Friday, February 21, 2014

Known By Our Scars

Several years ago my youngest child had her appendix out. On the way home from the hospital she asked to go by school, and I obliged. Next thing I knew, she was standing there, shirt partway up, showing her entire 5th grade class her beautiful new scar.

Kids are like that. The bigger the scar, the better. Scars come with stories of adventure and risk and danger. Scars, to them, are like trophies. Medals of Honor created from flesh.

Then something changes. Adults usually aren't like that. We hide our scars. We go to great lengths via clothing and makeup and even plastic surgery to make sure that nobody sees. Nobody knows. But why?

My friend Jeff is a military chaplain. Recently, he wrote about an experience early in his chaplain training:
One visit will always stand out in my memory.

As soon as I walked into the room, I saw the man sitting in a chair in his hospital gown with his knees spread far apart.

I introduced myself and that I was here as part of a seminary course, learning and providing hospital ministry.

He introduced himself with a smile rather loudly and (as he began to pull his gown back toward his groin) immediately asked if I would like to see the scar from his prostate surgery.

I wasn't sure if he was serious or not, but I knew that I seriously did NOT want to look at that part of his body—much less after a surgery.

So I smiled nervously, turned my head to the side, held up my hand to block any potential view and said "no thanks" laughing slightly.

I managed to come on into the room, make some small talk with him and continue on my way after a few minutes.

I don't remember what we talked about.

. . . or even if he talked at all.

I think it's fair to say that all of us want SOMEBODY to see our scars and still stay with us.

Scars vary. Some are in plain sight. Others are in more private locations. Some fade so much with time that they are barely visible. Others are a grotesque mangle of tissue that disfigures us. Small children stare. Polite society turns away.

Why are scars so important? Because they are part and parcel of who we are. Every scar has a story.

But sometimes the scars are not etched in flesh. Sometimes they are written on our minds and in our hearts. They are memories of trauma and heartbreak that can be just as, if not more, painful as anything the sharpest knife could inflict. And they can handicap us and disfigure us in in ways that cause polite society, and even the church . . . sometimes mostly the church, to avert its eyes.

Emotional scars aren't pretty. They cause us to limp along in life, stumbling around, often not able to conform to the tidy routines of our happy-face, family-friendly, Christian culture.

Emotional scars, more than their physical counterparts, make people uncomfortable. Early in our marriage, my husband and I were part of a small group in the church we were attending and the plan was for each one of us to take turns giving our testimony.

I had given my testimony a number of times in high school and college and had never been met with any negative reaction at all, so I very willingly volunteered to be one of the first.

The week before, a fine, upstanding, middle-aged businessman shared the story of his life as a drug dealer and biker before God crashed on the scene and transformed him. His story was met with rounds of "oooohh" and "ahhhhhh" and "Praise God!" This was great! So, with no fear or trepidation, I began to share my own story; unveil my scars, if you will.

I opened up and shared it all . . . the anxiety, the insecurity, the broken home, the drinking, the depression, the eating disorder, the three hellish weeks in the psych hospital, and the three weeks in the medical hospital where God finally reached down, snatched me up, and said "You are mine." I also chronicled what had been some continuing issues as well as areas where God had worked tremendous healing and growth. I shared my story, my scars, who I was.

Nobody said a word. Not during the testimony. Not afterwards. Not in the following weeks. I received a handful of condescending smiles and a couple of looks of concern, but that was about it. It was the equivalent of stripping naked and having everybody gasp in horror. My scars were ugly. I was unacceptable.

It has been 26 years since that day and I have shared my story just three more times. Two of those times resulted in the now familiar silence (and air of condescension).

What my friend Jeff said is so true. We long to share our scars and be met with mercy and acceptance (and possibly even respect)—not disgust or revulsion.

One time, when I was obligated to share my testimony and was trembling in fear, I found myself asking, "Who am I to be ashamed of the means by which Christ redeemed me?" If he used those terrible, shameful, painful years of my early life to bring me to himself, then praise God! My scars aren't ugly, they are beautiful!

But, then again, God knows about scars.
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” — John 20:24-28
Jesus himself was known by his scars. The scars in his hands, his feet, were part of his story—the most wonderful story ever told.

Those of us who have scars (and from what I hear, that is all of us), we are in good company. There is no need for shame.

Can we do this? Can we brace ourselves and look at one another, scars and all, and see and accept who we really are? I hope so. Oh, I hope so.


  1. Thanks for showing your scars - yes it can be scary, I know from experience!