“Did that hurt?”
This is the number one question I get about my tattoos. Followed by “What’s that say?” and “Why would you do that?” (This last, usually from my father.)
Does it hurt? Of course it hurts. Not to be gross, but it’s basically an open wound for a day or so. It stings for a few hours after it’s done, and then it feels bruised for a day or so.
So why do I do it? Each of my six tattoos is a physical marker for a moment in my life I want to remember. From the moment I realized God was calling me to be a priest to the birth of my daughter, each one is representative of a difficult but rewarding experience. I hesitated to talk about it here, since they’re so personal, yet they also strike me as a good metaphor for the gospel.
Gospel comes from the Greek euanggelion which means “good news.” The four Gospels in our scripture are good news to all of us living in the middle of bad news. Jesus—his deeds, his words, the very fact of his existence—is good news in our bad news. And, while good news is always good, we don’t always receive it that way. Too often, the good news that we don’t have to rely on ourselves and our big brains for salvation reads like bad news—I don’t want to lose control, I have some pretty cool ideas if you’d listen, who’s this God-person anyway. Too often, healing from whatever wounds we have—whether they’re physical or spiritual—is worse than when we got them. In the movie Wit, Emma Thompson’s character notes that the treatment for her cancer makes her much sicker than the disease itself.
And, to be fair, sometimes the good news is simply that—good news. Sometimes it is freeing and transforming and delightful right there on the surface. Thank God for those moments. But as freeing and transforming as the good news is that Jesus brings, we sometimes don’t want to hear it. It’s painful or scary. Yet when we accept it, when we step back to see the painting Jesus has made on the canvas of our lives, it’s beautiful.
The process of getting a tattoo is painful, but the result is beautiful. To me, anyway. The healing of my skin reminds me that God heals all our wounds, that God created us resilient, that even the worst pain can leave us different but wiser.