Today I observed a cherished Ash Wednesday tradition: Getting my forehead smeared with ashes at a church service, as a reminder of my mortality and dependence on God. Year after year, the experience is humbling. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” the person who smears the ashes says to each of us who receives the burnt dust on our faces. At Lent, we come face to face with God’s unconditional love. All of the scars from the pain we’ve gone through — no matter how deep — can’t separate us from God’s great love. God takes our ugliness and transforms it into beauty.
Your scars are marks of God’s work in your life – evidence that you’ve gone through a struggle and emerged victorious with God’s help. In all of their ugliness, they can actually be beautiful.
Jesus Christ could have easily eliminated the scars from his crucifixion after he was resurrected. But he chose instead to display the scars in his glorified body. He even invited the apostle Thomas to touch his wounds, saying in John 20:27: “… ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” Jesus’ scars were powerful. As Isaiah 53:5 prophesied, “… by his wounds we are healed.” His choice to keep his crucifixion scars still visible after his resurrection emphasize the value in brokenness and redemption.
Scars may be external, like a scarred knee that reminds you of a bad fall or a line that marks where you had surgery. Or they may be emotional, like the jagged memories of betrayal or abuse that make it hard for you to trust people now. We’re all carrying scars of some kind around with us. Looking at the scars on your body or feeling their pain in your soul may not be something you want to do. After all, scars are ugly. But if you consider the stories behind them, scars can communicate beautiful lessons to you.
No matter what kind of scars you have, our society will pressure you to try to hide them. More than 12.7 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2015, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, and Americans spent almost $13.5 billion on those procedures. That’s a lot of effort and cost to try to fight external imperfections, like scars. An AP-Ipsos poll from 2006 showed that Americans have trouble showing people their internal scars. It revealed that about 4 in 10 people think it’s sometimes justified to lie to others rather than honestly acknowledging the truth about something embarrassing in their lives.
But every scar tells a valuable story – the story of how you were wounded, and what has happened so far as a result. If you look at your scars from God’s perspective, you’ll start to see that there’s more to their stories than just suffering. Within each story lies the potential for redemption.
When you allow the ugliness of your scars – both external and internal – to disturb you, you can turn away from pride and toward humility, which makes you more beautiful in God’s sight. As Psalm 51:17 declares, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
So don’t be afraid to reveal your scars and take an honest look at them. Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself to discover beautiful messages hidden inside your scars:
- What different kinds of scars are you carrying?
- How did you get each of them?
- What can you learn from the experiences that gave you those scars?
- How can you gain confidence and courage from the process of recovering from those experiences?
- What positive choices can you make that will help you heal from your wounds? Possibilities include: talking with a counselor or trusted friend about your scars, pursuing forgiveness and reconciliation, and letting old dreams go so you can dream new ones.
The next time you encounter the ugliness of your scars, let it lead you to the beauty of Christ. Remember his promise in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “… My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Then you’ll discover why the apostle Paul declares in the next verse: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”