Two years ago, I had my aortic valve replaced as a result of a congenital defect. It was a rough surgery. By the time I arrived home five days later, my body—from my neck to my knees—was a mixed shade of purple, blue, and yellow. It looked like one big bruise. I am glad I was in a deep sleep while the surgery was performed; I can only imagine what took place!
At first, I literally hurt all over, but slowly the aches began to subside. The bruises took much longer. As my body healed and the bruises began to fade, I noticed them less and less, until I bumped into something or my wife unknowingly pressed on one of the bruised areas. Then it hurt.
Several days ago, I was thinking about that time and how the bruise is an apt metaphor for people who are hurting, but not to the point of being unable to function normally. In our culture, we often use the metaphor of a wound to describe a deep hurt. When one is wounded physically, as I was intentionally through major heart surgery, you can’t do much. The pain is too great. Time to heal sufficiently is necessary before life can return to some sense of normalcy. However, there are many times when we hit our knee or shin on the corner of a table, or get our finger pinched in a door that the pain is excruciating at the moment, but quickly fades. What emerges afterward is a bruise that lingers. If it’s on a leg or an upper arm, you get to the point of not even noticing it’s there. Until it is bumped or pressed. Suddenly, the pain is back. Owww! It’s a reminder the bruise is still there, even if most of the time you don’t notice it. It doesn’t prevent you from doing normal things usually, but it’s still there and occasionally you are reminded of that fact.
There are a lot of hurting people in the world. Many have deep wounds that are incapacitating, but I think likely the majority are more bruised than wounded, or have sufficiently healed from their deep wounds that only bruises remain. They are capable of living relatively normal, healthy lives, but there is a level of pain when the hidden bruise is pressed.
I remember many years ago at a student conference, I was given a nickname by the group of students I was with. As I was reminded later by a colleague, it was an affectionate name, but it didn’t sit well with me because as a kid I had endured many nicknames, given out of ridicule rather than affection. It was a bruise I had long forgotten until that moment. Then I felt its pain.
Emotional bruises are normal for life in a fallen world, but they don’t have to be incapacitating. They can merely be a reminder of past hurts without lingering. Sometimes, however, we become fixated on those bruises. Although they are not deep wounds, our attention to them keeps our minds on the pain, similar to an itching bug bite. My experience with bug bites, and I’ve had much in my life, is they itch more when I focus on the itch. And scratching them definitely makes them itch even more. In the same way, if we turn our attention to our bruises, we will notice their pain.
In life, we can’t avoid others bumping our bruises, but we can avoid doing it ourselves. And we can remind ourselves that while the pain from bruises is real, it is not long-lasting. It will go away quickly if we just leave it alone. I think the best way to do that is to focus on how much we are loved by God and the grace by which we can be sustained through moments of pain. Paul gives us this counsel:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.(Colossians 3:1-3 NIV)
In other words, turn our attention to our hope in Christ and how we are protected (hidden) by his loving arms. Turn our attention from the pain to his great love for us, from self-pity to self-denying Kingdom service. Simply put, fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3) instead of the pain. For bruises only get our attention when we focus on them.
© Jim Musser 2019