Scars

On my right calf, I have a long, jagged scar, about 6 inches long. I got it the hard way, when I was about 12 years old. I’d been watching the Olympics (USA! USA!) and had become fascinated with the way the hurdlers could sprint so fast around the track and effortlessly rise over the hurdles without even breaking stride. I temporarily put my career plan to become a left-handed reliever in major league baseball on hold in favor of becoming a world-class hurdler. The nearest hurdle I could find was the fence which divided our pasture from our neighbor’s. It was just the right height, and it had a single strand of barbed wire running across the top of it. I would stand back, take a running jump, and try to replicate the hurdlers’ form as they went over obstacles. I did this for hours at a time for several weeks, and got pretty good, for a sixth grader. But as you might have guessed, there came a day when I only almost cleared the hurdle. I remember my right leg hanging up in the wire, then I hit the ground, head-first, hard. I lost consciousness for a few moments, and when my head cleared, I recall having two thoughts: a)that hurts, and b)where is all this blood coming from?

I also have a scar on my abdomen, from when I got appendicitis in high school. I remember waking in the middle of the night with a stabbing pain in what I thought was my stomach. I couldn’t stand upright, so I crawled upstairs to my parents’ room. Dad jumped out of bed, helped me into the car, and sped to the hospital. I remember him clutching my hand as the doctors administered anesthesia, and I remember that he was standing at the door waiting for me when I came out of recovery. He went with me to my room and over the course of my hospitalization, he visited me for hours each day, just sitting by my bedside and talking, or watching sports with me on the TV. The added bonus was that my aunt worked at the hospital as a nurse, and she would take time on her breaks to go to the nearby Dairy Freeze and smuggle me milk shakes, which were against my physician’s orders. She always told me I was her favorite nephew, but she proved it with the contraband ice cream.

By now, dear Reader, you are entitled to wonder what my point is, beyond sharing the thrilling details of my medical history. So here’s my point. I’ve been thinking lately about what Mormons mean when we talk about perfection. We imagine the resurrection as an event or place where our bodies are restored to their perfect condition. I wonder what that means. I wonder if these scars are permanent, because I think I want them to be. Sometimes I miss that exuberant, carefree 12-year-old boy, who thought it was fun to jump over barbed wire. I’m always reminded of him when I see the scar on my leg. And the appendectomy scar is a steady reminder, not only of sharp pain, but also of the love of my father and my aunt.

How then do we think about spiritual scars? Our theology is pretty straightforward — we come to earth to experience adversity and to learn by doing. We must experience the bitter in order to know how to prize the good. It seems to me that  the trauma, both physical and spiritual, which is part of mortality, becomes an integral and essential part of our identity and character. Our theology also clearly teaches that the character we develop here will go with us into the afterlife, and that is where the hard part comes in. So many of the wonderful people I know are wonderful precisely because of some intensely traumatic or difficult condition. There doesn’t seem to be any way around it. Second Nephi chapter two is right.

If the resurrection means that we will be restored to the prime of our lives, I’m a bit apprehensive. At age nineteen I was ten feet tall and bulletproof, in fantastic physical condition as a result of running and lifting weights for several hours a day. I was also an obnoxious know-it-all, and quite possibly the most insufferable missionary the church has ever called. I’m really grateful for those months at a time I spent riding my bike through a cold, Schleswig-Holstein rain, and for all those lapsed Lutherans, whose reception was just as cold and unwelcoming as the weather. I learned that I wasn’t the center of the universe. I learned that real people have real problems, and that the only way I can help is by truthfully sharing what I have learned by struggling with my own problems. After all, we must remember that Jesus himself was resurrected with his wounds, perhaps as a way to show us that he understands our pain.

Comments

  1. Nice post (it’s Mark Brown, after all!) – but scars are a survivor’s trophy. Not all survive. Perhaps those are the ones resurrected to wholeness.

  2. Some scars we’re proud of, some we’re not. Hopefully we’ll get to choose which one’s to keep!

  3. KerBearRN says:

    Thank you for this and amen!

    Funny, just the other day I was pondering the concept of “perfection” in the resurrection and yet why Jesus still has his scars. At this point in my life, I am impressed by the fact that he shares them. Many of us have “scars” that we can share, to show empathy to others in suffering. Thank you, Mark, for this insight.

  4. Beautiful, brilliant, simple, poignant. I have a host of both physical and emotional/spiritual scars and while it would be scandalous to wish them on my neighbor, they are mine, every one for better or worse has made me who I am. I also look forward with apprehension and humility to the day when I will have a scar from a C-section. That scar will give me the treasure(s) of my eternity, how could I ever give it up?

    I am unsure what it would mean that only survivors keep their scars. Can you elaborate a bit, pd?

  5. I wonder if perfection is learning to love our bodies just as they are: acne, wonky nose, scoliosis, love handles… Looking forward to being a striking, handsome dude with a clear complexion and perfect teeth in the afterlife seems like vanity, which in some sense is incompatible with a Christlike character.

