If you have ever read (or at least heard of) the book by John Eldridge, Wild at Heart, he says there are three key missions within a man’s life.
- A battle to fight.
- An adventure to live.
- A beauty to defend.
The main thread of this book is to help men discover their call to excellence by tapping into these innate desires deep within our masculine hearts. Along with this title, there are many more examples of leaders challenging men to live a life of purpose. When you look at top lists of books or programs in the realm of motivation, there is one word that can sum up what it means to be a human seeking excellence. Action.
This one word can be unfolded in a multitude of meaning. For the sake of this article those unfoldings will be tabled for another writing. The purpose of this post is to reflect on the resistance to action, the struggle of action, but mostly the evidence of action.
I can recall memories as a young man growing up how when a group of guys would gather we would all exchange exciting stories. Jumping our bikes over homemade ramps, filling super soakers with soapy water to exterminate wasps, how many bases we stole in the last game; it was always a competition to see who engaged in the most exciting battle that week. However it seemed to always turn to comparing and examining newly acquired wounds and scars. The cut leg from the ramp collapsing, the several wasp stings, and the scraped knees from all the sliding into bases.
As young boys it was a sense of pride to have the coolest scar, the one that made your friends stop and say “WHOOAA” as they looked in awe. Pride because the evidence of the action you engaged, the battle you fought, the pain you endured.
Fast forward a few years (or a few more) as we become adults, when it comes to non-physical wounds and scars, the inverse is true. Practically every effort is expended to keep them not known by our peers, family, sometimes even our significant other. Instead of boasting of the evidence of our action, we feel a status of shame that we must cover it up.
Pulling a few small parts from the text of Man and Woman He Created Them: “. . . shame is not only one of man’s original experiences, but is also a ‘boundary’ experience. . . if we take as a point of reference the experience of shame as it is clearly presented in the ancient biblical text, namely, as a ‘threshold’ experience. TOB 11:4-6
Then fleshing out in a little more depth:
“In the experience of shame, the human being experiences fear in the face of the ‘second I’ (thus, for example, woman before man), and this is substantially fear for one’s own ‘I.’ With shame, the human being manifests ‘instinctively,’ as it were, the need for the affirmation and acceptance of this ‘I’ according to its proper value.” TOB 12:1
What is this “boundary experience” of which he writes? The “threshold experience” of which he writes? Very simply the natural tendency we have to guard or protect ourselves from those who we fear would not accept us according to our proper value.
Too many times we have an experience of pain that we suffer with a vain endurance. Keeping a mindset that either others would either not understand nor seek to be empathetic toward our need for healing. What is a contributing factor to this mindset? I believe it’s the false doctrine that people believe all pain is bad, and suffering should be avoided at all expense.
This has even manifested itself into the emotional realm with the movement of filtered speech, the ridiculousness of developing “safe space”, the mere idea that one should not even be subject to the potential of distress from opposing or offensive force. (be on the lookout for a future post on the idea of being offended and the criminalization of discrimination).
Christ was tempted, wounded, scarred, mocked. If we are called to love as He loves, be prepared for the same treatment. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21
Take ownership of your pain, and I don’t mean ownership as responsibility for the reason of the pain. Ownership in that statement is meant to convey acknowledgement of where you are, and the actions you need to engage to bring healing.
In our beloved Pope Saint’s writings, the idea of shame is effected from fear that we will not be loved in our broken and scarred state. If the scars we have are too ugly to be looked upon, in what then can we have hope?
“Hurt so good, come on baby make it hurt so good. Sometimes love don’t feel like it should, you make it hurt so good.” John Mellencamp, Hurts So Good.
Here is the thing. If you have scars or wounds that says something about you. It says that you are a fighter. You are willing to engage in battle. And the fact that you are still walking around shows that you have survived! We should almost have the same sense of pride from our wounds and scars as we did when we were kids. Why? Because it is a sign of virtue, your character, your courage, your ability to take pain. The evidence that you were trying to work for something good, and you experienced resistance along the way.
