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St John’s Southgate

03 Mar 2020

Depth perception

“It’s gone! Where is it? What’s going on? Actually, do I care?”

Those were some of the thoughts that ran through my mind when I came home to find that a painting that had hung on our living room wall for five years was gone and had been replaced with something else.

“I knew you didn’t like the other one, so I didn’t think you’d mind,” my wife explained. “Yeah, sure, no problem,” I replied. But in truth, I was a little rattled.

Yes, she was right. I didn’t like the old painting. In fact, I had a real problem with it! If I was feeling less than charitable, I might have said I hated it. Even though it was a stunning artistic achievement, I had such strong feelings about it because every time I looked at it, I was taken back to a very difficult time. I’d be watching TV, look up, see the painting and sigh. I’d walk past it, catching a glimpse of it in my periphery, roll my eyes and let out an, “ugh!” And yet, there it had hung for as long as we’ve lived in our current home.

You might be wondering why anyone would live like that? Yes, it does sound like some weird form of self-flagellation, but leaving it hanging was probably just laziness or demonstrative of our lack of interest in finding a cohesive domestic aesthetic.

Now that it’s gone, though, and I’ve had a week to get used to its absence, I feel a strange sense of disquiet. I’d become accustomed to living with the difficult memories. That beautifully awful painting had forced me to confront them – or at least to march onward without pretending that the past hadn’t happened. Some might call it an inadvertent form of exposure therapy, but I think it’s just an example of what we all have to do – and that’s live with our scars. Sure, we can cover them up, we might even try to tattoo over them, but they’re still a part of us.

Perhaps claiming our scars – displaying them like a painting on the living room wall, or at the very least not hiding them – can help us to find lasting healing. To be sure, sometimes our hurts are more like open wounds than scars, and they need to be bandaged tight and given bed rest, but there is a pretty good precedent for letting even one’s newest scars see the light of day.

We’ve just entered the Lenten season of the Christian calendar. It’s the time of the year when we journey with Jesus on the path toward his suffering and death. By the time Easter rolls around, yes, we put on our happy faces, because Jesus is alive again! But even then, the scriptures reveal something very telling. When the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, he wore the scars of his torturous execution – and not just that, he openly displayed them and even invited the doubting to touch them.

Maybe we don’t have to hang reminders of our worst nightmares on our walls, or constantly be telling people to check out our scars. But, like Jesus, if we can be honest with ourselves, we might be able to find self-acceptance, and even the courage to open ourselves to others, saying, “I’m not hiding. This is who I am. This is what I’ve died through. And this is the new life that I can show you, and share with you, precisely because my scars have made it possible.” •

Tom Hoffmann

Pastor - St John's Southgate

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