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.”

I am with you always

Many people in the UK today live on their own. In 2016, there were 7.7 million one person households; 54% of whom were women and 46 % were men. Between 1996 and 2016 the number of one person households increased by 15% for those aged over 65 and by 51% for those aged 45-64. In contrast, during that period the number of one person households fell by 12% amongst those aged 25-44. Some younger people are living with their parents longer than in previous generations and others are sharing accommodation with friends. In wealthy societies increasing numbers of people are choosing to live alone. In Scandinavia, for example, nearly 50% of the adult population live alone.

Not everyone who lives on their own is lonely, but many are. Those who have experienced the pain of marriage breakdown and those who have been bereaved feel it acutely. For them, living alone, eating alone and returning to an empty house at the end of each day is something they never really get used to. Communicating with “friends” through social media may help, but is not the same as human companionship and sharing the ups and downs of daily life with someone we love. It is good to have to consider someone else’s needs as well as our own. An elderly widow who lived next door to us told us that living on her own meant she could be tempted to be very selfish.

Jesus experienced profound loneliness when he died on the cross. On the night before he died he told his disciples, who had been his close companions over the past 3 years, “The time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” Yet, the next day, as he suffered on the cross, he experienced total aloneness as he paid the price of our sins. Out of the darkness he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Later, as he prepared to die, he knew the Father’s presence again. His last words were, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.”

One of the great promises Jesus made to his disciples, as he sent them out into a hostile world to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, was “I am with you always.” Knowing Jesus as Saviour and Lord means we are never alone because, through the Holy Spirit, he really is with us.

Real relationships in an impersonal world

The amount of time spent in face to face contact with family and friends has dramatically reduced because of the increased use of mobile phones and social media. Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman has said, “As the amount of time spent looking at a screen or plugging in increases, the amount of direct eye-to-eye contact and developing real-life relationships inevitably decreases. By the age of 7 years, the average child born today will have spent one full year of 24 hour days watching screen technology. By the time they reach 80 they will have spent almost 18 years of 24 hour days watching non-work related screen technology. That’s a quarter of their lives.”

The implications of this are very serious for developing meaningful real-life relationships. Although on the face of it mobile phones and social media are means of keeping in touch with people, they are seriously distorting human relationships. People may have many “friends” on Facebook, but they seldom meet them and spend time with them. Instead they exchange information. Given the option of making a phone call or sending a text most people today choose to send a text. Famous people send brief messages to their “followers” on Twitter.

Real relationships are very important for us all. We are essentially relational beings. When God first created Adam he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Eve was a God’s special creation as an equal to Adam, so that they could share their lives together. Human relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters can be the source of the deepest joy and happiness. The experience of mutual love is a wonderful blessing. When close relationships go wrong we inevitably experience intense pain and sadness.

The iPad and the mobile phone can be turned off. Only slaves are on call 24/7! How important it for us to make it a priority to spend quality time with our family and friends. We can also spend quality time with God. Through his Son, Jesus Christ, any of us can experience the privilege of becoming one of God’s children. Through prayer we can speak to him at any time, wherever we are. He is never too busy to hear our prayers. We can also listen to him. Through his Word, the Bible, he speaks to us and makes many wonderful promises. Through a personal relationship with God in Jesus we can experience his love and discover the purpose for which we were created.