There’s a universal reality about life: It scars us, no matter how careful we try to be. And the longer we live, the greater our scars, in number and sometimes in severity.
Some of our scars are visible, such as ones I’ve collected on my hands over the years, as well as the “zipper” I received during my open-heart surgery nearly 14 years ago. But other scars aren’t as evident, especially ones of an emotional or psychological nature. Either way, they serve as reminders of painful moments and events in our past.
What brought this to mind was a song, “Scars,” that I heard the other day, sung by a group called I Am They. The lyrics declare, “I am thankful for the scars.” I wonder, as you consider the scars you’ve accumulated during your life, can you say you’re thankful for them?
You might be thinking, “Thankful? No way!” A failed marriage might come to mind, the unexpected passing of the loved one, a debilitating illness, the death of a long-cherished dream due to unavoidable circumstances. There are many other possibilities. Long after the original wounds were inflicted, scars remain as indelible “souvenirs.” How can we to be thankful about the hurt they represent?
And yet, some scars can serve a positive purpose. Just like memories of past failures, they can serve as reminders – even motivation – for avoiding similar mistakes in the future.
I have a good friend who fought as a Marine in Vietnam and suffered serious injuries. To this day he bears the scars from wounds he sustained. Today, he sees them as a vivid reminder of the person he was before coming to know Jesus Christ – and the changes the Lord has done in his life since then. The difference, he would tell you, is like comparing night and day.
The Scriptures have a lot to say about scars. For instance, it was scars that convinced Jesus’ followers of His resurrection. “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself!... When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet” (Luke 24:36-40).
In another passage, we see the doubtful disciple, Thomas, who demanded proof of Jesus’ triumph over death. Eyewitness testimony offered by others wasn’t sufficient. So Jesus presented evidence – His scars. “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’” (John 20:27). Those visible scars dispelled all of Thomas’s uncertainty as he declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
The apostle Paul suffered much in serving Jesus Christ. He even had some kind of affliction, described as “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.” Did he like this “scar”? Definitely not. He wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).
Scholars speculate what this “thorn” was. It could have been a variety of things, such as poor eyesight, a speech impediment, a physical disability, headaches, even bouts of depression. No one knows for certain. It’s clear, however, that God used it for a good purpose in Paul’s life.
Noting that despite his pleas, the Lord chose not to remove this “thorn,” Paul wrote, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Like Paul, we’ve all got scars – or thorns – in our lives we wish God would simply erase. But also like Paul, we can rejoice in them, recognizing that through our weaknesses, the Lord is able to manifest His strength and remind us of our utter dependence on Him.
But our scars can provide another benefit. Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, writer and theologian, devoted many years to serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at L’Arche Daybreak community in Ontario, Canada. During that time he gained a great appreciation for not allowing our scars to impede our progress through life.
He wrote, “The main question is not, how can we hide our wounds…but how can we put our woundedness in service to others.”
The friend that I mentioned earlier, the Vietnam vet? Today he heads a non-profit organization devoted to helping and encouraging disabled military veterans, people with physical, psychological and spiritual wounds that have been unaddressed for too long. Ken's using his own scars to facilitate healing for others.
Whether discovering in deeper ways how we must rely on the Lord, or in leveraging our pain into means for ministering to others, we too can be thankful for the scars.