(Image courtesy of http://positivemed.com.)
I stepped outside the classroom to take care of some business in the office.  When I returned later down the hall, a student lay outside the classroom on the floor, scrunched up next to the lockers.  Her teacher was attending to her, but the student was not willing to comply.  The student was depressed and had thoughts of suicide, evidenced in the cuts beneath her covered forearms.  The school staff was well-aware of her history, so she was taken down to a room to recover while her mother was contacted.

But recover she did not.

Instead, she shredded a stress ball to bits, scratched and picked at her nails and face, and squeezed her stuffed animal while crying and rocking slowly back and forth.  The junior high student was clearly in need of help.

She refused guidance from other staff and would not return to class.  Having a free period, I asked if I could try to counsel her.  "Please," was the response I garnered.

As I sat down in the chair across from her, I prayed that the Lord would give me grace; I had no special skills that made me a better counselor than any other.  After all, this was His work, and I was His servant.  "What's going on, Mary [name has been changed]?" I began.  No response.  "What did you have for breakfast?" I offered, trying to ease the mood with a light question.

She glared at me.  "I had a sausage biscuit from Mickey D's.  But I hate them.  I don't want to eat meat, but my mom gives me no choice..." and soft cries punctuated her sentence.

For the next several minutes, the conversation continued in small talk.  I asked questions and made comments; she responded with soft cries and short answers.  I silently begged God for wisdom and grace.

After the cries had subsided, Mary informed me of the following: "I hate myself and my mom makes me so angry because she..." and she went to describe all the ways her mom had wrecked her young life.  It was awkward, as I offered various questions and comments in attempts to lead her to the root of the problem: her own sin.  Knowing that she needed God's love to change her pain-filled heart, I tried several different ways to share the Gospel with her.  The conversation turned, eventually, to the existence of God.

"How can I believe in something that doesn't exist?" she asked pointedly.  I began to explain that everything has its beginnings in God and that we have evidence of His existence all around us.

"If God doesn't exist, then what does it matter what happens to you or to me?" I asked.  "Who makes up what is right and what is wrong?  The fact is, people know what is right and what is wrong; some do it and some do not.  We know what is right and wrong, and we have purpose because God has made us in His image; we didn't just happen by accident."

After a while longer of further reasoning, which seemed to accomplish very little, I said, "Mary, you know that it's foolishness to say there is no God."  Indeed, the look in her eyes told me she knew God existed; but the pain and anger in her heart refused to accept it.  It was easier to blame God and hold on to sin.

Mary continued, "Then why would God allow me to feel this way if He does exist?"  She looked at me longingly for an answer.  I dove back into my memory of Cliff Williams' philosophy class, trying to remember what I had learned about the problem of evil and suffering.  But nothing came to mind.

"I don't know, Mary," I responded, a little saddened at my inability to answer her fundamental question.  "But I do know this: while the love of God doesn't promise a life of ease and comfort, it does promise redemption.  'For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the hope of glory that will be revealed to us,' God's people."

She listened, and was quieted, but the pussy sore of her infected heart had not been relieved of its pressure; it still sat there, festering, spreading its gangrene throughout the whole body, refusing the antidote.  Such are the ways of unrepentant sin.

Finally, I asked Mary if I could pray.  She asked if she had a choice.  "I asked you, didn't I?" was my response.  She nodded her head yes.


I began to pray through the Gospel, the very Word which had saved me years before and continued to guide me this very day.  A few minutes later, I finished, and then the conversation turned more direct, though gentle.

"Mary, you need to trust in Christ."

"I tried before, but nothing changed," she said as she buried in her head into the side of the chair.  "I still hate myself."

"Mary, Jesus talks about two kinds of trees: a good tree which bears good fruit, and a bad tree which bears bad fruit.  Trusting in Jesus is not just a one-time choice, but a lifelong surrender of our will to His.  This is how we bear good fruit and not thorns."  I had her attention.  "You are so angry with your mom and you blame her for all your problems.  I can hear it in the way you talk about her and I can see it the way your face gnarls up when you mention her.  That is bad fruit; you're growing thorns.  And the unique thing about those thorns that grow from a bad tree - they poke all different ways, even back at you, creating pain in you, not just to those around you."  She listened intently.  "The thorns - the unforgiveness  you have toward your mom - are stabbing you and its creating pain and hurt and hatred and anger, all sorts of bad fruit.  If you truly trust Jesus and you want Him to make you feel better, then you must do as He has done for you: forgive!"

"Why would I want to forgive someone who is just going to hurt me again?" she asked.

"But that's just it!" I responded, overjoyed at the opportunity.  "God has forgiven His people a multitude of wrongs, and when they continue to wrong Him, He doesn't flick them away and say, 'I can't forgive you anymore.'  No, He forgives us on account of Christ continually!  'If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.'  So we must also forgive others, otherwise the love of God is not in us.  Mary: you must forgive your mom if you want any hope of feeling better."

For a moment, as I looked into her eyes, I saw that she understood.  Her countenance had changed and her eyes and face were relaxed.  Yet she suppressed the truth, and turned angry once again.  "I cannot forgive her," she stubbornly stated, and she closed her eyes and began to cry softly again.

After nearly two hours of counseling, and knowing confidently that she had heard the truth, I went back to my classroom.  When I walked by the room later, she had returned once again to her position on the floor, cradling her stuffed animal, with her knees tucked in the fetal position.  My heart aches for Mary, yet my spirit is joyful that Christ, indeed, is our Savior and Friend!  For His light has shined into the darkness of our cold, stubborn hearts and produced in His children good fruit; I will trust in Him forever.

Please pray for "Mary."  (Tomorrow, I'll bring her a vegetarian breakfast burrito.)

"I am not ashamed of the Gospel of God, for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'the righteous will live by faith.'  For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, for God has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made; so they are without excuse.  For although they knew God they did not honor Him or give thanks to Him, but became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, animals, and creeping things" (Romans 1:16-23).