“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
One of the most puzzling themes in the New Testament is the idea of embracing personal weakness as an opportunity to experience God's power.
Jesus taught that being last of all and servant of all leads to exaltation, denial leads to salvation, losing life leads to finding life. Paul wrote of being a broken vessel that demonstrates God's transcendent power. Peter wrote of rejoicing in a fiery ordeal. The Bible itself is a lengthy illustration of this great paradox.
Perhaps the most memorable story of this paradox is Paul’s experience with the thorn. We don’t know what the thorn was, but it was something he didn’t like and wanted it out of his life. With all of his apostolic power this man prayed three times and expected God to remove it. It stayed. Then God gave him the lesson, “My grace is sufficient, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
History is full of stories of Christians who have found a deeper faith through unimaginable suffering. Either as the sufferer or as a witness to suffering, they emerge with a testimony of gentle and humble trust in God. They have discovered by personal experience, not second-hand, that God is trustworthy and completely dependable. He heals and restores all the lacerations life can inflict upon us.
And what of those former wounds? Our tendency is to attempt to cover them up as if we never had the weakness in the first place. We don’t usually want to remember the thorn, much less talk about it. We try to project and protect a myth of total success. We desperately need God's healing touch, but want to live as if it was an addendum to a well-ordered life and hardly a daily necessity. God has a different idea of what to do with our former wounds.
I recently learned about a Japanese technique of repairing broken pottery called kintsugi. Instead of trying to repair the vessel so that it appears to have never been broken, kintsugi practitioners piece it back together with lacquer then dust the cracks with gold. Instead of disguising the breaks, the beautifully repaired golden lines testify to the shattered history of the object and its renewed usefulness.
Each of us carries a number of flaws and breaks from life. However, God's tender touch brings all of our broken pieces back together. Grace highlights His healing, and thus we become living testimonies of how God has worked in our lives. The scabs from former wounds become scars, fully healed, but glowing with the glory of heaven. And they need not be hidden! Hurting people need to know that God heals all wounds.
So we have a two-fold purpose with our golden scars. First, we don’t need to be ashamed of them or hide them. Ernest Hemmingway wrote in a Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks everyone, and many are stronger in the broken places.” Making us stronger in the broken places takes us to the very heart of God’s purpose.
When you survive the world’s blows you become stronger. You may not realize it, but you are. The life experience you gain is incalculable. Why not embrace that painful part of your history? If you’ve yet to do that, then let God have it all. Better yet, find a trusted friend to share that hidden pain with. God almost always uses other people to bring His message of healing. Discover the strength that comes through your scars.
Second, be willing to tell other hurting people about your scars. Not only will this be a surprising blessing to you, it will also be a tremendous encouragement to them.
In my early recovery from alcoholism, a friend gave me a book and inscribed in it these words: “Be thankful to God for the gift of alcoholism.” Only about three months into recovery, I found those words jarring and unsettling. I suspected they were true, but honestly I wasn’t there yet. The memories of darkness were too fresh. The lessons of light too new.
In the succeeding years, however, I found this idea to be beautifully true. We’re taught in recovery to neither regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. In our very imperfection we found grace. I don’t recommend this particular avenue to anyone! But I assure you, life will find a way to break you. The miracle is that later, after the healing grace, you’ll be thankful. In fact, the New testament goes so far as to say that we should be grateful in the very midst of suffering.
Again, in recovery we’re encouraged to share “our experience, strength, and hope.” The experience begins with the painful chapters of what we were like in active addiction. Pride has us believe that covering up those dark days is the only way to appear successful and healthy again. The spirituality of imperfection teaches us that transparency and openness create an atmosphere where we breathe grace and share healing. Those people who still live in the shadows find hope in our stories. Showing our scars has an internal as well as external benefit. We help ourselves by helping others.
One other illustration from the world of recovery. In my travels I often attend those “anonymous meetings.” I’m a stranger to them. I don’t know a soul. But when I speak I say my name and add that I’m an alcoholic. No one responds with shock or attempts to quiet me. Everyone in that room, no matter the age, history, race, creed, or any other of a dozen different metrics understands me. Why? Because we know we’re bound by a shared brokenness from which we’ve been healed. It’s the most joyous, serene, and affirming experience you can imagine. It’s why I’m now genuinely grateful for my gift of alcoholism.
I have a new, good friend, who recently related something his mother said, “I’ve never known a really good person who hasn’t gone through a really rough patch.” Your rough patch is an opportunity for grace. God only repairs what we allow Him to have. Try placing the broken pieces of your life, your pain, bitterness, fear, and doubt in His hands. And trust the people He places in your life. They likely are a part of your healing.
Dr. Terry Ellis
April 2, 2017