Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. – John 20:27
Three years ago my husband had open-heart surgery which resulted in five bypasses rather than the expected two or three. One month later, he had a heart attack. Neither he nor his cardiologist believe his symptoms could be a heart attack; but after several hours of low-grade discomfort his doctor suggested we go to the hospital and have an EKG … “just in case.” So, we were surprised when the ER nurse said matter of factly, “You’re having a heart attack.” Everyone complains about how slow ERs are, but this one came alive. They actually moved one older man out of his room while the staff raced getting a bed ready for my husband and getting him into it.
By this time, however, the clot that had begun forming was so dense that they could not even get a wire through it to try to open it up and a portion of his heart died. He knew it had when the pain went away. “It’s only 5% of your heart that died,” they said. That was supposed to make us feel better, I suppose, but all I could hear was that part of his heart had died. I later found the notes I made while talking to the doctor and read what my mind had forgotten. I asked him what would happen to the dead heart tissue and they said it would turn into scar tissue which might, in the future, cause problems with the beating of the heart and have to be removed.
The scars on our heart have a beautiful purpose.
It’s a great metaphor, isn’t it, this idea of a heart with scar tissue on it which might impede its function in the future? Which one of us does not have scars on our heart?
I live in New York and recently made the trek into the City for a doctor’s appointment. Sitting at a red light, I saw a middle-aged woman with a sign announcing that she was homeless and needed money for food wandering up the line of cars.
I long ago decided to take Jesus seriously when He said, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42) I have no problem giving money to beggars. It’s not my job to decide if they are going to get a job and use my few bucks to drag themselves up by their own bootstraps like much of America seems to naively think they are capable of.
My job is to follow Jesus; it’s His job to work in the lives and hearts of the people to whom I give money or food. So, I rummaged quickly in my purse and found a $1 and a $5 and rolled my window down to call to her. The light turned green and the cars started forward but I was able to hand the money to her before I drove past. Happily, though, the light changed again, so I rolled my window down and yelled to her, “You do know Jesus loves you, right?” She came walking back up to my car and said she starts crying whenever anyone says that to her. I asked why and she began to weep. She managed to choke out that she didn’t know if she was going to go to heaven when she dies. It hit me suddenly that her thoughts of dying are far more immediate than my own.
Living on the streets, with whatever ghosts haunt her, whatever mental illness cripples her, whatever cruelty she finds there … death is not an abstract concept for her. Since sitting at a red light isn’t the best time and place to go deep into theology, I quickly said, as only someone raised in the South can say, “Oh, honey! Have you given your heart to Jesus?” Crying still, she said yes. “Have you asked Him to forgive you of your sins?” By this time she was weeping so badly that she was shaking, but she told me that yes, she had. I then … probably to the shock of many New Yorkers in the car line behind me … I reached through with both arms and hugged her and assured her, “Then, honey, you’re going to heaven! You’re in a hard place right now, but this is not God’s plan for you. The world is broken. We aren’t living in God’s kingdom, not yet. That’s why we pray, ‘You’re kingdom come!’ But God loves you right now, right where you are!”
She thanked me profusely for the encouragement. The light turned green again and I started driving away, but stopped again to call out to her asking her for her name. “Blanche!” She shouted back. I shouted, “I’ll pray for you!” and then had to drive away.
Our scarred heart recognizes the wounds and scars of others.
Blanche. There was something supernatural about our meeting. There was a purity and an intensity that doesn’t occur in most daily interactions. It was two broken and scarred hearts reaching out across an infinite number of barriers between the two of us, but meeting despite the odds in that embrace. Our wounds spoke to each other. Our scars identified us to each other, even in that brief moment. This is the purpose we don’t want to miss.
I went through a severe depression in my mid-thirties that almost undid me. For two years I tore the skin on my arms open with my nails daily … this was before cutting had become almost a normative rite of passage for the young and disturbed.
I have scars all over my forearms, but they don’t show must of the time unless I get what my Scottish heritage likes to call “a tan.” Both the scar on my husband’s heart and the scars on my arms are not readily visible, but they are there and we are affected by them and the paths we walked that led to them. God doesn’t remove our scars, but He redeems them and He redeems the stories that go with them. And so with Blanche; she is not too far for His arm to reach.
What might her story be after He redeems her scars? My own scars invite me to share the redemption that God brought to my life. They have been redeemed and sanctified because the wounds brought about an encounter with the God of compassion and they stand now as a testimony to that encounter that ultimately brought healing to my wounded and scarred heart.
Jesus proudly showed His scars.
None of us get out of this life without scars, not even our Redeemer who bears His scars still.
There are products on the market to hide our visible scars from other people. But we should never try to cover or hide the scars on our hearts and our psyches. These are our story. They tell the part of our lives that we wish had not happened. They tell that the world is not perfect, and that we have been hurt and wounded by it. How can we testify to a Redeeming Savior if we act as though we have no scars to be redeemed? Jesus readily showed the scar in His hand to Thomas and invited him to feel the wound in His side.
Shouldn’t we do the same?
Lee Nicholson Hall is the wife of Tim Hall who is the President of Mercy College in New York with campuses in Manhattan, Dobbs Ferry, the Bronx and Yorktown Heights. Lee is the mother of a 33-year-old son and a 28-year-old daughter. She decided to go to seminary when she was 58 and is almost finished getting a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies from Alliance Theological Seminary. It is her greatest joy to teach theology in an understandable and refreshing way to those who thought it would be beyond them. She lives in Westchester County in a — finally — empty nest with her husband, three dogs, and a feral cat.