This past weekend we hosted an engagement party for my roommate and his fiancé. Myself and one other guy cooked most of the meat for the I Do BBQ, and while putting something in the oven to keep it warm, my hand brushed the rack. It left a pretty nasty burn which has scarred.
When people ask me all concerned “what happened?!” my first answer is “we had a party for some friend’s engagement, and it was amazing!” Eyes on the prize.
One of the best scenes in the movie Rocky happens when he is speaking with his son. “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” https://youtu.be/uyTAfX7cniI
Plain and simple, a reality we all know but I hope this reflection brings it a little more importance to you. Christ’s resurrected body still had the wounds, still had the main scars of the struggle he endured. The evidence of how hard he was hit and kept moving forward.
It’s in acknowledging the pain that we learn how to improve our journey forward. In my own profession, this is how risk managers help companies grow. They look at past claims and trends to see the faults or weaknesses in safety so they can be addressed or improved. After burning my hand on the oven (for the umpteenth time), I’ll try to be more cautious next time . . .
However acknowledging pain is much different than resting in the pain. How successful would Christ have been in his efforts if he focused his effort on his wounds VS keeping his eyes on the top of the hill? Not that they are comparable, but how successful would my cooking efforts have been had I stopped to wallow about my hand instead of getting back to the grill and monitoring the burgers?
How much love can you invest into your future relationships if you are constantly living in the pain of past relationships? How much can you excel your job performance if you focus solely on one criticism from your boss VS listening and using those words to find ways to improve?
St. Paul writes “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” II Corinthians 11:30
Terrible example I use with highschoolers, but a perfect example. In the movie Eight Mile, Eminem’s character Rabbit, has been trying to make it as a rapper. The movie ends with this underground rap battle between him and a rival gang.
Prefacing the main point. What is one of the main tactics for rappers, or anyone who is trying to tear someone down? Point out their weaknesses, their faults, their failures – make them feel bad for the ways they fell short. This is what the accuser does, he accuses to bring up a sense of shame. Makes you feel bad about your life so they can feel good about theirs.
After tearing them all down one by one, Rabbit finally gets to the final round with his rival. They have a personal history and this guy knows everything on him. So what does Rabbit do? After some silence he stuns everyone by not trying to rip up his rival, but he starts to rap about himself. He slings everything that the other guy was planning on using against him – so when he throws the microphone to his rival . . . he is speechless. The accuser had nothing to accuse of him or to make him feel guilty.
While his opponent is defeated, Rabbit walks off stage in victory with the motivation to make his life better. Everything he has ever felt ashamed of, was now brought to the light and he could move forward.
Even as adults, to be scarred is to be looked upon as abnormal. Those who appear not to be scarred often mock or exhibit sarcasm in order to bring attention to those that are different. But you know what?
The “proper value” that our beloved Pope St. wrote of exists whether or not the people you encounter offer empathy or sarcasm. As long as it is a just cause, rejoice in the wounds you have because they show the strength of your character and the motivation you possess to fight the battles that are worth fighting.
Now let’s hop back to that “threshold experience” of which he wrote. It takes courage to allow another person to experience what you may consider ugly about yourself. How many times do we say “if you really knew me you wouldn’t love me” when the inverse is true! To love someone is to know them! One of my favorite movies is “The Painted Veil.” because it shows the struggle of two lovers who refuse to reveal themselves. It isn’t until they both are willing to open up and remove the veil (literally) that they see one another.
It’s in this unveiling where we allow the true “me” to be seen. In a world full of selfies and narcs, and how many times we shout to the world “look at me!” it’s truly puzzling how little we actually allow others to see. Using prudence, allowing others into the threshold of your inner courts can be a beautiful gift.
The word “authentic” seems to be a buzz, and it’s contiguous with the closing thought of this post. Authentic shares root with another strong word – Author. If the author is the one who places all the parts in a story for it to be complete, it would make sense that to be authentic we must accept all pieces of our life story – scars and all.
Next time you are feeling ugly or held down, don’t be afraid to be loved.