“Have you looked at your scars yet?” my friend asked me. I shook my head no. The surgery incisions on my back were still pretty fresh – just a few weeks old. While I was told that the operation was successful, I still couldn’t bring myself to look at the scars that remained. It would be a few months before I finally dared to glance at my surgery site in the mirror.
When I did, I winced at the sight of two long, permanent markings marring my skin.
A few years later, an emergency operation would leave a third scar on my lower back. While I am so grateful for the successful, even life-saving results of these surgeries, I have also wrestled with the concept that my body will always bear the marks of my pain. These experiences have caused me to think deeply about bearing my scars in a God-honoring way.
What I began to realize is that everyone has their own scars. Some of these scars are visible, resulting from surgeries, accidents, or other painful experiences. Others are invisible – the results of grief, malicious words, and other forms of emotional trauma. While the circumstances leading to these scars may have occurred beyond our control, they are never a surprise to God. In fact, our scars are part of God’s matchless design for our lives.
One way we can find hope in the midst of our scars is to rest in the sovereignty of God. He has a purpose for our lives that is greater than we can imagine. His Word assures us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) While we may experience heartache in this life, we can take comfort knowing that God is the One who has a deeper, better, more perfect plan for our lives.
I can testify to this beautiful truth in my own life. In the years following my surgeries, I spent a lot of time on bedrest. During this time, I watched other girls enjoying a “normal” life. In some ways, I felt that my pain had robbed me of my teen years. What I didn’t realize at the time was that God would use that season of rest to draw me near to Himself in powerful, beautiful ways. In fact, I can now look back on my teenage years with great fondness, as the season in which God set me on a trajectory to seek and serve Him with my life.
Once we understand that God is sovereign, we also need to grapple with the shame that many of us feel concerning our physical and emotional scars. I certainly have struggled with feeling ashamed of the scars on my back. As a teenager, I fought a subtle but nagging thought that if only I had been a better person, maybe I wouldn't have had to deal with physical pain. But I have to continually remind myself that the circumstances that happened outside of my control were exactly that – beyond my control. Such scars are not the marks of sin. Rather, they are opportunities to bring honor to God.
As an example, I think of the blind man mentioned in the book of John. Jesus’s disciples asked Him, “’Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” (John 9:2-3) This passage greatly comforts me as I think about the spinal issue that I was born with. This condition, leading to my surgeries and subsequent scars, has always been intended for God’s glory!
It’s important to note that when Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected body, He chose not to remove the crucifixion scars from His hands and side (John 20:27). Clearly, Jesus was not ashamed of His scars. Instead, He displayed them as physical evidence of God’s resurrecting power. This passage gives me courage as I remember that my own Savior is scarred without shame.
As I come to peace with my own scars, I choose to see them as an opportunity to thrive in my service to God and others. In particular, I am inspired by the example of missionary Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), who enjoyed several decades of fruitful ministry in India before she suffered a serious fall. As a result of this accident, Amy Carmichael was bedridden for much of the final twenty years of her life. Despite her pain, Amy Carmichael chose to use her time to write prolifically. In fact, some of her most enduring legacies are her books, which have touched lives around the world. It's clear that Amy Carmichael's physical scars were part of God's perfect design for her life.
After looking at my scars as part of God’s matchless design, I am encouraged to persevere despite them. I look to the past as a reminder of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. I look to His Scripture to remind me that I need not be ashamed of my scars. And I fill my mind with positive examples of those who have used their scars to honor God. In light of all this, let us persevere with diligence as we joyfully anticipate how God will use our scars for His glory.