    In popular portrayal, the resurrected Jesus keeps the scars from the nails that pierced him, presumably to remind us of what he did with his life. Maybe you’re on to something with this notion of eternal scars.

  6. Seth R. says:

    The way I see it, the resurrection means perfect harmony of physical form and spiritual form.

    You’ll look pretty much how your healed and redeemed spirit wants you to look.

  7. I want to be 5’8″. I would be very appreciative if I could pull that off when my spirit and body are reunited.

  8. Seth R. says:

    Assuming it’s a righteous desire EOR.

  9. I’m 5’8″, EOR… Eh. Now 5’11″? That’s where it’s at. :)

    Great post, Mark. Good thoughts. Our mortals wounds and scars (physical and spiritual) help shape our eternal selves.

  10. Seth R. always! I want to be 5’8″ so I can feed the naked and clothe the hungry.

    Bonjo I am slightly under 5’6″, I’ll take your height, you can steal someone else’s 5’11”, and they can have my height. Circle of (after)life.

  11. Seth R. says:

    I mean, of course it’s my own speculation purely. But there are at least scriptural themes on this idea.

    Christ himself decided to maintain some of his “defects” after all – as a part of a profound statement of who he was.

  12. Snyderman says:

    Not only am I apprehensive of giving up my both my physical and emotional scars, I’m also apprehensive of giving up the situations that give rise to them. For me, pain and hardship have become not a mortal experience, but a life experience, one without which I don’t think I’d know how to make sense of life. So I appreciate this discussion on what perfection means.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    I wonder about the teaching in John, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”

    We are so in love with our life in this world to the point of worrying that a complete healing of our wounds will erase our individuality. And maybe it will.

  14. John Mansfield, I can’t speak for others, but I know for me it is not because I am “so in love with my life”. Believe me, that is absolutely 100% not the case. It has more to do with the fact that these are the stripes that going through the refiner’s fire have earned me. These ARE my perfection. Every scar has a story, and every story a lesson, and every lesson hard-learned has served to bring me that much closer to the perfected resurrected being that I will one day be. When one looks as this mortal probationary period as a part of our eternal lives I think that it makes perfect sense for us to carry physical reminders of lessons we learned to develop the character we will continue to carry into eternity. I don’t think it has anything at all to do with pride or anything like that–at least not for me it doesn’t.

  15. I think we’re missing something here. A scar that is purely visual in nature is not nearly as powerful a reminder as one that carries with it some limited ability. I have scars on my side from a very difficult childhood surgery, but I hardly ever see them and they don’t hurt so I don’t know what benefit they give me. The long scar on my finger that accompanies reduced dexterity and arthritic pain, now that one reminds me several times a day of a younger, more foolish me that was willing to disregard his body for the thrill of church basketball, even if it meant continuing to play with an obviously broken finger. I’m assuming that the scars in Jesus’ hands don’t cause him physical pain, and I doubt his memory is so poor he’d forget his experience without them. They are clearly for the rest of us. However, I don’t see an analogous purpose being served by any “appearance-only” scars that I or anyone else would carry. Conversation starter? (I can just hear it now, “I notice that under your robe you have the tell-tale signs of a prostatectomy. Would you tell me about how that experience contributed to who you are?”) Unless our memories are quite as faulty there as here, I’m not sure what the point would be.

  16. I was thinking about learning disabilities as well. Some would consider them defects to be fixed – but I’m not convinced all of them are. Some of these defects allow for original and compelling thinking.

    Would you really want to cure that?

  17. I sort of think maybe it is up to the individual. I daresay it is definitely within God’s capabilities for him to arrange that our bodies can be kept in whatever state we want. I would not keep the scar on my lip from when I was electrocuted when I bit the radio wire when I was 3 :x

  18. I don’t think ressurection is going to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone has some measure of pain, no matter how long or short the lifespan, and for some, the scars from that pain have become as much of a part of who they are as their eye color or sense of direction. Scars aren’t just a reminder for the forgetful. Jesus’ scars are part of who He is, not just a reminder of what He went through.

    Even psycologically, there are scars and disabilities that have helped to define us. From those, just like the physical scars, what will be healed is the down-sides of these scars; the fear, the pain, the parts not working so well that were holding us back.

    For those things that are part of us that we don’t want to let go of – we won’t be required to. It will, however, be much more difficult to change those things than it would have been in mortality. It will be some interesting times for all of us, I’m sure.

  19. It might be worth noting, relevant to this topic, that the navel, which bears particular symbolic meaning in mormon liturgy, is, at its heart, a scar. It is a scar that reminds us of the fact that when we were born we were literally and physically cut off from a life-giving parent and therefore need constant nourishment, which should teach us something about the analogous relationship with our heavenly, spiritual life-giving parent. It’s much more than a convenient synecdoche for the belly. The fact that the navel is a scar is significant to its spiritual symbolism. If this scar were to be “healed” it might erase that symbolism. Then again, it might be symbolic of a restoration of a connection to God. But I go more for the former.

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