When I was two or three years old, my sister took a brick to my face. I don’t know why anyone would do that to a young boy, I just know I bled profusely from right above the eye while the perpetrator screamed a lot and tried to make the whole thing about her. Girls. I know those of you who know Rachel will struggle to believe this but it happened, maybe with slightly less intent than my recounting of it suggests, and I have a scar to prove it. I really dislike that scar, it’s almost hidden by my left eyebrow. Almost, but not quite.
My instinct is to act like the scar does not exist, if there were any way that I could minimise it I’d do so in a second – short of bashing open my right eye to make the whole thing more symmetrical. We can be a bit like that in life as well, can’t we? We can dread people discovering our scars, seeing the moments where we were at our most vulnerable or our weakest.
In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the king is giving a now infamous speech to encourage his troops and he points them to a future where their scars will be a mark of pride. Where they’d actively roll up their sleeves and start stories that recount what happened that day at Agincourt.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.
There is something in that, I think, something about the things our scars convey. I’ve been thinking a lot on God’s faithfulness at the moment, a topic that I’ve written on several times before. There are parts of my story that aren’t pretty, but in the good, the bad, and the ugly, God’s faithfulness reverberates through it all. Pick up any part of the story and within moments we’re going to get to a point where it goes something like this: “and then, God was faithful”. I’d imagine for those of you following Christ? Your stories, if told honestly, are similar.
The scars and the bits We’d probably rather not use as conversation starters are actually some of the bits where God shows through the most. Paul tells us as much in his second letter to the church in Corinth.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
In what world does gladly boasting of weakness make sense? In a world where that is a meeting place of man with God, where his perfection fills our weaknesses and our failings, where the very things that show us at our lowest are the areas that magnify His glory. The parts of our stories where we reach the end of our strength, understanding, or capacity, are often the parts where people will come face to face with Him.
The most powerful parts are often those where we might say: I thought it was all over but then God stepped up. I thought that my dream was dead but then God resurrected it because resurrection is just what He does. I thought that life could not go on but then it not only continued but got better. I went through that but look where He brought me as a result. I felt incapable but He did it anyway. I was down but He picked me back up. I was out but He pulled me back in.
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
– 2 Corinthians 10:17
Our lives are full of the evidence of the faithfulness of God, but often we can find it in the scars and the bits that went wrong. Sometimes I think we worry and start to think that as a follower of Christ we’re a poor witness if things have gone wrong, but actually? He’s often shown in the fact that when we’ve sustained scars and faced storms His strength has brought us through.
So what’s the difference between giving a sob story about things gone wrong and a testimony to His faithfulness? The focus of the story. The protagonist isn’t us, it’s God, and His actions to us are the centre of our story. We don’t roll up our sleeves to show our scars and boast on what we’ve done, but rather to boast on what He has done.