On a chilly fall evening my husband and I sat in a hot tub at the hotel that housed us for the weekend during an annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. For the previous three months I had progressively found greater and deeper shame and grief. I had received my scars nearly nine years earlier when I had undergone surgeries to remove cancer from my breast. I had felt re-victimized by the cancer essentially any time I saw advertisements or any sort of media highlighting the universal attraction to what had become my deficiency. Nine years of abuse, or teasing, or fault-finding (all happening in my own mind with each time I was confronted by the media’s portrayal of the ideal) had left me embarrassed and ashamed. I oscillated, teetering between self loathing and a fighting spirit – to show the world that I was beautiful despite my scars. On this particular evening in the hot tub my husband and I rehashed the same conversation we had each time I felt fragile and sad. This night, though, that conversation ended far better.
As I sat there hating that I was still haunted by this specter, feeling manipulated by media messages and feeling ashamed of my body I said to James, “Some people have scars that are in plain sight like on their face or hands, at some point these people probably wish their scars weren’t so visible. Sometimes I wish I could show my hidden scars. Nobody sees them. They just see me covered up and have no clue about the scars I have. I feel like they don’t see the real me.” James replied, “So, you see people with visible scars and wish yours weren’t in such a private place so your scars could be seen?” (Great reflective listening here, love) “Yeah,” I said. “Like they would know me better if they could see the scars. But this all sounds stupid because I spend so much time wishing I was ‘normal.'” James returned, “That sounds a little like Jesus.” I looked at him, awaiting clarification. He continued, “Jesus went around healing people. Helping them to be ‘normal’ again. But then after he died and was resurrected he didn’t hide the scars in His hands, feet and side, he used them as a sign – so that people could recognize him, to know who he really is.”
Jesus our Savior lived and died and was resurrected but retained the scars left by the darkest, loneliest, most bitter event of his life. I relate to that, living with scars left by events infused with pain, uncertainty, confusion and sadness. But Jesus’ reaction to these perpetual reminders was not one of hiding them, but using them as identifying marks. He invited many to come see and touch the reality of His Atoning experience. He was not ashamed of the “imperfections” in his perfected body . . .
The scars in the flesh of the Savior of the World, like any other simile, do not translate straight across to my experience with scars. My life’s mission is different than His and so will be the use of my scars.
My scars are a physical account of my time on Earth. My body shows the marks of cancer, suspicious looking moles removed, scrapes from childhood, that snowboarding accident, etc. My body also shows surgeries to aid fertility, the stretch marks formed in pregnancy, scars of childbirth and the effects of nourishing my children after their birth. My body tells the story of my life. Though these scars make me different than the ideal portrayed in the grocery store checkout, they are sacred to me. Because of Jesus’ example of shamelessly (i.e. without shame) embracing his scars and their significance, I can try to do the same. Sacred Scars.