I have a scar on my right calf where my grandmother’s dog bit me when I was little. I have another scar above my right eyebrow where I hit my head when a friend, who was driving behind me, ran into the back of my car; that was when I was in my early twenties. Then there’s the scar on my abdomen from the myomectomy I had about five years ago. There’s also the scar on the back of my ankle where I cut myself the first time I ever shaved my legs back in ninth grade. And there’s the scar on my knee where I scraped it a million times when I was a child – it would heal then I’d get into some situation where I’d scrape it again then it would heal and I’d scrape it again.
I have other scars on my body, most of them forgotten and many of them now barely visible. Up until recently, the same could not be said of my soul scars.
Back in February, I joined a Bible study small group from my church. We’d meet at a group member’s house every week or two and discuss various topics. One week, the topic we were tackling sparked a discussion about baggage from our past and a thought hit me like a bolt out of the blue: what an ugly mess our scarred up souls must look like. Think about it; if we wore our soul scars on our bodies, how horrific would we look?
I think soul wounds are the worst. Most physical wounds heal automatically – we don’t have to do anything to get healed from them except maybe get stitches and/or apply dressings in the worst cases; but generally speaking, our bodies just kick into healing mode and handle it. And over time we tend to forget the pain that comes along with physical wounds. But soul wounds take a long time and a lot of effort to heal, and even then we may never fully recover from them.
Generally speaking, soul wounds are inflicted on us by other people, usually loved ones who we don’t expect to hurt us, which tends to make the wounds deeper and the healing process more difficult. I had one like that inflicted on me when I was about twelve years old. It came unexpectedly and was particularly harsh. Perhaps its impact was also exacerbated by my maturity level – I didn’t yet have the emotional tools to minimise its destructive effects. To give you a visual on how it affected me, imagine a tween, minding her own business and enjoying life when someone calls her name from behind and she happily spin around, right into a knockout punch delivered squarely to her face, sending teeth and blood flying all over the place. That’s the best way I can describe it: a breath-stealing emotional beat down that left me shocked and reeling at first, then ragingly angry for a time, then just plain hurt and deeply wounded. Up to that point in my life, that was the biggest emotional hit I had ever sustained and that remained true for years afterwards.
The person who delivered the blow never really acknowledged what they did, nor did they apologise for it, so the road to healing was very difficult for me to walk. To be perfectly honest, it took me a good ten years or so to get over it and my view of the person who wounded me never quite returned to what it was before that incident. But eventually I got over it and my wound scabbed over and healed.
I think of other emotional wounds that I’ve received, some so deep that they cut to the bone and I wondered how I’d recover, and others more shallow but still naggingly painful, like a paper cut. I think that if I could see my soul in physical form, up until a couple of years ago it would have looked pretty grotesque with scars. I struggled to get over things, to just let them go, to move on and forget about them. But I’ve come to a point where I realise that there’s no getting over, just letting go, just moving on and forgetting about the emotional wounds that I’ve received. There’s only forgiveness. That is, I’ve been learning that I have to live in a constant state of genuine forgiveness. That’s the only thing that minimises the depth of the wounds and then heals them in the shortest possible time, and does so without me needing the other person to acknowledge or apologise for the hurt they’ve caused. I’ve been learning this mainly by God’s grace but also through observation.
I know a woman. She’s been carrying deep, deep wounds on her soul for decades and it seems as if none of them have ever healed. Many of them are still gaping open and oozing, as raw as if they were inflicted yesterday. Some of them give the illusion of being healed but if you bump against them the scab falls right off and you can see the still unhealed wound. I’ve observed this woman for some time now and I’ve realised that a big part of the reason why her wounds haven’t even become scars yet is because she refuses to forgive. She’s waiting for apologies that will never come, she wants whatever she sees as appropriate justice to be delivered to her offenders, and she wants reparations from them. Meanwhile, she’s kept poking at her wounds, keeping them raw and unhealed. On the outside she looks fine, but I imagine her soul with big gashes all over it, barely dragging itself through life because its energy is draining away through feeling wronged and offended and martyred. It’s as if she’s working hard to keep her various hurts alive.
I ache for this woman sometimes, and know that I don’t want that for myself. There’s too much wasted life down that road. That way lies so much sadness and bitterness and unrealised potential. On top of that, I think of all the horrible things I’ve done for which God has so graciously forgiven me and I can’t justify to myself being unceasingly bitter and angry towards people for the things they’ve done to me. That would make me a hypocrite of the highest order.
When I imagine my soul now, it doesn’t look so bad anymore. I imagine that many of my scars are no longer visible and, in fact, I’ve forgotten about them. And I imagine that some of my scars are still visible but no longer hurt. More wounds will come – after all, this is life and we don’t come out of it physically or emotionally scar-free – but, with God’s grace, I will be able to handle them in a way that doesn’t compromise the beauty of my soul.