My son has horrible eczema and despite the fact that he knows it will hurt, he scratches at it until it bleeds. I’ve begged him, bribed him, berated him but to no avail. The scratching continues almost unconsciously.
It is hard to explain to him too because he is only a toddler. It is not that scratching an itch is always bad. It is that the itch of eczema is not the same as the momentary irritation of a fly landing on your back or an uncomfortable fabric rubbing against your arm.
It is a condition, an ongoing problem, and the scratching can never help, it only makes it worse.
Although this is a dermatological issue, it mirrors a matter which is darker and more sinister. Why do we as humans hurt ourselves? Why do we have unhealthy habits, addictions and behaviors that we know aren’t good for us?
I think that lurking within our hearts is a voice the Bible refers to as, “the accuser of the brethren.” It takes valid or invalid feelings of guilt and twists them into a morass of self-loathing. Fear and frustration begin to dictate our decision making which is frustrating and frightful. It makes you want to tear your skin off rather than deal with the emotional eczema you are suffering.
How do I chose to not scratch the bleeding itches in my life?
Perhaps my son’s favorite treatment is a warm long bath. If he is particularly itchy I give him an oatmeal bath. This serves to cleanse the wounds, oatmeal is said to absorb the dirt and bacteria that may be festering. Oatmeal is also shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
After a bath I always put on protective lotion that stings a bit at first because the wound is open and raw. The lotion nourishes the skin and helps seal the wounds from infection.
Finally, it takes time, usually several days of not scratching before the wound heals completely. And still, he is prone to get it again. Any dry climate is apt to produce new itchy patches on his fair skin. To fight this, I make sure he drinks lots of water, stays hydrated and I don’t let up with the lotion. His skin needs it just as much when it is healthy as when it is broken and bleeding.
As for me, I am realizing as I type that to figure out this analogy I will have to draw on one of the most disturbing and upsetting images in the Christian Church. It is the blood of Christ. This world is full of pain and discontent. It is messed up. Not only that, but I am messed up. My life was ruined; I had no way of buying, building or bartering back my way into the land of the living. But God’s love is extravagant. He knew what I needed. Jesus died my death and so I can live his life. His blood payed for my mistakes. When I itch to tear off my skin and replace the irritation and disease with raw pain the oatmeal bath I soak my wounds in is Christ’s blood spilled for me. It absorbs the guilt and shame. It cleanses me. It is like an anti-inflammatory that counteracts the ever increasing gnawing at my conscience.
And the lotion I use on my tender heart are the promises I find in the Bible. “Not a sparrow falls to the ground without his notice and you are worth more than a whole flock of sparrows.”
It provides nutrients and nourishment for my soul. “The fruit of the Spirit is Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control.”
It doesn’t allow my emotional wounds to fester. “His mercies are new every morning.”