I scalded the back of my left hand the other day. Rather than pouring a mug’s worth of boiling water into the coffee plunger, I splattered it all over the counter and my skin. To say it hurt was an understatement, yet there were no blisters or scabs, no causes for major concern. Alea wiped up the puddles and stray coffee grounds, and I successfully re-poured water into the plunger. No drama, no fuss. Just a pink-tinged hand and an only-slightly delayed cup of coffee.
However, I admitted shakily to Alea, “I could cry right now.”
Later, I did, all over her shoulder.
It’s funny how sometimes external pain reminds us that we’re hurting inside. Grief– whether we’re mourning what was, what is, or what will never be– has the blessing and the curse that it is invisible. No one can tell the wounds your heart has sustained on the battlefield of your life. You can’t always show off noble scars from the moments you were disappointed and survived (and thrived!). The blessing is that some invisible grievances, which don’t need to be told to the world, stay in the precious mystery that is your heart and those who dwell there.
The curse? You can convince yourself that your invisible wounds don’t deserve the same care as your external ones.
And that is a lie from the pit of hell.
Half an hour on, the throbbing of my hand continued– so I stole away from small group to get some lotion. When I snuck back in, I quietly showed my leader, Sofia, and the shock on her face was enough to let me know that my nonchalant attitude might need to shift. I might need a little more than a once-off application of lotion. Maybe I actually needed to look after it.
Rather than slightly pink, over the next few days my left hand swung between various tints of red and purple. I continued my “it’s-just-a-scratch” attitude (it only felt like a bad sunburn), which spurred all my friends and acquaintances to make the most glorious fuss over me. You know the kind of fuss that includes phrases like “Oh, that’s really bad!”, “Kayla, you need to do something about it!”, and “No, you can’t just leave it like that!”. And being the youngest-sibling that I am, I mopped the fuss up with this attention-deficient delight that enjoys shocking people into caring for me.
Wait, don’t listen to me. My sibling order had little or nothing to do with my response.
I lapped up all their concern like a thirsty puppy because it’s the fuss my heart has been longing for.
To say my last two years have been hard would be an understatement. Yet there were no life-threatening illnesses, no job losses, no deaths or divorces, no causes for external concern. Difficult moments have been wiped away by incredible friendships and lovely locations. I’ve successfully completed everything that’s been put in front of me. No drama, no fuss. Just a pink-tinged heart and an only-slightly singed hope in God.
Yet my heart still throbbed. So tonight I stole away from post-dinner games to put some lotion on my wounds: a bloody, scabbing, gravel-speckled mess of memories. Memories that include saying no to great teaching jobs and a secure reputation, moving to my favourite country only to say goodbye to it nine months later, choosing to stay in another favourite country, yet that meaning certain separation from family and close friends, and the common thread of disappointment everywhere.
Lotion? I think we all need something a little stronger than that to sooth the scars of simply living our lives. Not something alcoholic. Not something prescriptive. Not something that’s easy, yet unsatisfying. Those things do little or nothing to solve these types of wounds. Instead, we’re advised something that’s salty. Something that’s wet. Something that’s vulnerable, yet satisfying.
A good cry.
Doesn’t Jesus give fair warning to his friends about this in John 16? “You will weep and lament.” I often write about all the lovely promises in the Bible– but really, finally, can I just own up to the fact that this is actually a promise of pain? Jesus gives no excuses, no cover ups, nor does he skirt around the issue. He’s honest with good friends that His absence will thwart their desires for tranquility and foil their plans for grief-free life.
We will cry. We will grieve. Not you “might”. You will. He challenges my everything-should-be-okay theology, for sure. But Jesus promises one more thing, that my sorrow will not stay sorrow. It will turn into joy.
“And no one will take your joy from you.”
Don’t you want that? A joy secure no matter what wounds you sustain in battle, no matter if they’re self-inflicted (like pouring boiling water on yourself) or otherwise? But isn’t that type of joy so frustratingly out of reach?
Today I slathered an exuberant amount of vaseline on the back of my left hand, and will continue to do so for as long as it’s needed. Today I also extravagantly ignored my to-do list to let my heart have a Sabbath instead. The throbbing ceased a couple days ago, on both my hand and and in my heart. But as a finger-width burn has shown me, our internal wounds need just as much care as our external ones, if not more. So every time my friends make a fuss about my hand (made all the more visible due to the greasy vaseline), every time I look down at it as I type this blog post, I feel this uncanny, meaningful nudge from the man I’m really longing to hear.
“I make an even bigger fuss over your heart.”
Joy doesn’t seem so out of reach anymore.