Stories in Scars

5 ways to find beautiful messages in ugly scars

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 actually be beautiful.

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.

One of the most courageous men I ever interviewed saw his scars that way. Willie Williams, who I visited at a drug and alcohol rehab center for a magazine article years ago, saw serious and permanent scars on his face every day he looked in the mirror. The scars resulted from burns he suffered when some inmates at a prison where he was incarcerated threw gasoline on his face and lit it.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Willie could have chosen to view his scars just as reminders of his past struggles, but that would have led only to guilt, shame, bitterness, and anger. Instead, Willie told me that he chose to view his scars as reminders of God’s grace in his life. His scars told the story of how God empowered Willie to forgive the men who’d hurt him, overcome his addictions to heroin and alcohol, and get beyond his fear of fire — even to the point where he volunteered to light candles during worship services at the rehab center.

While the scars from Willie’s burns damaged his face, he said that God used those scars to bring positive changes to his heart. “I have no animosity with anyone today,” Willie said. “My heart is clean.” It was the scars, he said, that helped him realize how much he needed God’s help with healing. “When I saw what had happened to me after everything, I knew I needed to change. I took it one day at a time, and the Lord helped me.”

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:

  1. What different kinds of scars are you carrying?
  2. How did you get each of them?
  3. What can you learn from the experiences that gave you those scars?
  4. How can you gain confidence and courage from the process of recovering from those experiences?
  5. 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.

Your scars are marks of overcoming challenges in your life — evidence that you’ve gone through a struggle and emerged victorious. In all of their ugliness, they can be powerfully beautiful!

Whitney Hopler works as Communications Coordinator at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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