Put On the Medicine

By Scott McClellan

Like most modern tragedies, this story starts with a mitten.

My four-year-old daughter was playing with a random mitten in her bedroom when the mitten got stuck on a ceiling fan blade. That’s well out of the reach of a four-year-old, but my Maggie wasn’t going to let that stop her.

She climbed up on her bed, eyed the stranded mitten, crouched like a jungle cat, and leaped toward the fan. Maggie intended, of course, to snatch the mitten and float gracefully back to the floor. That was the plan. However, the unfortunate reality is that she’s not a jungle cat and she has yet to study physics at any meaningful level. So she launched herself more horizontally than vertically, the result of which was a violent collision between a wooden headboard and her formerly pristine eyebrow.

Cue screaming. Zoom in on the tears. Enter the steady procession of bright red blood. Cut to the mitten, perched motionless on the blade of a Hampton Bay brushed nickel ceiling fan.

The collision opened a big enough gash on Maggie’s forehead that we decided to take her to the emergency room, but the gash was also small enough that we chose one of those newfangled emergency rooms that doesn’t have an actual hospital attached to it. There the staff applied some glue and tape to the problem, gave her some pain reliever, and told us to leave everything in place for a week or so. When the glue and tape finally came off, we saw an injury that was both ugly and on the mend.

Day by day, the swelling receded, the discoloration faded, and the wound gave way to fresh pink skin — except for a thin, dark stroke determined to serve as a souvenir of the time Maggie tried to jump five feet up in the air to retrieve a wayward mitten.

For the wound, we followed a predictable pattern: rush to triage and treatment, ease the pain however we could, and then wait a week for the healing process to do its work. But the prescribed plan for a scar is different. Multiple times a day for the next several months we have to apply a tiny bit of special gel to that thin, dark stroke in hopes that over time it lightens and narrows until it disappears altogether.

Ever since all this happened a couple days before Christmas, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to heal. As a parent, I often find myself bumping up against the limitations of my ability to make my kids better. You know kids — they’re always picking up injuries in the form of scraped knees and nightmares and being called a doodyhead by some punk on the playground. They collect physical, emotional, relational, and psychological wounds — just like their parents do. And we want to heal those wounds so badly, to wave a hand or utter some secret words and set everything right again, but we can’t. We’re not healers in that magical sense, but we do have a role to play in healing.

I can’t control the healing process, but I can participate in it. I can’t fix myself, or anyone else for that matter, but I can follow the protocol. I can’t wipe away scars, but I can put on the medicine every day.

This is, in so many ways, God’s invitation to us as individuals and as a church: bind up the wounds, provide comfort in pain, make space for healing, and put on the medicine every day.

To the extent that I know myself at all, I know I bear the scars of sin and self, of family and failure, of culture and conflict. The question is whether I’ll put on the medicine every day. The question is whether I’ll smear my scars with prayer, Scripture, silence, public worship, deep community, faithful generosity, and humble service. 

In the past I’ve botched the season of Lent by engaging it as a six-week self-improvement project, but I think I’m done with that. These days I’d rather just show up to the places where Jesus says he’ll meet me so that he can do the work he says he’ll do.

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