Idolizing our scars – It’s Time to Break the Rope of “Can’t”

I was recently reminded of a story about holding on to old perceptions as retold by my friend Dan Black. 

If you attend a circus you’ll see elephants walking in meek compliance. If the trainer wants to keep them in an area, they tie a simple weak rope to a pole and walk away. It’s crazy. These massive creatures could break just about anything humans could engineer. Why don’t they just run? 

This is accomplished through careful training. They secure the baby elephant with heavy chains. Every time the little guy tries to wander away, he’s violently pulled back since he doesn’t have the physical strength to break the chain. After a few futile tugs, he simply quits in frustration. It doesn’t take long, and eventually he gives up even trying. He gives in. 

As the elephant grows older, the chain is replaced by a simple, cheap rope. And the elephant never bothers testing the strength of the rope because the desire to run is gone.

Isn’t that just like us? We are captive by our past, by the limitations we once had. When they define us, they hold us back. We become our limitations.

We idolize our scars

I have a friend who fell off a roof in a horrific construction accident. He lost the use of the lower half of his body. But he, of southern grit, figured it out. He went on to continue his construction career, learning how to manage projects. He lives in rural Wyoming and drives a snowplow to clear his driveway and brings in firewood and even skis with a unique contraption. I’ve even been hunting with him on a four-wheeler.

His past didn’t define him.

I have another friend who fell off a deck at almost the same time frame. Same result. But her outcome was far different. She essentially holed up in her home, refusing to come out. Others had to bring her groceries and check on her. Tied to a measly string, she retreated inside her injury.

While I don’t want to diminish her injury, seeing these two people side-by-side was stunning.

Elephant run


You probably have some old injuries you are carrying around. Someone said something to you or did something to you. Maybe as a child you were told you were dumb, or you couldn’t sing, or you were ugly. Maybe a parent crushed your enthusiasm or a trusted elder took advantage of you sexually. Maybe you had a major illness. Maybe your heart was broken.

And the result is you never tug at the rope that holds you back. If you did, it would break and you would be free.

What is most interesting is that we prop up these past injuries, we given them prominence. We idolize them. We are Divorced. Broken. Abused. Hurt. And that label becomes who we are and who we worship. These labels are often rooted in the past – old animosities carried like a beat-up Samsonite. And that’s where they should stay.

My friend Jennifer Lee wrote about this in her brand-new  book, Love Idol: Letting go of your need for approval and seeing yourself through God’s eyes. Long book title, short answer. “Crush it.”

So tug a little. You’re “preapproved,” forgiven and totally free to not only roam, but to run!
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  • hisfirefly

    This is so very “nail on the the head” David!

    Thank you for your wisdom and your voice!

    • David Rupert

      Hammer Hammer!

  • Cindee Snider Re

    As a mom of five, four with significant, long-term illnesses, I watch this fear play out daily in the lives of my teens and 20-somethings. Living with a chronic illness and constant medical care can begin to define them, hold them back, shrink their lives. Thank you for these words. Because we are more than our pasts, more than our illnesses, more than our scars. It’s time to lay down the idol of illness and be free!

    • David Rupert

      “Shrinking their lives” hits me in the gut. How many of us shrink from what God has for us? And yes, they will always have the illness but does that limit them, or does it open them to other things? It’s a whole way of looking at things.

  • cycleguy

    What a powerful post David! It is so good to hear someone championing “what can be” rather than “what once was.” Going to check out her book as well.

    • David Rupert

      I like that Bill. “What can be” isnt just rah-rah motivational stuff. It’s really gospel centered and how God sees us.

  • Megan Willome (@meganwillome)

    So good, David! I’m glad to have your voice in this, too, so it’s not just a chick thing.

    It’s funny–the big scars, those I want to leave behind, but the little ones I sometimes hold on to. I recently realized that I was holding on to not-singing because of something someone said 25 years ago. I rationalized that I was never going to have a career in singing, so it didn’t matter, but I have let that idle comment keep me from trying some things I might like to do.

    • David Rupert

      Do you catch yourself not singing loudly in church because of that criticism long ago? Its time to belt out and sing from the gut!

  • Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    I was thinking about this over the weekend, but from a different perspective. Not a pretty one, I’m afraid. Sometimes it seems people choose to cling to their victimhood and create from it a cottage industry.

    I always wonder if the fame and money is worth the cost of carrying that terrible past event around like a treasure.

    I can’t wait to read Jennifer’s book, by the way!

    • David Rupert

      Look through book titles and blogs and ministries. It can be a freak show. Is there any place for just a normal person?

      • Sheila Seiler Lagrand

        Interesting. My takeaway is that in our fallen world, it’s normal to have experienced some gigantic, tsunami-sized even, hurts, betrayals, and heartaches. I mean normal in the statistical sense here–I don’t mean “acceptable.”

    • Sandra Heska King

      Wow, Sheila. Creating a cottage industry from victimhood…

      • Sheila Seiler Lagrand


        I worried as I made that comment that it might be construed as hurtful or heartless. I didn’t mean it that way. . . I have read/heard many, many beautiful stories of people rising up from horrific circumstances thanks to God’s healing and grace (and their own determination to accept His healing and grace and restore their lives). I’m not talking about those guys–their stories are invaluable to all of us.

        I am thinking more of the “I deserve this because this bad thing happened to me when I was 15″ kind of perspectives.

  • jdukeslee

    Oh my. You nailed it, friend. Sharing on the Love Idol Movement page this afternoon. So grateful for your words here!

    • David Rupert

      Jennifer, I’m thrilled for you and so glad you are speaking the truth

  • joepote01

    I carry my share of emotional scars. I like to think of them as covenant marks.

