I cringed when I saw Shelley.
She was walking straight towards me. Again. I braced myself.
I was just in fifth grade, but I had long learned that the world was cruel and no one could protect me from pain.
I steeled myself for the inevitable abuse. It was Monday, and Shelley always went after me on Mondays.
It was a few minutes before school started. “Why did I get here early? I could have avoided this,” I murmured to myself.
As soon as she reached my side, Shelley grabbed my left arm. Damaged by polio, it had almost no muscle. She shook my arm lightly, and laughed. It always seemed to amuse her.
Trying to garner more attention, she spoke loudly and sneered, “It’s so funny how your arm wiggles like that. It looks really weird.”
I was hoping that was the end, but Shelley was not finished. She grabbed my arm again, this time lifting it straight up and letting it drop. It flopped down and swung limply by my side.
Shelley smiled. By now a few people were watching. I fought back the tears as I had so many times before.
I wasn’t going to cry. Not there. Not then. I wasn’t going to give anyone that satisfaction.
Just before the teacher came in, Shelley declared, “I hope you don’t mind that. I don’t want to make you cry or anything. I just think it’s funny that’s all.”
The few people around me uncomfortably looked away. No one said anything.
I didn’t want Shelley to know how much she hurt me. So I laughed and said as casually as I could manage, “No, its fine.”
Of course it was not fine. It was cruel. And humiliating. But what could I do about it?
If I told on Shelley, it would just make things worse. If I didn’t make a big deal about it, maybe it would get better.
That’s what I always hoped. I hoped that if I ignored it, pushed it aside, pretended it didn’t happen, it would go away.
But it never did. The mocking continued, though it took different forms after elementary school. But the words that echoed inside me didn’t go away. They became deafeningly loud instead.
These words told me that I didn’t count. That my pain didn’t matter. That I would always be an outcast.
Of course on the outside I looked fine. I never cried about it. Not even to myself. I wasn’t going to let it affect me. No one was going to hurt me.
So I laughed. I pretended. I deflected attention. After all, my feelings didn’t count. I needed to stuff them away.
I’ve been stuffing my feelings for a lifetime. Hiding. Pretending words and actions have not hurt me. Not voicing them to anyone, but reciting them to myself till they have a well-worn place in my heart.
My wounds have been mostly from words. Words that have torn into my soul and left a mark. A mark that I carry with me everywhere. A mark known only to me.
I tried to protect these invisible wounds for years. I couldn’t risk more hurt. So I covered them up and locked them away. I told myself: No one cares about your pain, so get over it. You aren’t as good as everyone else, so accept it. People will hurt you if they know your past, so hide it.
I buried my pain, keeping it hidden for decades. No one needed to know. What good would it do?
Isn’t it better to bury the past and move on?
But burying the past just drove my pain deeper. Isolating me further. Numbing me to really feeling.
We all have memories that have left us hurt and lonely. Our secret wounds.
I didn’t acknowledge mine till some painful circumstances caused me to feel a crushing sense of worthlessness. Though the situation was new, the feelings of inadequacy, of not measuring up, of being unimportant, felt all too familiar. Rather than being angry at the person who hurt me, I felt shame that I was once again found unworthy.
My atypical response led me to examine myself. I started writing about my past in my quest for understanding. I had endured tremendous teasing as a child, but shared little of it, even with my family. It seemed unimportant. Valueless. Humiliating.
Perhaps the past was significant after all. Consciously or sub-consciously, my past had molded me.
As I wrote, long-buried memories came flooding back, carrying with them the lies I had believed. That I wasn’t “normal.” That my handicap made me sub-par. That I wasn’t intrinsically valuable.
I saw that I had become a pleaser, working hard to be fun, thoughtful and funny. That way people would like me. Accept me. Want to be around me.
As I sat with my feelings of inadequacy, I slowly unearthed and acknowledged all the pain I had endured. And laid it before God. I let Him show me the lies I had believed about myself. And the truth that nullified those lies. And His grace that could change everything.
That process was excruciating, yet exhilarating. I saw that I am not defined by what other people have said or done to me. I am defined by who I am in Christ. He alone can tell me who I am. And He has told me that I am loved. Accepted. Beautiful.
And in the hands of my Redeemer, my wounds are healed. All that remains is a beautiful scar, a reminder of His work in me.
In my life, I want to redefine scars. To see them as evidence of healing. For more of my journey, see my previous post “Are Scars Beautiful?”
Because of Jesus, I can share my scars, my past, my shame, freely. He has redeemed it all. There is nothing to hide.
I’m becoming more open about my past. I’ve found that when I show my scars, the evidences of God’s healing work in me, other people find courage in their journey towards healing and wholeness in Christ. And that completes the circle of grace as I pass on what God has done for me.
So what are your invisible wounds? Where is the Great Physician offering to heal you?