My niece has a flair for dramatics. She was in top form last summer after her first big stumble on the sidewalk. It wasn’t serious—just a scraped knee. She took it hard though.
The family room became her recovery ward, and the couch, her sickbed. There she encamped with her leg propped up, a tissue covering the wound like a protective surgical drape.
Her older brothers, however, did not recognize the seriousness of the situation. When they roared through the room veering threateningly close to her tender wound, she let them know it—”Stop playing near my owie!” she shrieked. Ahhh … the plain speech of a child!
It served as a mirror to my own soul.
Those words have echoed within me—not as the result of a physical stumble, but rather from emotional ones. This has been my cry after hitting the pavement of heartache that leaves my insides a stinging, raggedy mess. And as I lie downtrodden by the scrapes of snubs and insults as well as the deeper piercings of betrayals and disappointments, I react just as my niece did: I set up a recovery ward in the midst of life, expecting others to take precautions and have pity and work around me.
Settling into my emotional sickbed, I want everyone to “stop playing” so close to my wounded heart. I worry they won’t be careful enough, and I don’t want to be bumped—that tender place is in enough pain already. And I certainly don’t want to be disturbed—guarding that wound is taking all the energy I can muster.
When my recovery ward goes unnoticed in the land of the living, irritation rises and indignant thoughts emerge: Can’t they see I’m hurting here? Can’t they be more considerate of all I’m going through?
But no, people cannot see the invisible. Emotional wounds are just that: hidden below the surface, offering only symptomatic proof of existence. People cannot be expected to interpret the random signs that manifest in the light. My niece’s wound was visible, in the open—it was obvious why she was on the defense. She was able to point specifically (proudly, even) to her reason for needing some extra space and grace. The nature of emotional pain, however, prompts me to close up and cover over in shame and regret and sorrow. People cannot readily see these mysteries within me. And it takes a brave, courageous soul to explain the wounds that led to recovery-ward living.
Sadly, when I’m nursing my wounds and stuck in bed, courage makes itself scarce, and I don’t have the strength to track it down. Without courage to voice my pain, life buzzes on about me and around me. More than anything, I want someone to enter my roughed-up world. I don’t want to be alone.
But often the very wounds that cry out for company also sound off a counter message that keeps others at bay. Wounds produce an array of off-putting behaviors—overreactions, suspicions, guardedness. Who wants to come closer to a prickly pear? I sabotage the very companionship I long for. I’m often my own worst enemy and hindrance to fellowship and healing.
Giving voice to this need for healing fellowship and giving context to my prickliness is crucial if I want someone to stop and take notice of my battle scars, if I want someone to pull up a chair and stay with me until strength returns. Healing comes this way, in community, when love pours out to cover the wounds caused by a multitude of sin.
A friend of mine has joked for years that we women should wear signs listing our soul wounds by name—then we could connect with kindred spirits who have the same tender spots. And perhaps knowing the wounds others struggle with would motivate us to grant more space and grace to the people we don’t understand or don’t click with.
Even though this roll call of wounds isn’t likely, maybe the intent behind it is possible: I could extend space and grace to those whose prickly pear reflexes have kicked in. I could assume that an awkward interaction with another gal is due to wounds unseen (hers and mine). I could remember that each one of us is wounded, laid-up in our sickbeds, and struggling to return to the land of living.
For example, what if a gruff greeting is all that a hurting soul could muster—I could go with grace and assume it’s not an intentional insult. In grace, I could trust that an overreaction is due to a heart hanging by a thread, rather than interpreting it as a personal attack. I could let grace abound by choosing to believe that a withdrawn soul is a sister just too weary to relate to others—rather than feeling slighted by her aloofness. With grace, I could presume that stubborn, sturdy boundaries are protecting some unseen trampled and tender area—rather than taking it as a deliberate snub.
Yes, if I could make these assumptions about people, space and grace would be multiplied. What a difference a change in assumptions could make.
And what if, in addition to such positive assumptions, I took the time to scoot my sickbed closer to someone else’s and enter into the roughed-up world of another? What if I listened to her battle accounts and brightened her recovery room for a few moments? I could ask about the protective surgical drapes covering her soul. I could listen to the whole painful mess that mangled my sister’s inner world.
This sort of transparent community building is described in 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” True fellowship is possible when I walk openly and honestly in the purifying, healing, cleansing light of Jesus. This is fellowship that heals.
Jesus is my model, for He has come, entering our roughed-up world and mangled, messy hearts. He is the healing balm for all wounds, all relationships. When I walk with Him in the light of His mercy, I begin to heal and can walk away from my sickbed. And as I fellowship with the Lord Jesus, I become aware of the scars He bears—the scars that bought my healing—and become more sensitive to the scars of others, extending them the care and patience they need to get well too.
In the absence of a roll call of wounds pinned to our shirts, I’ll have to give people the benefit of the doubt: When someone reacts with a “stop-playing-near-my-owie” attitude, I’ll lend them some space and grace and scoot my sickbed a bit closer.
Someone in the recovery ward is in desperate need of the fellowship that heals.