The following excerpt comes from Chapter 9, “Stewards of Our Scars,” in Chad Bird’s new book Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul.

In a Bible full of bizarre stories with bizarre endings, the account of Jacob wrestling the angel ranks among the more unusual. At the end of the narrative, we are given an odd little detail about the enduring legacy of Jacob’s struggle. Jacob was “limping because of his hip.” “Therefore,” the text adds, “to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.”[1] The sacred wound of Jacob was stamped onto the hips of every animal his descendants might consume. Keeping alive the memory of God’s touch, and out of a reverent remembrance, they refrained from eating that particular part. For God’s people, Jacob’s limp was an ongoing handicap. By it they recalled the Lord who conceals his blessings in the wounds of his people. The one-time divine touch became a sacred, memorial scar.

Up and down the highways we travel are billboards that promise all our bodily imperfections can be erased with a few visits to the right physician. Bigger breasts and a well-rounded backside can be purchased. Botox can smooth out the wrinkles of time. Love handles can be shrunk to a mere pinch. Scars from acne or surgery can be erased from our skin. If our wallets are big enough, our bodies can be young enough, sexy enough, toned enough. The message preached by every advertisement is this: Only a fool would keep his or her imperfections. In our culture the new sin has become keeping our scars.

But some scars are not only too deep for the surgeon’s knife; they’re too important to be erased. These blemishes are storytellers. They keep alive memories that, while punctuated with pain and regret, are also full of grace and healing.

In the past, I often wondered why the books of the Bible are scarred. Inked onto those pages are the blemishes of men and women whose stories we met briefly in this book. Cain with his murder. Noah with his drunkenness. Jacob with his deceit. My friend Elmer was shocked when he read about Lot and his daughters. The failures of God’s people often strike us that way. But as I came to realize, those scarred stories remain in the body of this sacred book because they are our Father’s gifts to us. They warn us of the dangers we face on the path of life. They hold before us a mirror of our shared, human weaknesses. And most importantly, they disclose a God whose “anger is but for a moment, and [whose] favor is for a lifetime.”[2] The last thing we need to lose is our scars: the gracious favor of God makes sacred these marks of our old sins.

Years ago, while Frederick Buechner was speaking to a group of Christians at a Texas retreat, he recounted a painful incident from his childhood. Afterward, a man named Howard Butt approached him and said, “You have had a good deal of pain in your life, and you have been a good steward of it.”[3] His words took Buechner aback. He had never thought of pain, and its impact on his life, in terms of stewardship. But the more he reflected on what it means to be a steward, the more he realized how true the man’s words had been. Later, he wrote, “If you manage to put behind you the painful things that happen to you as if they never really happened or didn’t really matter all that much when they did, then the deepest and most human things you have in you to become are not apt to happen either.”[4]

Whatever sufferings we have endured, self-inflicted or otherwise, are scars our Father has granted us as a sacred duty. Stewards do not own that for which they are responsible; they are called to faithfully manage what another has given them. Our scars are God’s gifts to us. They are the means Jesus uses not to anchor us to the past but to propel us into the future as those who know the wounding power and healing grace of God.

Buechner speaks of “the deepest and most human things you have in you to become.” Chief among those is the capacity to reflect to those around us the love of God of which we have so deeply drunk. The most human thing we can do is to live in the image of the God of compassion who made us and remade us in his Son. We don’t forget the scars of that remaking. We learn to treasure them as life-altering wounds that teach us what it means to be children of the heavenly Father.

Remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh? The Lord refused to take it away, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.”[5] Paul then added, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” So it is with our stewardship of scars.

The resurrected body of Jesus must be a magnificent sight. Glorious, radiant, perfect. Yet for me, the most precious aspects of Jesus’s body are the scars that remain, even after Easter. The nail prints in his hands. The spear-pierced hole in his side. The gashes left by spikes in his feet. These everlasting wounds visually preach the gospel. As Isaiah prophesied, “With his stripes we are healed.”[6]

Jesus is the steward of his own scars. He uses them to grant peace to his astonished disciples in the Upper Room.[7] With them he beckons Thomas out of his doubt.[8] And with these scars he continues not only to grant us peace, but to imbue our own scars with meaning and grace.

This is where the long, crooked road of repentance leads us, where it always leads us: into Jesus, who has walked with us—indeed, carried us—every step along the way. On our darkest days on the darkest path, he was there. When we stumbled again, he was there. When we limp away from our fights with him, he is ever-present.

Look at your scars and cherish them. They are icons of divine love. They are transfigured by the grace of the God who will always call us by one name: Beloved.

[1] Gen. 32:31-32.

[2] Ps. 30:5.

[3] Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), pp. 210-11.

[4] Buechner, Secrets in the Dark, p. 212.

[5] 2 Cor. 12:9.

[6] Isa. 53:5.

[7] John 20:20.

[8] John 20:27.