I broke my left leg three times in the course of about two weeks. I was ten.
After the first time Dr. Thulin said, “If you let that heal right, you’ll never break your leg in that spot again. That will be the strongest spot in that leg.” So much for that.
What Dr. Thulin did not tell me was that the nine inch scar on the inside of my shin would also be the tenderest spot on my body. Strength and tenderness together. All I have to do is barely knock it against a chair leg or coffee table and stinging pain shoots up my leg and I drop like a puppet with its strings cut. Even today. Though what Dr. Thulin told me may not be completely true,* I’ve found it true that two seeming opposites, strength and tenderness, coexist when God heals emotional and spiritual wounds.
The Rest of the Story
But three leg breaks? Yes, the original compound fracture happened when some friends and I almost invented the zip-line by tying (I use that word loosely) and stretching a skinny rope from a pine tree to the top of an old Catholic, cave-like shrine dug into a hill. Read more about that here. The fall snapped my tibia and fibula like a tree branch. My foot hung akimbo from my leg and proved to my friends I was not faking it. Though painful and long term traumatic, it was pretty cool. And eventually redemptive.
The second break happened when I was wobbling out of our front door on my crutches and the door hit me and knocked me off our concrete stoop. It didn’t hurt like the first time but you could see my foot pointed a different direction from my leg again. The third break came when Dr. Thulin had to re-break my bones to reset and heal them. There’s a spiritual analogy there too.
God’s Grace Melds Strength with Tenderness in our Wounds
Like you, presumably, my mind and spirit—not just my body—have often ended up all akimbo from one another. And in these times I’ve also experienced that mysterious tenderness and strength.
One of my most painful wounds has come through my pastoral calling and the church.
These church wounds remind me of the scar on my leg. They are tender to the touch. When they get smacked, I respond. Not always in a healthy way. So, I’ve become protective (defensive?) of them. I listen for words and attitudes that may signal abusive, controlling people. I try not to jump off cliffs holding loosely tied ropes.
The pain has lingered because I’ve not been willing to give it over to the Great Physician. Also because I’ve blamed myself for the wound. After all I’m a flawed human. But mostly it’s been hard to admit even Christians, pastors, and leaders are mean old sinners.
But these old wounds are also scars of strength. I am more compassionate with others in similar circumstances. I no longer look at pastors who have “been resigned” from or muscled out of their churches with harsh judgement. My wounds are tender but so am I.
I know the reality. I don’t lift myself above them to give myself a false feeling of elevated worth. I’m even understanding of the wrongdoers, though I don’t excuse them.
And I weep with the heartfelt cries of those deconstructing and doubting their faith. I no longer blame or slap a verbal bandaid on them. I listen, pray, and, most of all, know where they are coming from.
These are places of strength that come only from God’s healing of my wounds.
Emotional and Spiritual Wounds Are an Invitation to Healing
But it was difficult to move beyond the pain to places of strength. Sometimes it seemed easier to deny them. I’ve been hurt and abused several times. I’ve wondered if I’m a spiritual cutter, unknowingly entering the same type of situation and slicing myself over and over to pay for some sin I can’t name or claim. Shame has kept me hidden and unhealed.
But as I’ve finally come clean with myself and God about my role and the role of others in these massacres, I’ve experienced healing. This honesty is essential to be healed.
Still though, if someone bumps the wound, I wince, withdraw, curl up and whimper, or even lash out. Yet they’re also beginning to be scars of grace.
The loss of my father was the deepest wound I’ve received in my life. It’s been over fifty years since his death and I still get melancholy or even weepy when I drive past our old horse pasture. My work scarred hands resemble how I remember his looking. I ache to work hand-in-hand with him again. To hear him say my name.
The strength I’ve received from God healing this wound is that it makes me a fierce and delicate though still imperfect father. Today I have ironclad, ocean deep, sunset rich and authentic relationships with my adult children and growing grandchildren. Plus my most significant and transformational areas of ministry have been with hundreds of people (men especially) with father wounds. Again, I know the reality. I’m tender to their pain. And I can walk with them on the healing way.
What About You? Have You Found Strength in Weakness?
Is there a wound God is working on healing in you? Are you still in the stage of flinching every time someone even glances at your lacerated soul? I want you to know if you take the gauze off and expose it to the light of God, healing follows.
My wounds were not healed magically. I needed help with healing of my compound fracture. And with my church and father wounds. I’ve received this help from mature friends, fellow wounded but healing pastors, and, most of all, several skilled therapists. I would never have just hobbled away on my bloody broken leg. Nor should I with a bloody broken psyche. But silly me (you?) I try!
Healing and a Healer
With healing then comes the ability to know and comfort others.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 1: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
This is redemption. God does not erase the mistakes and marks and scars and gashes in our lives like wiping clean a white board. Instead God takes the dark marks and heals them into new words and pictures of mercy and grace. The tenderness of the scar remains like the wounds in Jesus’ hands to remind us of the need for and possibility of redemption in others.
This is why I more often pray for redemption than for God controlling a situation. Redemption is more real and beautiful and helpful to others. And I am more free than ever. Rather than peering into a dark and dangerous future (which it often is), through God’s redemption of my pain, I see hope on each horizon. Yes, there will be other cliffs to fall off of, bones and hearts to break. But God’s making of those wounds into shiny scars will remind me that God’s strong and sure healing has never met a wound it can’t redeem. No matter how tender.
*This was in the dark ages of medicine, 1966. Doctors have since found this is only true for a short time and the bones return to normal after time.