Scars have a bad reputation. They’re branded as the bullies on the playground, the bad apples in the barrel, the “Debbie Downer” of the party. We ban them from our conversations. We send them to sit in the corner by themselves.
Scars show the mark of a previous wound. LBJ infamously showed his scar after they removed his gall bladder in 1965 and scandalized the nation.
When I was in elementary school, I fell one day and skinned my knee. I doctored it myself in my elementary-school way, but I didn’t do it for a day or so. It must have become infected because it took a long time to heal. I have a scar on that knee to this day.
If you look above my right eye you can still see where I took a curve ball to the eye at age 14. About thirty years later I showed the scar to the physician who stitched it up. He was still proud of his work. Believe me I can still see that curve ball coming in toward my head!
Scars are markers of the past. They remind us. They give evidence of our history. Sometimes we try with great effort to hide our scars. We use butterfly bandaids. We use stitches. We hire plastic surgeons. We do everything possible to prevent our scars, to remove our scars, to hide our scars. We want to keep anyone from knowing that we were ever hurt, that we ever needed surgery, that we somehow might be less than perfect.
It’s one thing to do that with our skin. But we do the same thing with our hearts. We have hurts. We have scars. All of us do. We try with all our might to prevent them, to remove them, to hide them. But they are there. Deep within us. Calling out to us for healing. Scars on our hearts are different from the scars on our bodies. We can hide or remove the scars on our bodies and forget about them. That’s not nearly as true for the scars on our hearts. Some are deep. Some are shallow. But when we cover them up and shove them ever more deeply inside us, they fail to get the air they need to heal. Our culture tells us that this is the proper way to handle our hurts. To cover them, to hide them, to remove them. But they never heal when we do that. The longer they stay submerged, the more hurtful they become.
Let’s redeem the reputation of scars. Let’s invite them to join us in our conversations. Let’s let them join in telling our stories. Scars can be redemptive if we allow them to be. Scars can also remind us of what we’ve learned, when we’ve grown, how we’ve changed for the better.
Scripture tells the stories of how God has formed his community through the ages. How he has taught them, changed them, led them, and grown them closer and closer to what he intended for them from the beginning. Sometimes we have to look closely to see what is most obvious. Some of what I’ve found most obvious is that God does his work through community. It’s when we’re together that God does his most powerful work. I’m not disparaging those who devote themselves to lives of prayer and solitude. Far from it. But the story of Scripture is that God speaks through our stories as we live them out together in submission to God’s story. Here’s Paul speaking to the believers in Corinth:
All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. (2 Cor 1:3-5 The Message Bible)
We talk often about being the presence of God to the world. We are also to be the presence of God to each other, priests to each other. We are to bear each other’s burdens, hear each other’s stories, receive each other’s confessions. We are to merge our stories with each other even as God merges all our stories into the grand and glorious story of eternal good news.
Henri Nowen wrote about how our suffering, our scars, can be redeemed for the service of our communities:
“Making one’s own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all men share.” (The Wounded Healer, 88, italics added)
Our scars are given to us for each other. They remind us of the stories we share that go to the very deepest parts of who we are. They are the visible evidence of our stories, often the most powerful parts of our stories, the parts our communities most need to hear in order to be redeemed.
Let’s work to find ways to make our communities “scar-friendly” places. Let’s have parades for our scars. Let’s have parties for them. Let’s take them out to dinner. Most importantly let’s invite them into our conversations and make safe spaces for them to be shared and processed. Let’s allow God to redeem our scars as he uses them to redeem us.
You may know that I was in a plane crash in 1999 with my family and my choir. While getting out of the plane, I cut my forearm. It wasn’t a bad cut, but it was obvious. Someone asked me if I thought it would leave a scar. I said, “I hope so.”