I’m approaching my 37th birthday later this week. I think it’s normal to take stock of where you’ve been, where you’re going, how you’ve aged at each birthday and I certainly haven’t been the exception to that rule as my day approaches. As I studied myself in the mirror the other day cursing the gray hairs and fine lines I’ve added in the past year, my eyes stopped on the scar on my forehead. It’s been with me so long, I rarely notice it anymore, but for some reason it caught my attention this time around. I had a terrible case of the chicken pox when I was in fifth grade. I was absolutely covered from head to toe and still host a number of chicken pox scars today that bare testament to that miserable two weeks. The most significant is in the center of my forehead. This particular scar served quite well as a conversation starter when I taught fourth graders, each anxious to hazard a guess as to its origin and curious to know the real story. More often than not they were disappointed by the boring explanation I gave, I think they would have preferred I’d been hit with a bb.
Reminiscing and musing over that mark made me think of the other scars on my body, each representing a small piece of my life story, mementos of brief moments in time that might otherwise be forgotten. From the twin scars on my leg leftover from a spectacular pavement crash in the middle of a youth group car wash fundraiser, to the small slip of a line that marks where I broke my finger fixing a piece of equipment at the first business I opened, each is a reminder.
Recently on our family vacation, I uncovered a new and unwelcomed scar when I found myself reacting in a completely unfamiliar way. We had an immense number of people to coordinate with 27 cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, parents, grandparents, nieces, and nephews so clearly everyone could not get their way or follow their chosen agenda at every moment. I knew this going in, and in general am relaxed about this aspect of my family, happy to go with the flow, content to simply be with the people I love. Yet I found myself deeply annoyed and emotional one morning. My body was humming with discontent, ready to erupt at a moment’s provocation. There appeared to be no cause, at least not that I could identify. Uncertain and a bit concerned about the strength of my reaction, I took a long walk on the beach in an attempt to uncover what was bothering me. That’s when I found the new scar, one I could not physically see and therefore was unaware existed…as a result of my divorce, I am now sensitive to rejection. And after days of having my opinion dismissed or overruled by others, I felt insignificant, unimportant, and once again rejected.
I am a fairly logical person, historically I have been able to talk myself out of nearly every uncomfortable feeling with logic and rational thought, but this reaction came from a core level, a deep level I wasn’t aware of until now, a level so animalistic it wouldn’t respond to reasoning. Rationally, I was aware people didn’t intend to make me feel rejected, but I simply could not convince my soul, my deepest self of that truth. That scared me. In addition, I was disheartened and angered to know I now carried baggage I didn’t have before, baggage that could pop up at random moments causing me to react in unfamiliar ways, and baggage that would need to be addressed. I had foolishly hoped all my hard work would allow me to be the one person in the world that walked away from divorce without baggage. In response to learning that wasn’t true, I spiraled back into my sad place.
I didn’t want there to be more hard work ahead of me. The last 20 months have been challenging, filled with so many hours of intense self reflection, that I am exhausted. I thought I had reached the end, that now I could move forward less burdened and with a possibility of future happiness, that I could be done uncovering and fixing flaws in myself. Learning there was more hard work ahead, that my reprieve was small, a couple measly weeks, and that now in order to fully heal I would have to confront and work through new behaviors, responses, and patterns that had never existed before, caused me to completely shut down. I simply did not have the heart or the drive to face another round of self reflection.
I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to convince myself to reengage with the world. I have been feeling lethargic, unable to care about anything. The only thing that appeals to me is sleep for it provides a small respite from the endless voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, I’m not loveable, I’m not worth listening to. I know the voice lies, but I seem content to let it run rampant right now, it’s just easier than summoning the energy to fight back. Similarly, I know what I need to do to feel better because I’ve been on this road before. I recognize this gloom as you would an old friend who has resurfaced. I know I need to write, to exercise, to be with positive people, to spend extra time with God, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I stubbornly refuse to engage, angry that I have to and overwhelmed by the energy it will take to do so. My greatest fear is I will never move past this stage of my life, that I will endlessly have to fight to stay out of the pit of despair. That each set of divorce paperwork I have to sign, each unpleasant moment, each disappointment, will send me right back to this place. I fear I haven’t grown as much as I thought I had, that the lessons I learned are not lasting but rather lessons I will have to learn again and again my whole life over.
My sister Dana told me the other day that it will get better. She reminded me that I’ve been in the midst of the storm this past year and a half but that the storm is passing. Yet just like a thunderstorm that has moved on, occasionally I will still hear the thunder, but it doesn’t mean I’m back in the eye of the storm. It made sense, but it feels the same and that makes it hard to have faith the worst has passed.
As I lay in bed last night, I thought through some of what my counselor and I had talked about earlier in the day. I’d spoken to her of emotional and hidden scars and my fear they would continue to surface long after I thought I’d uncovered the last of them. I hate the idea that I’ve been wounded in places so hidden in myself I can’t see the wound to repair it before it blindsides me.
But in that moment, a thought came to me. Jesus had scars…many, many scars by the time His life ended. And if He’d chosen instead to live scar-free, I wouldn’t have the promise of complete healing and eternal life. Not only that, His scars make Him who He is…they define Him. They are not weaknesses, but rather evidence of His strength and divine grace.
With that in mind, I picked up a book my counselor suggested and came across the following passage:
“I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually be places to see. To see through to God. That that which tears our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave. Maybe so.”
Is it possible that without my scars and weak places, I cannot glimpse the world beyond? Is it possible these new scars will one day bare testimony to growth and increased wisdom, just as the scar on my forehead evidences my experience with chicken pox? Is it possible, they will eventually show my true character just as Christ’s scars show His? I don’t know, but I can hope.
I’d love to say I awoke this morning with a new lease on life and a better perspective, that I sprung out of bed ready to face the day with gusto…but I can’t. But I can say that I’m able today to take a small positive step I haven’t been able to take in nearly a month…I am writing. Perhaps it’s the first step to fighting back, to changing my perspective and embracing each scar for what it will one day share about my life’s story.