When I was a teen, my friends and I used to compare our scars with pride. We called them “battle scars” because they were proof we had been through something.
Scars are not so easily noticed as adults because very often they aren’t physical. They’re the pains of loss, the unmet expectations of unrealized dreams. They’re the awkward and unavoidable relationships that have turned sour and the painful separation of relationships that have deteriorated altogether.
Earlier this year, Christian radio started playing a song by the group I Am They titled “Scars.” It talks about being thankful for the brokenness and wounds of life and being at a place of praising God for the scars. The first time I listened to the lyrics, I sarcastically let I Am They know I was not there.
I often think back to Joseph in the book of Genesis. Maybe he was self-righteous early on, reporting his brother’s bad deeds to his dad. He may have been a tad arrogant. He had dreams after all of his family bowing down to him.
And maybe these characteristics combined with a father’s unabashed favoritism toward him made him a little hard to stomach. A little hard to stomach increasingly became hatred. Intense hatred finally drove his brothers to sell Joseph to get rid of him.
Somehow Joseph took it in stride and worked hard as a slave in Egypt to earn the trust of his master. Soon he was in charge of all of his master’s possessions. But just when life was looking up, he was framed and thrown into prison—not just for a week or a month, but for over two years.
The Bible doesn’t recount therapy sessions or nights agonizing with God over the unfairness of it all in Joseph’s account. The extent of Joseph’s pain is only realized in hints here and there, like in his message to the cupbearer whose dream he interpreted in prison: “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon” (Genesis 40:14,15).
We see it in Joseph’s sons’ names: Manasseh, which means “God has made me forget all my trouble,” and Ephraim, which means “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (41:51,52). And Joseph’s scars come to light when after many years and many events, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers who came to Egypt to buy grain. By this time Joseph was second in command of all Egypt. Joseph “could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it” (45:1,2).
In the uncontrollable weeping we see the scars; the nights longing for home; the hurt of being pushed away, of being wrongfully accused, degraded, overlooked, given a bad name. But we also see a man able to see that the pain served a greater purpose. Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (50:20).
Maybe you’ve been bullied or hated intensely or felt the sting of being pushed out of a situation. Maybe it’s a searing loss you’ve felt, or you have yet to find the place where you feel love and acceptance. Maybe the scar is fresh. Maybe you haven’t gotten off the prison floor, or your tears are still wetting your pillow and sometimes your face on the way to work.
If that’s where you are remember:
The end of the I Am They song thanks Jesus for his scars. The resurrected Christ could have risen with his body intact, but he chose to keep his scars. The holes in his hands and feet and side serve as a reminder of what he was willing to go through for us. And that gives me hope that someday I can see the vehicles of trauma in my life, not just as heartbreak but as a means to a greater end.
And when I do, I will thank God for my scars.
Amber Albee Swenson is a writer, speaker, and blogger. Her husband and four children keep life exciting and give her lots to write and pray about. Mother, wife, and author are treasured positions, but child of God is her identity.
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