I have a scar on my index finger from a car accident back in 1996. One minute, I was cruising down a road near Parkers Prairie and the next my car was skating across glare ice until I landed upside down in the ditch. In the sub-zero November temperatures I assessed my situation. My glasses were broken. I had been in the midst of moving to a different apartment and so I had a bunch of my stuff in the back seat that was now blowing across the snowy countryside. Papers, clothes, a random tube of eyeliner. My right index finger was bleeding and as I looked closer, I noticed a bone, snapped and sticking out of the skin. I observed it thinking, “Hmmm…I would think that would hurt more than it does.”
I grabbed a sweatshirt that had landed next to me among the wreckage and wrapped it around my hand. I remember it all in slow motion – the nice farmer stopping to help me and giving me a ride to the hospital, then laying in an operating room with just enough anesthesia that I couldn’t feel them putting my finger back together, but I could hear the doctors talking to each other, one said, “That was a bad accident – did you hear her vehicle was completely smashed in? Did you know she is a seminary student – I think someone is watching out for her.” And the other doctor said, “Oh yeah – well if someone is watching over her so closely, why did the accident even happen?” Touche, I thought.
The wound has healed. But sometimes when I write too much or do a lot of work with my hands, that old broken bone in my finger aches and calls my attention to it. Nearly twenty years later I didn’t think it would still bother me, but it remains…a tiny, dull ache.
Years ago, I ran across a little article meant to explain to children about scars and why they form and what to do about them. I saved it because I heard wisdom in it not only for our physical scars – but maybe for others as well.
Dr. Brian Flyer, the author of the article, says, “A scar isn’t always a sure thing. It’s not so much how deep or severe a wound is that determines whether a scar will form, but rather the location of the wound and that person’s tendency to form scars.”
What sorts of scars do you have? If I asked you this question, I wonder what you would say? Would you pull up your sleeve and show me the mark on your elbow from your first time out on rollerblades? Would you tell me about the blemishes that remain from your bout with chicken pox? The interesting thing is that each scar has a story – and people are usually more willing to talk about the visible scars that remain on their bodies than the invisible ones that have hurt their spirit or their heart. The thing is – we all have them. The question is – is there anything to be done about them?
Maybe you heard about the United Methodist minister who had been in a serious accident and had to spend several weeks in the hospital. He had a lot of pain, and was given shots to reduce it. The procedure was always the same. When the pain got bad enough, he would ring a buzzer, and a nurse would soon come to give him the shot. One day, he rang for the nurse and then rolled over on his side (with his back to the door), pulled his hospital gown up over his exposed backside, and waited for the nurse to come in. When he heard the door open, he pointed to his right bare buttock and said, “Why don’t you give me the shot right here this time?”
After a few moments of silence, he looked up. It was a woman from his church! Following a brief embarrassing conversation, the woman left, and the minister—thinking about what he had done–started laughing. He laughed so hard that tears were coming out of his eyes when the nurse arrived. When he tried to explain what had happened, he began laughing even harder.
When he was finally able to tell the nurse the whole story, the wonderful thing he noticed was that his pain was gone! He didn’t need the shot, and didn’t ask for one for another 90 minutes.
You and I both know people who have been through terrible tragedy in life – illness, loss, chronic pain…and there can be a huge difference in the ways people let those sorts of tragedy affect them. Some become broken. Some show amazing resilience. But what a blessing, no matter what our natural response might be, when God grants us the grace to laugh even when things seem most grim. It may not solve the problems of life – but it makes them easier to bear.
Peter Berger calls laughter a “signal of transcendence” – a sign built into us so that deep down, even if our heads are telling us that there is no God, our hearts tells us different. Laughter tells us that life, despite its seeming randomness and chaos, actually has meaning and purpose.
However, while finding laughter in the midst of hardship is certainly wonderful, one might ask, isn’t there a way to prevent wounds and scars altogether? Dr. Bryan Flyer states, “The best way to prevent scars is to prevent wounds! You can reduce your chances of getting hurt by wearing kneepads and helmets – but even with protective gear a person can get hurt once in a while.” If this happens, you can help your skin heal itself by treating it well during the healing process.”
Enid was a woman whose husband had died unexpectedly two years before she sought counseling with Dr. Rachel Remen. Withdrawn and distant, she no longer cooked or looked after her garden or her house. Most of the time she sat in her bathrobe in the living room, looking out the window. She had been brought to see Dr. Remen by one of her daughters who had told her, “I lost both my parents the day my father died.”
