Right after our last child, I was recovering from the cesarean surgery and started to notice that my foot was sore. My husband is in orthopedics, so one morning over breakfast, I told him that it was hurting a bit. He promised to keep an eye on it, and we went about the day. Two days later the pain had grown worse, and by the end of the day it was swollen. We tried to treat it medicinally until I couldn’t walk on it at all. It was a Friday, and he told me to come in for an x-ray. I didn’t go. It was tough to get all the kids taken care of and make time for all of that. So the weekend came and it got progressively worse. I finally went in that Monday and got the x-ray.
The x-ray tech set me up and went over to hit the button to take the picture. Then, she kind of chuckled, I think.
“So, what have you been doing?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Have you been hiking? Or on a boat or something?”
“What? No. These questions are pretty random.”
It turns out that there was an old piece of metal in my foot. I had to have it removed that week, and the diagnosis was that I had stepped on it when I was a child. After my pregnancies and other bodily changes, it festered and resurfaced. (Yes, this is all totally true. This is literally my x-ray.)
It had finally festered and needed to be removed. That resonates deeply, especially during Lent.
How many unhealed wounds do we walk around with? What will it take to finally let go and allow healing?
Two illustrations of operating in woundedness come to mind: turning off the light and broken bones.
If you are in a well-lit room (maybe wherever you are reading this) and turn off the light, the darkness is shocking at first. But, if you wait a moment, your eyes adjust. You can probably make out the outlines of the furniture around you. You could get up and walk around without stubbing your toe. You might even be able to pour a drink amidst that darkness. If there are people in the room, you could still find them, commune with them, speak with them.
But the Lord does not intend for you to live “just getting by.” To be fully alive requires illumination. With the light of the divine, everything can be seen. You can pour the drink, but now you can see the color of the liquid. You can speak to your friends, but now you can see the outlines of their smile lines when they laugh and the pain in their eyes if they are heavy hearted. Illumination is required for a joyful life, fully entrusted to God.
Now, the broken bones. I asked my husband about his knowledge of field medicine after reading about St. Ignatius of Loyola’s horrific run-in with a loose cannonball. I realize that many of us walk around on broken bones, set on the front lines of battle.
When my mother died, to get through the funeral and all of the planning of laying her to rest, I slapped a band-aid on my broken heart. But to live my life in pursuit of God, I had to revisit my broken heart, rip the band-aid off, and allow real healing to take place.
The broken arm that’s set and wrapped in the ER can heal in that position. The person can probably use their arm though not fully. They can “just get by” until the deficiency becomes too hard to bear. They return to the doctor, and here’s the kicker: in order for the arm to be healed correctly, it has to be re-broken.
When I think of Lent, I think of an invitation for authentic healing. That usually takes place in the desert. It usually can only happen if we allow our old wounds and our broken bones to be re-broken and band-aids to be completely ripped off. Let the wind of the Holy Spirit and the hands of the Divine Physician put everything as it should be. Let him take our hearts of stone and turn them into flesh.
Where in your life are you just getting by? Where is the wound that you have tried to hide but continues to fester? Where does real healing need to take place?
Think of the person with chronic knee pain that finally has the time and money to get it fixed. You’ll hear them say, “I feel like a new person.” Or, “I had no idea life could be like this.” Usually, living with such chronic pain or woundedness makes us numb to the possibility of life without it. We live without hope and aren’t even aware of it.
When we become aware of the piece of metal that we were wounded with when we were children or maybe even when we are adults, we have to endure the suffering of reopening a wound to really allow for the removal of that which has broken our hearts.
In Co-Workers of the Truth, Joseph Ratzinger wrote the following:
It is only by enduring himself, by freeing himself through suffering from the tyranny of egoism, that man finds himself, that he finds his truth, his joy, his happiness…The crisis of our age is made very real by the fact that we would like to flee from it; that people mislead us into thinking that one can be human without overcoming oneself, without the suffering of renunciation and the hardship of self-control; that people mislead us by claiming that here is no need for the difficulty of remaining true to what one has undertaken and the patient endurance of the tension between what one ought to be and what one actually is….There is, in fact, no other way in which one can be saved than by the cross.
Christ constantly invites us into union with his suffering. In her wisdom, the Church turns up the volume on this invitation during the season of Lent. When all is stripped away, we can hear his cries even greater: “Return to me with your whole heart.”
And as you revisit these wounds and make yourself vulnerable to healing, may you also hear the quiet whisper of Love Himself. My child, these wounds do not define you. Love Himself descends into humanity, drawing you into his divine life with an ever-ending refrain that he whispered over all of creation. You. Are. Good. This wound, this sin, is not the definition of who you are. You are good. Be made whole this Lent.