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Tattoos & Imperfections: Learning Authentic Self-expression

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Tattoos. Most people tell me it would be hard to find something to physically express on their bodies the rest of their lives. They are expressions of personality, physical representations revealing who we are. Similarly, actions and behaviors express the deeper stories in our hearts.

I’ve been thinking about expression—what is culturally appropriate to do or say—specifically in American evangelical culture. What are we doing and not doing in church, and what does that say about our deeper hearts? I noticed something we don’t do one night at church.

Friday night worship. Lights turned low, and there were string lights running across the floor in the front. There were three people there. One at the piano, leading. And I was already cross-legged on the concrete, but I noticed this urge welling up to just lie down. Rest my head against the floor. A wave of weariness.

This internal battle came, because while I wanted to rest in the presence of the Lord, lying down in church was something I’d never seen. When I eventually listened to my body crying out for relief, lying there, I contemplated how I felt so needy. Truthfully, I had needed rest the whole time, but the act of surrendering to my need legitimized it.

It’s sad, I found, that lying down is not acceptable in churches. Neither are any other forms of expressing neediness and brokenness. There’s not space to sit in vulnerable humility or process, express, converse about, or support each other. We silence our struggles. Feeling shame, we seek to hide our weaknesses and imperfections.

I’ve always been embarrassed about the birthmark on my face. To me, it is a blemish, a defiling mark, proclamation of brokenness. But a friend once rolled up his sleeve to show me the scars where he had gotten surgery three times. They were deeper and more pronounced than I had expected.

He let me trail my finger along the jagged surface where a metal plate had been inserted beneath the skin. Invitation into the scars. A revelation and pronunciation of brokenness. Reminiscent of the tattoo, birthmarks and surgery marks are both lifelong expressions of imperfection.

But, this stark lack of space created for vulnerable expression of weakness and neediness in evangelical culture. I’ve begun to wonder, what is our lack of expression saying about our hearts? Do we struggle to move past shame and believe in God’s power to heal, redeem, and refine?

How can we grow here? Hearing the story of my friend’s surgeries, touching the scars. It was an invitation into broken spaces. Open hospitality to bare authenticity. It has the power to heal and forge connection that unites.

I want to break away from valuing perfection so much that I lose opportunities for honesty that bring healing. Join me? Battling shame that isolates, expressing the broken parts. Let’s cling to the truth of God’s promises. The truth that he sits with us in the pain and need. That he is our good healer--refining and restoring. That his love meets us in these spaces.

Let’s be open. Let’s be met. Let’s invite. And express. We are broken glorious.

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