Warts & All: Lessons From A Cold Sore — St. Peter's Fireside | Vancouver, B.C. 

by Julia Sterne
April 13, 2015
10 min read

Warning: this is gross. I woke up the other day with the largest, most disgusting and painful cold sore I have ever had in my life. It feels like the lower left half of my face is plagued and disfigured. I have a feeling half of you can relate empathetically, while the rest of you can think back to teenage acne, or some other kind of uncontrollable, embarrassing, and noticeable facial flaw.

If you think this is TMI, I’m sorry, but I promise it is important preamble for this post.

The first couple of days I powered through knowing that everyone who was within 7 feet of me could see it, but deciding it didn’t matter. By day three it was really wearing me thin. I felt self-conscious, which morphed into this insecurity and sense that I needed to hide, accompanied even by an echo of shame.

The intelligent adult within me said, “Why are you letting this little thing get to you? You know there is more to you than a temporary blister. You know this will pass. You know better”.

And yet it was still getting to me, more and more. Today I had this weird experience of looking around at the other moms and dads at play group and thinking “They are so cool. They are so well dressed. They look so put together. And here I am, sad and pathetic, with a monster lip scaring all the kiddies. (Also I am in the odd stage of pregnancy where I look more round but not cute pregnant round, some of you may relate to the added burden of feeling “fat” or unattractive).

Then the smart counsellor voice kicked in trying to talk me up and reassure me but nothing was working. I was happy to get home and put Ansley down for her nap so I could take some time to process and pray and, well, cry. How can a cold sore so easily tear open my soul? (Alastair is blaming hormones, which to be honest is a fair assessment).

There was something in me that was off. This thing on my face was shedding light on a soft, vulnerable spot in me. It’s a place where I feel not good enough, not cool, unwanted, an outsider, and ashamed.

I think we all have this place. A soft spot that is poked by any number of unbeknownst triggers. Like when we see a friend get a promotion or find love. Or when you look at your savings account and something makes your heart sink. For some people simply browsing through Facebook or Pinterest can stab that soft little spot and we start thinking, “you aren’t like them, you don’t belong, you’re not good enough”. The shame that follows is like salt in the wound.

So what do I do with that soft spot, that place that can make it seem like I don’t add up, and brings insecurity and shame?

I try and fix it! Don’t you? Cover up the blister. Wear a scarf or never go outside. Fight for the better job. Try and look prettier or dress snappier. Buy nicer things. Find things to brag about. Whatever you do, you don’t tell people about your soft spot. You don’t show them your vulnerability. Don’t show them your lip sore, your dwindling bank account, your k-mart jeans, your pile of dirty laundry, your bitchy side.

I try and fix it by talking myself up, “you’re awesome!”. Or I try and fix it by making myself stand above another human being, “at least it’s not leprosy”. Or I try and fix it by finding some place where I feel powerful, successful, smart, capable and beautiful and put all my energy into more of that feel good stuff. Like better grades. A better race time. More pampering. A longer work day. Being funnier. Or making use of your natural sense of style and pizazz.

At least there is part of me that tries to do that.

I think it feels easier in some way to cover up my soft spot, to hide it and feel as though I have conquered it in some way. But then something stupid like a giant cold sore happens and I am back on my butt again feeling like an awkward middle schooler. Seventh grade wasn’t my year. Or eighth for that matter.

When I was praying today I realized that the soft spot is probably not going anywhere. As a human being I think my vulnerability will always be there because the things I long for, my desire to be wanted and loved, to be seen and known, to have a sense of power and purpose, a sense of security, are ultimately out of my control. There is always a risk of not being good enough, not being accepted, not belonging, not being loved. In this world there is always risk. I am not self-sufficient.

This is what it is to be human: Living in the tension of wanting things we know we cannot get completely on our own, but trying to anyway.

But I am going to say something that may sound completely radical and counter intuitive, it may push against some picture of God you have, but it is a thought and an opinion I think we should consider.

Maybe God wants us to have this soft spot.

Woh. I know. Don’t bail on my now. Let me fight this out with you.

