Did you hear about the fellow – a reformed skinhead – who underwent 25 surgeries over 16 months to have elaborate tattoos removed from his face, neck and hands?
Bryon Widner had undergone a change of heart and renounced his racist, white supremacist ideology, but the external trappings of his former life remained etched into his skin, in places he couldn’t possibly conceal. It cost an estimated $35,000 to have the “ink” – swastikas, the word “HATE,” and various other racist symbols and words – removed.
His story was presented as a documentary, “Erasing Hate,” on MSNBC. The expense was one thing; the pain he endured to remove evidence of his self-mutilation was even worse.
Not long ago, flipping through an old high school yearbook, I was reminded of what we once looked like. “What were we thinking?” I chuckled, marveling at the teased hairstyles and kooky clothes back then. At the time, it was “cool.” Decades later, we wouldn’t be caught dead looking that way.
Mr. Widner’s tale is cautionary for us all – and not just because (in my opinion) tattoos adorning someone’s body are like graffiti on the Washington Monument. Markings of what once seemed “cool” can mar us for a lifetime.
“Never do something you’ll regret in the morning, or next week, or next year.” Good advice, but in the moment, whether as impetuous youths or weak-thinking adults, we make dumb decisions. Then one day we regain sanity and wonder, “What was I thinking?”
In reality, we have all carried “tattoos” of one sort or another. Sometimes we have worn them on the inside rather than the outside, not as readily visible but there just the same: tattoos like anger, prejudice, pride, selfishness, self-righteousness, etc.
The fact is, unless we’ve maimed ourselves outwardly, we can conceal our flaws from the external world. But what matters most of all is what’s inside. That’s why God declares in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
You can paint a garbage can in bright, pretty colors, but on the inside it still contains garbage. Our challenge is not only to look presentable on the outside, but also be acceptable to the One that studies the heart. The good news is that we don’t have to do the work; God is willing to perform the renovation project – if we’re willing.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The One who died for our sins will do the transformation: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).