people; judging yourself and others on the cost of your stupid things.” From childhood we are encouraged to believe that the things we possess give us value and worth. Our “stuff” defines us. The sad and tragic lives of some rich and famous people teach us that money and possessions do not guarantee happiness, but may even destroy us.

The Bible warns us of the dangers of being materialistic. Jesus told a man who wanted to inherit a legacy, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” The apostle Paul said, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

The example of Jesus provides a radical alternative to materialism and points the way to true and lasting happiness for us all, as people who have been created by God as both body and soul. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus left the heavenly riches, that were his of right, in order to come to this world and become poor. On the Cross he suffered the punishment our sins deserve so that we might be forgiven and receive eternal life. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection teach us that every one of us is valuable in God’s sight and that heaven is real.

Discovering and enjoying real life

None of us knows what any day of our life may bring. A few weeks ago our neighbour died suddenly. Friends noticed that his curtains had not been drawn and one, who had a key, went into the house and found he had died. We had been neighbours for nearly 20 years. His wife died just 18 months earlier and since then he had not been well and was lonely. They had no children. The house has been inherited by a nephew. He and his wife have been preparing the house to be sold. They have taken the more valuable things, but many things have been put into a skip on the driveway. It has been sad to see those personal possessions, which once had value for our neighbours, now discarded as of no worth.

Jesus once gave a warning to the people he was teaching. “Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.” We live in a materialistic society in which possessions are prized. We are bombarded by adverts telling us that if we buy certain things our lives will be enriched; the latest smart phone, a new car, electronic devices and designer clothes. But fashion is fickle and moves on. In a very short time all these things are out of date and are discarded.

One of the greatest blessings we can know is contentment. The apostle Paul wrote, “For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Each one of us is infinitely more valuable than our possessions. We were created by God and have a wonderful capacity to relate personally to him. We are not simply the product of an evolutionary process, but are God’s special creation. We have both a body and a soul. When we die our bodies remain, but our souls pass into the presence of God. The life for which we were created can be experienced here on earth and continues into eternity, which is why it is so important to begin to think about it now. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and enjoy it to the full.”