Monday, March 9, 2020

Scars Can Be Badges of Honor, Rather Than Marks of Despair

For some reason I’ve been thinking about scars. They’re not a common conversation topic, but we all have them – whether they’re visible or not. What kind do you have? 

Even though I haven’t had a “hard life,” I’ve managed to accumulate my share of scars. On both hands, behind my index fingers, I have nearly identical scars. I remember “earning” one many years ago when my right hand scraped the sharp edge of a metal door as I carried something out of a retail store. I have no recollection, however, of where the other one came from.

I’m not a “sickly” person, but have had a number of surgeries during my lifetime, and some have helped to expand my scar collection. I have the vertical “zipper” from my open-heart surgery more than 13 years ago. (One of the first things people who have undergone such procedures hear in recovery is, “Welcome to the zipper club!”) I have a small scar from having a torn meniscus repaired on my left knee, and “souvenirs” from a few other surgical procedures. I could have auditioned for the role of “Scar” in “The Lion King,” but I didn’t have the “lion eyes” they were looking for.

You might also bear marks from past operations. Even if you don’t, undoubtedly you carry other types of scars that hearken to various life experiences, maybe even from early childhood: A banged-up knee from a playground outing; an injury sustained while competing in a sport; a cut incurred during a carpentry project, or even stretch marks from significant weight loss, or a pregnancy. 

Many scars can’t be seen with our eyes: Harsh, insensitive words still resonating in our memories. Household conflicts hard for our young minds to understand. Abuse – physical or verbal – suffered through unhealthy relationships. Disappointments and failures we won’t forget.

A whole segment of people carry psychological and emotional scars classified as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder): Veterans who fought in various wars; first responders to horrendous events like 9/11 or fatal traffic accidents; law enforcement officers forced to use lethal force. 

By definition, physical scars are marks left where fibrous connective tissue has developed as wounds, burns or sores were healing. Scarring is a natural part of the healing process, mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. The question is, what do we do with our scars? Even if they serve as reminders of difficulties from our past, they don’t need to define us.

A surgical scar, for instance, often serves as visible proof of not just surviving, but overcoming some type of physical pain or struggle. A mark remains, but we’re still here. What about invisible scars of emotional pain? They remain as memories, but needn’t shape our future.

Recently I heard a praise song in which the vocalist sang he was “thankful for the scars.” This reminds me of Scripture passages that speak of how adversity can prove to be a growing experience. For instance, “…we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

Similarly, the apostle James offered these words of admonition: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Romans 8:28 reminds us, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Not all, but some of those “things” leave scars, even when we can discern how the Lord has used them for our good.

When I think of positive effect scars can provide, what stands out foremost are those Jesus Christ carried from the cross. John 20 tells about Jesus showing them to Thomas as proof of His resurrection; those scars remain as an eternal memorial to what He has done for us all: and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed“ (1 Peter 2:24). 

Yes, even though we might have disliked the processes that brought them to us, we can truly be thankful for the scars.

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