I absolutely love this photo. Gosh, it makes me laugh every time I flip through the pictures of my past. Yup, just in case you couldn’t tell, that’s my brother and I’s first Christmas together. I’m sure whoever was capturing this moment, probably my mom or dad, couldn’t help but snicker at the scene. But in all the adorable Christmas joy there is still one person who isn’t feeling it. No, it actually seems like he is feeling quite the opposite of “it” – pain, stress, maybe even terror. Yeah, it’s me. Not anymore but you can definitely see it on my face then. This was not a happy moment for me. I’m sure the whole house was saturated with Christmas, from the smell of pine and warm cider, to the sweet and innocent melodies sung by the Minnesota Boys Choir. Everything around me was speaking love and peace and Emmanuel, but I could only hear the cries coming from my own lungs. And I think that’s what it feels like during times of pain and distress. We desperately try to hear those sweet words but the agony of our heart traps us in a darker world, a nightmare in broad daylight.
Now I’m sure I calmed down fairly quick after this incident. My dad probably put down the camera and held me close, my tear soaked face buried in the familiar smell of security, until my mouth was filled with a thumb rather than screams. And everything melts away. The fear. The hurt. The anxiety. It all soaks into the one that’s holding me. I’m able to rest and relax, to find peace.
But the cycle continues. I get hungry or overflow my diaper or get startled by a door slamming and everything starts over. I’m so fragile.
As the years go on, though, I find myself becoming more independent. I can feed myself. I can sit on a toilet. Loud noises no longer produce tears (for the most part…). And as I become more independent, able to soothe myself, I venture out farther and farther. I start riding a bike. I make friends. I go off to camp. All of these experiences expand my ability to feel and enjoy life. I find out that the air blowing through my hair feels fantastic and I want to go faster down the hill. I realize that the kid sitting next to me in kindergarten is pretty funny and I want to spend more time with him. It occurs to me that sleeping under the stars is pretty relaxing and I think about spending a week away from home.
But what I haven’t come to know is that as my soul expands, as I invest my heart into more and more, as I venture out further from my steadfast security, the risk expands as well. I fall off my bike and become fearful of high speeds. That funny kid makes a joke about me and I become self-conscious. I go to camp for a week and become fearful of leaving home.
As life goes on the stakes rise with it. Pain doesn’t just look like crying for a couple of minutes during Christmas anymore. Minutes turn to hours, and weeks, and years. My expanding heart can feel the pain to the same degree as the thrill.
As we live each day we invest our souls into what this world offers, whether careers or friends or ourselves. And sometimes those investments yield the opposite of what we intended. So should we give up? Should we bury our hearts deep within us, shutting out any person or opportunity from being able to hurt us? I don’t think so.
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”
– Paul (1 Corinthians 4:8-10 NLT)
The life and death of Jesus: one terrible, the other wonderful, but both of them good. I think it says a lot about this dual nature of putting our hearts out there. The death that we share with Christ – the dying of our bodies, our emotions, our will, our pride – all of it points to what fills us after the death. For some it’s the grave, or another job, or self-pity, or more goals. But for those who have graciously opened eyes, it’s Jesus. And we only know it’s him because we hit the bottom, there’s nothing left.
But on this earth we will never completely have our eyes locked on Him, the cycle will repeat itself. However, each wound to the soul is an opportunity to know Him more. Each cut and tear makes space for Him to sink slowly and gently into the intimate fibers of your being. He presses into the tender wounds and claims your scars as His own.
And who knows, maybe one day we’ll be up there flipping through photos of our past, laughing as we share the stories of our scars.