“The people who grow old inheriting bitterness and a cold demeanor, those are the people who have neglected the value of learning how to find strength within their scars.”

A few months ago, I was listening to a public speaker when he proposed this idea, sending a special sting to my heart.

I imagined myself at 75 years old, complete with gray hair and glasses, bright lipstick and gawky jewelry; years of stories written in the wrinkles from the nights of endless laughter, as well as aged wounds from moments when life dealt a tough hand. A most sobering, quiet thought crossed my mind: I hope and pray that the joy within the matured smile lines far outweighs the residency of the pain documented in the scars.

In a relentless attempt to avoid discomfort, my natural reaction became to promptly flee from experiences that dance with emotional tension or pain. After 24 years of living in this pattern, I’ve slowly realized that overlooked pain does not equate to healing, but instead leads to isolating tendencies, broken friendships, accumulating bitterness and surface-level living.

There has to be a better alternative.

And so began the most uncomfortable and unnatural journey of choosing to learn to find strength within neglected wounds. Here are three things I have learned so far.

1. Our scars are intended to carry our stories, not shame.

The presence of shame seeks to find a dwelling place within our wounds by promoting the lie that scars automatically represent weakness, inadequacy and failure. The truth, however, is that scars reveal our humanity, offering a glimpse into where we have come from. By owning our scars and refusing shame, we own our stories, fully stepping into who we are as individuals.

2. Our scars have the potential to teach us… if we let them.

We hold the power to choose to grow within our experiences just as much as we have the power to choose not to. Growth requires us to step into the most sensitive areas of our heart in order to find the strength that lies within our pain. Through the help of counsel and a relentless grip on truth, we are able to enter our darkest, most feared places with a hopeful outlook, looking to learn.

3. Owning our scars, and learning through our pain, frees us to experience a rich life.

By refusing to struggle through pain, we also choose to reject the gift of encountering full joy. It’s true that we can go through life training ourselves to feel as little pain as possible, however, this also numbs us from truly experiencing a full life. When we begin to embrace our full stories, we begin to live alive.

Developing the habit of pursing strength within our deepest pain takes time, diligence, intentionality, and courage, but the reward throughout the process holds great value. A couple of weeks, even days, into my journey of looking at my scars, I realized I had set unrealistic expectations. I unintentionally expected to wake up each morning in a whimsical state, with a new profound wisdom from a completed journey of learning a hard lesson.

However, over the last few months I have come to find that discovering strength in your pain and growing into that strength is not a lesson that is intended to be perfected instantaneously. Pain still has a very real presence in my heart, but so does an ever-growing sense of hope, paired with a rich appreciation for life.

It’s worth it. Choose to own your scars. Choose to discover the strength within them. Choose to give yourself grace in the process. Your story is still being written.