Oh God, I am furrowed like the field
Torn open like the dirt
And I know that to be healed,
I must be broken firstAndrew Peterson, “The Sower’s Song”
My face is furrowed. It isn’t furrowed in the regular sense of the word — like my eyebrows are knit together. This year, my face became furrowed by a new scar.
A few months ago, I learned that I had a minor form of skin cancer just under my right eye. I had battled a small blemish for over a year, trying to get it to heal. It never did. After a biopsy, the spot was confirmed to be basal cell carcinoma. And so the date was set. After we returned from our whirlwind vacation overseas, on Easter Monday early in the morning, I would be numbed up and have a piece of my cheek carved away.
The procedure I underwent is called Mohs’ surgery, named for the doctor who created the process. I suggest doing an internet search on the term if you’d like to see some truly horrific pictures. The doctor takes away the cancerous cells to the best of his ability. He also takes what he considers to be sufficient “margin” — enough healthy cells to create a border between the location of the cancer and the healthy, unaffected skin nearest the site.
This process is mind-bending. While you lay on a reclining chair in one room, lab technicians down the hall look at a piece of your face to make sure they “got it all.” When the doctor is satisfied that you’re done, he uses a tiny torch to cauterize the site and help it heal. The smell of my own burning flesh is not one I will soon forget.
The first couple of weeks of healing were uneventful. The most traumatic part was the first glance at the stitches — seven of them, marching uniformly in vivid purple across my upper cheek. But once the stitches came out, I was optimistic about the healing of what would amount to an extra-deep laugh line underneath my right eye.
Then, two weeks later, some purple sprung up under the skin. Swelling began. Was it an infection? No. My body was in rebellion. A hematoma had arisen. It had to be lanced. More bandages. And now, some work.
Beneath the line that rests on the skin, there is an angrier area. My skin wants to harden up. Scar tissue is setting in, making my upper cheek a lumpy mess. It is in need of some work. “Your best friends,” the doctor said at my third post-op visit, “will be time and massage.”
Now, and for the foreseeable future, an alarm on my phone sounds every hour. Ten times a day, for one minute each time, I must massage the scar. But to say “massage” is too kind — I must push down hard, exerting pressure and breaking up the hardened tissue underneath the skin. I must keep at it. I must exert little bits of hard effort, a small amount at a time. I hope to win out over the hard scar tissue through time and consistency. However, I should not expect overnight results, and I should not expect to rest from the effort anytime soon.
The experience has served to remind me that little things we do every day often matter more than big things we do every once in a while. Consistent effort, little bits at a time, bear regular, bountiful fruit more than big, occasional efforts. Our flesh desires the big, showy payoff performances. But long-lasting fruit comes with little bits of faithful investment.
So please keep going to the gym a few times a week. Keep reminding your kids to put their dishes in the dishwasher. Keep texting that friend even though you haven’t seen her in awhile. Keep opening that Bible every morning. Keep showing up at church early to serve. To paraphrase Annie Dillard, how you spend your days is how you spend your life.
Also — how quickly can scar tissue set into our souls? We all know areas that the Holy Spirit wants us to press on. It causes us pain. It requires effort. Quite frankly, we don’t want to enter into it. The first cut hurts. Our natures make us want to become atrophied and give up for lack of observable results. After the initial sting, we may think the work is done. But the process of repentance is borne out over days, months, and years of dying little deaths and pressing forward into little resurrections.
It is meant for our good by a good and kind Father, and it will bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness in the end. (Hebrews 12:11)