“Scars show us where we have been, they do not dictate where we are going.” (David Rossi)
The sense that you are defined by your marks and scars and that they are the first thing others notice about you is not a pleasant feeling. I once had an accident that left me with a rather bizarre cut on my face, right along my cheekbone, and for the next few weeks I knew what it was to feel marked. It was the first thing people noticed about me when they saw me, I could never have a normal conversation without first having to tell the whole story, and I could see people I didn’t know looking at me and wondering what had happened.
(Since you’re probably wondering now, I was walking along the street when my shoe got caught on a paving stone. I fell forwards and put my hands out to break my fall, which might have helped, except for the fact that I had a heavy bag on my back and, as I fell, the weight caused it to hit the back of my head and slam my face into the ground!)
It wasn’t pretty, but fortunately it was a fairly superficial wound, the mark faded and there is no trace of it now.
Internal scars from the past have not been so quick to heal, and for several years I had the same feeling that they were what marked me out. These marks and scars were not obvious for all to see in the same way as the cut on my face, but they hugely impacted how I saw myself and how I related to others. I felt that if anybody saw my scars I would be judged and rejected. The focus of my life was hiding them so no-one could see, but I still knew they were there and sometimes I felt that others were aware of them too.
If I was rejected in some way, I felt that people could tell that there was something wrong with me. If I was complimented, the voice in my head told me they’d never say that if they knew the truth about me. I’d hold back in all kinds of situations out of fear, because I didn’t trust myself, and I didn’t feel I could be accepted for being myself.
But five years ago this week I finally understood the truth- I not only understood it theoretically, but actually embraced it and began to live in it- that the marks and the scars of the past do not have to define me or hold me back.
I am marked, but with a far greater mark that overrides it all.
Paul writes about it in Ephesians 1: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” (v4) God had marked us out for salvation in him from before the beginning of time. This reassures me so much because it means it cannot be about anything we do to earn it, only about his grace.
Even better, he marked us out as his children- “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do and it gave him great pleasure.” (v5) This is one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible- it wasn’t done grudgingly, or out of any sense of obligation. God wanted to adopt us as his children and it gave him great pleasure!
And just to seal the deal- “When you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own [he put his seal on you] by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people.” (v13-14)
So now these are the marks that define me- loved and chosen by God, holy and without fault in his eyes, adopted into his family, filled with his Spirit.
The other marks have not completely gone, and maybe they won’t be completely gone until heaven. That could sound depressing, but actually the first time I heard someone say that it was a huge relief to me. It removed the pressure I felt to be “sorted” and the feeling that maybe I wasn’t progressing fast enough.
Even Jesus, after he rose from the dead, still bore the scars of his crucifixion. St Thomas Aquinas writes, “He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.””* They were a constant reminder of God’s love and mercy, and putting his fingers in the scars is what caused Thomas (the disciple) to believe and put his faith in Jesus.
I believe our scars can also be used by God: to speak of his love and grace, to remind us of where we have come from and how far he has brought us, and to testify to others of his power to heal and restore…
…but if we are in Christ, they are not what define us.
“No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars,
Still the truth is the cross has made, the cross has made you flawless.
No matter the hurt, or how deep the wound is, no matter the pain,
Still the truth is the cross has made, the cross has made you flawless.”
*quote from Bede’s commentary on Luke 24:40
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