Scratching Against Glass

It wasn’t the bug bites that made me scratch up and down my arm rigorously. I needed some movement, some nervous outlet. “What do you think?” I asked leaning against the kitchen counter.

“I don’t know…” he paused before continuing, “I’m fine with it.” I could tell there was more behind his words. I looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but sometimes you poke at things that you should probably just let be.” His eyes were soft and gentle and he touched my arm as he spoke.

I knew he was speaking some truth. A scar won’t heal if you keep picking at it.

And yet…

Lately I have been picking at things left and right. That time when I was asked to stop leading worship in high school, I've been playing it over and over again in my mind. That time when the Bible study I tried to start for my class got taken over by student government and I was asked not to be a part of planning it anymore, the girls who’d been mean, the guys I'd liked who never gave me a second look, that time when the guy I cared deeply about told me we would never be anything more than friends, that time when I joined staff at a church only to have the church fall completely apart within a few months, the countless times I had tried to start yoga classes only to have no one show up or have them dissolve shortly after starting, the goodbyes I’ve had to say, the many hurts and failures, the things people have said to me that I still carry, the things I’ve done to others that I still feel guilt over, it all plays on repeat in my mind lately. But something about the scar metaphor hasn’t fit.

A scar won’t heal if you keep picking at it. Let sleeping dogs lie. Don’t  poke the bear. Something about these statements doesn’t sit right with me, because what they communicate is just leave it alone and move on. Just ignore it and keep going about your life. I don’t think that’s how change happens. I don’t think that’s the path to freedom. Or at least I don’t think it’s the path for me right now.

Today I snuck away from Bryan and the kids for some alone time and decided a bath was just what I needed. I reached for a bottle of essential oil with the word JOY written across it’s pink label and splashed a few drops into the running water. Then I walked to the book shelf. I knew exactly what book I needed to read. I picked the green and grey cover off of the shelf and looked at the title, Pilgrim At Tinker Creek it read. I climbed in the tub and began to read. “I’ll just read to the end of the chapter,” I thought. But when I reached the chapter’s end instinct told me, “Just a little more.” And that’s when I read it, when I found it, the image I’d been looking for, the metaphor that fit.

“Yesterday I set out to catch the new season, and instead I found an old snakeskin. I was in the sunny February woods by the quarry; the snakeskin was lying in a heap of leaves right next to an aquarium someone had thrown away. I don’t know why that someone hauled the aquarium deep into the woods to get rid of it; it had only one broken glass side. The snake found it handy, I imagine; snakes like to rub against something rigid to help them out of their skins, and the broken aquarium looked like the nearest likely object. Together the snakeskin and the aquarium made an interesting scene on the forest floor. It looked like an exhibit at a trial - circumstantial evidence - of a wild scene, as though a snake had burst through the broken side of the aquarium, burst through his ugly old skin, and disappeared, perhaps straight up in the air, in a rush of freedom and beauty.”

Oh, yes. That is it. It is the same metaphor I had been given back in August. The image of a snake shedding skin, and yet now there was new depth added to the image, a new explanation for what I’ve been experiencing.

I haven’t been picking at wounds. I’ve been scrapping my skin off. I’ve been seeking out sharp shards of glass that will help me shed this old skin. At times it hasn’t made sense. Many times in the past few weeks I’ve felt embarrassed by my actions and words. I’ve felt bad for digging up old things. I’ve sat in old stories and old pain and listened to all the lies I’ve let them tell me about who I am. And it’s been uncomfortable, no more than that, it’s been painful. Glass is sharp.

I stopped and stared at the words on the page for a moment more.

“Snakes like to rub against something rigid to help them out of their skins… burst through his ugly old skin… in a rush of freedom and beauty.

I set the book down and reached for a glass jar on the edge of the bath tub. Coconut and Citrus Salt Scrub the label read in my messy and broken handwriting. I took off the lid and scooped a small handful of the oily white salts into my palm. Then I rubbed it slowly in circles across my skin.

Picking at raw wounds won’t let them heal. But, exfoliating old scars will. We need to shed the old things and sometimes that means going over them again. Telling our stories. Owning our stories. Even when others remember things differently. Even when it doesn’t seem as if that particular wound should still hurt so much. Even when it seems that particular wound shouldn’t be so important, it’s so old, so ordinary, so small. Even when we feel ridiculous for going over old ground. It must be done.

Because freedom doesn’t come from ignoring or boxing up or trying to move on in our own power. Freedom comes from shedding skin. Freedom comes from naming things. Freedom comes from calling things out of the darkness and into the light. Freedom comes through confession. Freedom comes from scratching against the glass and letting ourselves feel, really feel all of it, all of life, with all it’s transformative beauty and all it’s transformative pain.

Grace and peace, Bethany