    In ancient semitic cultures a blood covenant was often commemorated by a letting of blood and by rubbing dirt or ink into the wound to make a permanent scar or tatoo. This mark of the covenant was a permanent reminder of their covenant partner and covenant vows.

    This is the practice referred to in Isaiah 49:16, where God said, “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.”

    Jesus carries the mark of His covenant with us…inscribed in His hands with Roman spikes.

    I carry my emotional scars…and they remind me of His love and faithfulness…that I am wholly His…that I can trust Him to lead me thru any trial and to complete the good work He has begun in me.

  • Sarah

    This leaves me pondering what past hurts I’m allowing to define me. I don’t want to be defined by anything other than Christ.

    I’m sure these words you’ve written here will stay with me…especially this: “that label becomes who we are and who we worship.” May I only be labeled as Christ’s beloved. Thanks for your words!!

    • David @ Red Letter Believersd

      Sarah, thank you for weighing in. Yes, that’s the one and only label we need to wear. But some actually take the labels of shame and wear them as their new identity. That’s not why Christ died!

  • Sandra Heska King

    I’m thinking of this by Hemingway … “The world breaks everyone. And afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” Many are strong in their scars, and many shrink into them. This is so timely for me today, David.

  • Alyssa Santos

    I was thinking about scars this morning. No one has them in utero. Life has a particular way of beating all of us up, one way or another. Some scars are visible, like those of your friends, that occurred through violent accidents. Some are hidden, emotional wounds long covered with adhesions. Most of us have some combination of the two. I have big wounds, from a big accident and my scars track down my torso and my leg. When I beat the odds and beat the brokenness and walked limp-free, it became clear to me that others cannot see my scars. The stranger at the store doesn’t know my past, unless I tell him. My victorious living has to be done in the life of Christ (Colossians 3) not merely in my will to be an overcomer. Those of us well-scarred warriors need to actually see the crippled and undone (like friend #2 in your story) with greater compassion, not merely because we think we can enable them to freedom, but because for some reason or another, and it’s usually the deeper, unseen wounds, they haven’t yet found victory.

  • Diana Trautwein

    Beautifully done, my friend. Yes, scars can be come an idol. I’m not sure I ever thought about that in exactly that way, but you have nailed it here. Thank you.

    • David @ Red Letter Believersd


      Thank you for your words of encouragement

  • Eileen

    Great post, David. Wise words.

  • Kathy Schwanke

    That elephant story is such a great analogy to our bondages. The victory has already been won, but we wait for it. We wait to be rescued and Jesus is there saying, “do you want to be well? Take up your mat and walk.”

    I pray, “Increase my faith Lord!” It is only pride or unbelief that keeps us bound.

    Thanks for the story.

    • David Rupert

      I often think about that, “take up your mat and walk”. And for me, its a matter of faith.

      On another note, I wonder why Jesus didnt tell him to leave his mat?

  • Dan Black

    Wonderful post! Knowing that God has set us free from the bondages of life and sin allows us to run after what He calls us to do.

    • David Rupert

      Dan, thanks for the inspiration! Love!

  • tcavey

    Sounds like a really powerful book!

    I’ve recently been reminded that I have a tendency to look too far ahead and not appreciate whats in front of me. Doing this has robbed me of many joys. I need to learn to stop and smell the roses.

    Your post reminded me that one can be tied to many different things.

    • David Rupert

      TC, yes. What’s right here in front of us? I walked in the alley behind my work and saw a little baby bird taking a bath in the rain water. That just made my day

  • Micah

    Wow!! Great post!! And it put’s a finger and something I’ve often struggled with. I think I’m slowly getting better at not being shackled to old hurts but posts like this definitely help. Thanks.

    • David Rupert

      It’s funny Micah. I THINK i’m done with all that junk, andthen I realize what a hold it has on me. I just love the picture of that elephant running. It just makes me smile.

  • lschontos

    This is so very wise and so true David. I wonder if it just isn’t easier sometimes to allow those things from our past to give us an excuse to simply give up on everything. Or at the very least, be easily discouraged – giving up whenever we hear a critical or negative word. Hmm….I think I’ve been guilty of just that.

    I needed this one. Thanks!

  • Floyd

    I say scars SHMARS! It takes training from youth to get back on the horse. None of us want to, but if we get in the habit of quitting every time we get hurt we’ll end up handicapped in the worst way. I love your friend’s attitude! Those kind of people I admire greatly.

    I gotta check out Jennifer’s book! Thanks, David.

  • Amy

    This is one of my very favorite pieces that you have written, David. Such truth here~ thank you for speaking it so eloquently.

    • David Rupert

      Thank you Amy. Blessings to you. “FISH ON!”

  • Betty Draper

    David, thanks for the spot light on the Jennifer book, one I must read. I have been ask to speak at a ladies retreat in Oct. and I just penned down a way to start my testimony. My Dad called myself and my brothers “pitiful” most of our growing up years. God has brought me from, “Pitiful to Wise Hearted. One thing I know is if you do not own your past it will own you. Your post is exactly what my first session in the retreat will be about. Thanks for some good pointers and just for writing this. Good one.

  • Paula Gamble

    Wow! This really helps me! I have definitely been that Elephant that had been trained to stay put, and gave up my fight. I have let labels define me and succumbed to the lies of ‘not enough’, ‘unworthy’, and so many more. One thing for me though is that I had to come out of denial and admit I was wounded, abused, and broken. But that was just a step. God takes us as we are, and then helps us see ourselves as He does: unbroken, whole, and healing. He changes our perspective.