Wounds not scars
A friend asked me about what the difference was between scars and wounds this week. We were discussing what healing looked like for people with mental health issues, particularly when they appeared to show ongoing vulnerability in the area to which they had largely recovered.
In the context of charismatic spirituality, this is a really understandable and even hopeful question, since it acknowledges that in the vast majority of cases there as a before and after of mental health experience. In a culture that has always wanted to express the 'It is finished' of mental health recovery, to conceded that life may be ‘long term different’ is a big step forward.
I was recounting a few incidents in which I had been chastised for labelling myself as an anxiety sufferer. Several well-intentioned Christians have challenged me to 'accept my healing and step away from the labels' as if I am somehow cursing myself with low faith. After delivering one particularly passionate address, someone told me that, ‘I was clearly fine and should move on.' The trouble is that there is a huge difference between doing fine and being fine. In the majority of cases; doing fine is dependent upon not accepting the 'being fine' motif.
Don't get me wrong, I think we would all like to move on, the trouble is that you cannot move on and leave your head behind. If you are not careful you can walk blindly from one MH crisis into another. I have read a number of compelling articles about ongoing MH vulnerabilities as being scars not wounds. Both Joyce Mayer and Joel Olsteen have taught sensitively and insightfully on this topic but both emphasise the transition from wounds to scars: Joel said, “When you see that scar, don't think of the pain; think of the grace of God. The scar means the wound has healed.”
I think we would all hope that we get to transition from dealing with the wounds of mental illness into the subtle sensitivity of scars that speak about our historic pain. This is partly interpreted from the promise of the Psalms. Psalm 147:3 says, "He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds." The difficulty is that scars don’t adequately represent the complex living matrix of our mind and emotions:
Scars tend to fade over time, they have no blood supply and tend to heal stronger than the skin or bone started out. The reality of a mental health diagnosis is that even when the initial crisis is over your experience doesn't tend to fade from your reality but augment it. Rather than being an isolated injury site, mental health issues are connected to the supply chain of the whole body and mind. Rather than being stronger than we were before, we are usually more vulnerable.
I believe that we can see our mental health issues as wounds and still celebrate the healing that we are finding every day. This is particularly upheld by the witness of the resurrected Jesus in Johns Gospel (20:27) where he appears to Thomas. He says, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” The risen Jesus didn’t wear scars, he carried wounds.
When we can accept the tension of our risen life in Christ and ongoing mental health needs we are closer to healing not further away from it. When we have wounds, we tend to them, but when we have scars we ignore them. When we have a wound we bath it, treat it, bind it and protect it - all steps that also heal a wounded mind. By remaining attentive to our mental health wounds, we have healed, are healing and will heal, as the Psalmist says, we have a God who ‘binds up wounds’.