Where Healing Begins: a Wild in the Hollow Guest Post from Sarah Jo Burch
I’ve known Sarah Jo Burch for years, since she was a young creative writer, and I have admired her all along. The post she offers us today in the latest edition in the Wild in the Hollow guest post series is her brave story, and she can’t hide from it anymore. Oh how I get it, and I believe the church has something very beautiful to imitate here. Please open your heart and see the pearls put before us. Welcome Sarah Jo Burch!
I have a surgical scar from where a malignant cancer was cut out of me five years ago in two weeks. You could lay me bare on an examination table and never find it, though – it’s a scar of the soul. Yet despite being outwardly invisible, I still go to great lengths to make sure it stays hidden. The shame of it haunts me, overshadowing the miracle of grace the Physician worked in making me new, and chills my heart even as, in a strange paradox, I knit hats to warm the heads of patients with physical cancer.
It was a darkness, a secret, eating me up from the inside out, finally grown to the final stages where it becomes visibly obvious to even the strangers you encounter that there is something wrong, some dark force that is slowly consuming you, and I was all but numb. But God (that really is, I think, the repeating phrase in the Bible that encourages me most)… but God, by His love and grace, made me whole and wholly His. The healing of my spirit was so extraordinary that it extended into the physical – I felt lighter, my head was clearer, my outlook changed, a song and a smile rose more readily to my lips. I stood on the brink of new life and plunged in, wildly and gloriously free for the first time in a long time. But even when I spoke of hope, contrasting it with the darkness, I never gave the darkness a name so I could speak it. It was simply Darkness.
I thought that as believers we’ve all been healed of something, so the specifics shouldn’t matter. But somehow, it does. I quickly discovered imaginary hierarchies, people who had been healed of a scratch and thought that made them better – but who didn’t realize that their self-righteousness had grown into its own sort of cancer. So I grew quieter and quieter, and my scar began to pull uncomfortably and pinch if I turned the wrong way, and I prayed that it would go away completely. But it remained at the beginning of my story, in the corner of my eye, on the tip of my tongue – terrifyingly present, as though it wanted to be seen. It began to cast a shadow over my tentative forays into community, threatening to reveal itself.
We finally came to a faith home that doesn’t try to shame away the outward scars and marks, who have a strong emphasis on accountability and vulnerability, and it began to occur to me that perhaps the whole reason a soul-scar had been left behind was so that it could be shared – for God’s glory and for the encouragement of others. But I had imagined the horrifying consequences of baring it so many times that every time the opportunity arose I froze up, unable to speak, stammering out something else that I’d come up with on the fly, rather than talking about that. And every time it became harder to change the subject, and the chances were coming with increasing frequency.
Finally, at a women’s Bible study meeting a few weeks ago, with my chest tight and my heart pounding so loudly it seemed to echo, I named the Darkness. I spoke of Same Sex Attraction and focused on God’s work in my heart and the amazing man He chose to metaphorically demonstrate His love to me. It came out in a sort of rush, after a few others had shared more common scars (still remarkable tales of healing and glory, but less ominous to speak of). My eyes had flickered from face to face as my story tumbled out, and I studiously examined the pattern on the rug in the ensuing silence. Which was broken by a voice across the circle, emboldened to reveal her own scar – from a different sort of cancer, but one that had been just as malignant. After she was finished, another woman suggested that we pray together, and offered up beautiful words of grace and gratitude, and several of us cried.
Healing begins where the light meets the dark. I thought that I could shame the Darkness by leaving it anonymous, but it turned out that it was shaming me. Confession is an integral part of true community – not just in the small things of asking forgiveness of selfish acts toward each other, or seeking accountability in starting a new discipline (spiritual or otherwise), but also in the roots of our stories, warped and worm-riddled though they may have been. The blade of silence and secrecy cuts with a double edge, the temptation to falsely contrast ourselves with others we perceive as better and a similar one to compare ourselves with others we perceive as worse. But isn’t that the crux of our shared story? The paths we walked through the darkness may have lead us through unique shadows, but now we’re united by common grace and the loving sacrifice of an uncommon Savior. I want to seek out places to tell my whole story – and I have a new resolve to make it clear to everyone I meet that their scars are safe with me.
Sarah Jo Burch lives in the South and is rediscovering her sense of adventure with her handsome and hardworking husband and her kids who are two-under-three. She blogs (usually over a cup of tea) about faith, the everyday life of a wife and mum, loving her neighbors, gratitude, and knitting – with pictures between. You’ll find her at Paper-Bark Burch, posting between dishes and reading Fox in Socks for the eightieth time.
If you haven’t yet read Wild in the Hollow, today is a great day to purchase it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or Givingtons! It’s a great Christmas gift as well. I wrote this book for our healing, and my heart is full of hope for the church, that we would speak of our brokenness from the floor and from the pulpit, that we would be a safe place that says come and see. Our God meets us in low places, so there’s nothing to fear in sharing our stories, in connecting with those covered in shame, or in listening to questions we don’t always have the answers to.