There is a song that I love that talks about how the things we suffer make us stronger. A few of the lyrics say something along the lines of “I would love to fix it all for you, but please don’t fix a thing whatever you do. Cuz these bruises make for better conversations.” I’ve been thinking of that song a lot lately. But I think that it’s the scars, more so than the bruises, that show the lives we’ve lived. Bruises come and quickly heal, but scars stay with you for the rest of your life. Of course this means physical scars, like the one I’ve got on my knee from whitewater rafting, or the one on my ankle from the killer mosquitoes in Machu Picchu, or the one on my foot from too much dancing in cheap shoes. But the deeper scars, and the ones that show all the more life, are the ones under the surface, the ones that can’t be seen. The scars that have been left from my travels, from the places I’ve lived and the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. They don’t cause scars at first; at first they are wonderful, magical, and life-changing. But it’s that very life-changing aspect that causes scars later on. It’s the separation, the tearing away from those things that I’ve grown so close to, that rips my heart and emotions apart and leaves deep, deep scars.
It’s hard to cope with those scars. They are painful. They are there because something that touched me deeply is now no longer with me. But, as hard and as painful as it is to live with those scars, I would never choose to live life without them. Which scar would I give up? My precious host family in Costa Rica, who taught me not only about life there but about how to love others, love God, and be content with what I have? My dear students in Korea, who selflessly took time out of their insanely busy schedules to love on me, a sad and desperately homesick American very far from home? My beloved host parents in Spain, who cooked for me the best food of my life and with whom I know I’ll always have a home if I ever go back to Seville? Or perhaps I would choose to give up this most recent scar from Peru, in which the flexibility with which I came allowed me to meet some truly incredible people and see God work in ways that I have very rarely ever seen?
No, of course not. There is not a chance in the world that I would ever give up what I gained from those experiences in exchange for a pain-free, scarless existence. As the song says, they make for better conversations and richer lives. The fact remains, however, that it hurts to be always and forever separated from things and places and people that you love. But I don’t think God has given me these scars – or anyone, for that matter – to cause us pain. If that’s what we think, we’ve just got to be missing something. In fact, I wonder sometimes if reflecting on wonderful things from the past makes it harder for you to focus on the wonderful things of the present. I know that’s something that I often struggle with. The real question is not how to avoid the scars, but rather how to live life in a way that amplifies the beauty of the here and now, rather than focusing on the pining for a beauty long past. The real question is figuring out how to use these scars of life, both the good and the bad, in a way that honors God and uses our talents and knowledge to their full potential. Perhaps that’s where the true beauty of life lies – in learning to live in a way that does not eliminate losing things you love, but diminishes those scars because you have learned to find beauty and joy in your present state, no matter what it is.