Enid was a lovely woman in her early seventies, but she seemed as lifeless as the chair she sat on. Dr. Remen opened the conversation by asking her why she had come. “My husband has died,” she replied, “My daughters would like me to talk about it, but I do not think that I care to.” “No one could possibly understand.”
Dr. Remen nodded in agreement. “Yes, of course,” she said. “Only your husband could understand what you have lost. Only he knew what your life together was like. If he were here Enid, what would you tell him?”
She considered this for a long moment. Then she closed her eyes and began to speak to her husband aloud, telling him what life was like without him. She told him about going to their special places alone, walking their dogs alone, sleeping in their bed alone. She told him about needing to learn to do the little things he had always taken care of, things she had never known about. She reminded him of times that only he would remember, old memories that no one else had shared. And then she began to cry.
When her tears stopped, Dr. Remen asked her if there was anything she had not said. Hesitantly she said how angry she was with him for abandoning her to grow old alone. She felt as if he had broken a promise to her. She missed him terribly.
“Enid,” Dr. Remen asked her, “If Herbert were here, what would he say to you about the way you have lived since his death?” She looked startled. “Why, he would say, ‘Enid, why have you built a monument of pain in memory of me? Our whole life together was about love.’” She paused. Then she said, “Perhaps there are other ways to remember him”.
Afterward she said that she had felt that if she let go of her pain, she would betray Herbert’s memory and diminish the value of his life. She had begun to realize that she actually betrayed him by holding on to her pain and closing her heart.
There is no way to prevent the wounds that occur in the course of our lives. The cost of love and life is that we will end up hurt sometimes. But we help ourselves heal when we realize that every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this.
Even so, we might still ask ourselves if scars are things we have to bear forever. Aren’t there ways to rid ourselves of them completely and start fresh? Dr. Bryan Flyer states, “Some scars fade over time. If yours doesn’t and it bothers you, there are treatments that can make a scar less noticeable.”
My mother had major heart surgery in 1995. At first after the surgery she always wore blouses with necklines that were high enough to conceal the top of the long scar that began just at the bottom of her throat.
Over time, however, she didn’t mind if people caught a glimpse of her scar. It’s like she almost became a little proud of it because that scar spoke of something she had been through – a tale that she lived to tell.
Could it be that we are wisest when we learn to see all of our scars that way? Not just the scars of surgeries we have survived – but the battle scars that life has given us. The scars that remain inside us from love lost, from all the hard stuff of life, even the scars that we hardly dare speak of because if people knew about them we think those scars would say something about us that we don’t want everyone to know. Scars left by things like failures, like bad choices made, like shame at something we said or did that we know was beneath us?
Could it be that a part of our healing is to be able to show the scars we have acquired – to not hide them but to say “See – see what I have been through. These say something about me. These scars tell you who I really am.”
Jesus himself knew that it was only by showing his ruined hands and feet to the disciples when he appeared to them after the resurrection that he could prove to them it was really him. He said, “See my hands and my feet – that it is really me.”
Let me tell you something – your scars are exquisite. Have you ever noticed how when you come to know someone as a friend – you may initially admire them for their strength or their bravery or their success – but they become real and dear and more and more beautiful as you begin to know the things that have caused them pain, the parts of them that have been broken, and the stories of their suffering?
There are so many reasons that we only show those parts of ourselves to those closest to us. We worry about seeming weak. We worry about people thinking we are fragile or incapable.
But I love what Paul writes in our second reading for today – he talks about a thorn given to him in his flesh and how he prayed it would leave him. We don’t know what this thorn in the flesh was. It could have been some physical ailment or maybe even an emotional ailment. Whatever it was, it troubled him and even though he prayed for it to go away, it didn’t.
And yet, he came to understand that even still, God could work through him – writing, “So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Trying to understand why the scar-causing things in life happen is futile, but we can find comfort in knowing that somehow, God’s strength, God’s provision, God’s grace can still shine through.
Joni Eareckson Tada is a woman who was injured in a diving accident in 1967 – the accident left her, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, without the use of her hands. Since then she has written over 50 books, and has become an advocate for all those with disabilities. She has been quoted as saying, “Deny your weakness, and you will never realize God’s strength in you.”
Tell me about your scars. Let’s be okay with being honest with each other about our flaws, our imperfections – because when we do, we’ll more readily begin to see all the beauty that God can still create even and especially in our brokenness.