In the garden God made Adam and Eve and gave them everything they needed, relationship, acceptance, love, food, water, purpose and of course the biggest need of all, Him. But what I think is interesting is that even before the Fall human beings had needs. They needed food and each other and God, and probably other things God provided as well. They were vulnerable creatures. They had needs they could not meet on their own. They had soft places that they could not self-validate. And it was GOOD. God said it was all good.

God made us with soft spots, a part of us that is vulnerable, a place where our needs are felt, our wants made known.

God made us with soft spots, a part of us that is vulnerable, a place where our needs are felt (uh, hunger), our wants made known. We have an awareness of the things we long for, our desire to be wanted and loved, to be seen and known, to have a sense of power and purpose, a sense of security. And it is good. God made us that way. And in the garden he answered every need and want, he made Adam and Eve’s soft spot places of peace, security and promise. They could feel their soft spot in a positive way, knowing whatever was stirred there would be met in God’s grace.

But then the cold sore cometh. The fall. Things in us get twisted in some way and our soft spots are no longer places of vulnerability with hope and promise and security that God will provide, but the awareness of our soft spots bring insecurity. Will I be loved? Will I be seen and known and valued and treasured? Will I belong? Will I be provided for? What if I am not.

The cold sore is an unfortunate, inconvenient, and painful but basically neutral trigger that brings up my soft spot. We all have these triggers as I mentioned above. It triggers a place that I want to argue historically was created to be a place of connection and promise and peace. It was meant to be a good thing. It was meant to be a place that we saw God affirm us and validate us and meet our needs and wants and fulfill our vulnerability. But because of the fall our vulnerabilities do not feel full of hope and promise, but often fear and isolation and a striving to over power them arises.

So now what?

I want to remind myself, and you, that God did not change in the fall. Humanity did. And he made a way for us to be restored to him, all creation restored, through his Son Jesus. Because of Christ our soft spots can be again met with promise and reassurance and power. Paul explains this to the Corinthians, “[Christ] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

In Christ we see what our soft spots were originally intended to be: Good. Connection. Security. Power from the truest source of power, love from the truest source of love, peace and hope from the truest source of peace and hope. Secured even when vulnerable. Rooted even in the storm. Seen and known and called beautiful even where there is a flesh wound consuming your lower lip. And eventually healed, made holy and whole and complete in Christ. Never self-sufficient! I caution against this. Never self-sufficient or without need. Always human with places of vulnerability, but secure in the power and promise of God to meet our needs.

So when my vulnerability is out in open air, I imagine God is chomping at the bit to get there; eager to be the one to touch me and reassure me and love me. He wants to be there not because I am suddenly better than everyone else, or because he does not see my gross lip or other weaknesses, but because I am his. We are his creation. And he loves what he has made.

He likes our soft spots because they give us a chance to lean into him, to see our need for our creator. We need him, before the fall and for all eternity, humanity will need God. He wants to be the one to make us feel special and loved and that we belong, warts and all. He wants to be that for us because he knows that he is the only one who can ever truly fullfil that need in us. He made us, not these things we try to use to feel better in the face of insecurity. I can never muster up enough positivity to “fix” my soft spot. I can never find another human being to “fix” my soft spot. No job, or wardrobe, or beauty routine, or trophy, or mass of goods, or social circle can “fix” my soft spot.

It cannot be fixed because as human beings we are vulnerable. And meeting God in that place, I would never want anyone to “fix” my soft spot. To “fix” my soft spot, my vulnerability, would only rob me of experiencing the deepest love I have ever felt. I love being in a place where I meet God, as I am, and feel more loved and secure than I ever could be by anything or anyone else in the world. In my vulnerability I see his grace and strength and in his action and presence and promises my needs are met.

I am seen, me, naked and unashamed, with my disgusting face blisters and all, and he says, by grace, I am enough for him. And that is more than enough for me.

about the author
Julia is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at New Story Counselling, and is a member of St. Peter's Fireside. She is the wife of Alastair, the mother of Ansley and Maggie, and one of the kindest people you'll ever meet. If you're feeling up for it, you can follow her on Facebook or Pinterest.

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