The Rough Work of Healing

The Rough Work of Healing

I notice the bandages on his knee after dinner.

“Did you hurt yourself at school?” I ask my seven-year-old son. He wears shorts almost exclusively now that the temperature is reliably 50 degrees and warmer.

“Yeah, I fell on the way out to recess,” he says with a shrug. No, he didn’t cry, he tells us.

“We need to take them off before bed,” I tell him. His eyes widen with fear and he shakes his head.

“No, it will hurt too much!”

My husband and I convince him that we need to remove the bandages. After some protest, he agrees and my husband rips them off quickly as our son screams how it hurts. When we see the bandages, we know we also have to clean the wound. Again, our son shakes his head. He just wants us to cover it back up and let him go to bed.

We coax him into the bathroom where I wet a cloth and gently dab at the scrape on his knee where blood has dried and pieces of the blacktop or mulch or ground where he landed have embedded themselves in the wound. He whines, on the verge of panic, as I do what needs to be done.

“I know it hurts,” I say. “But it will hurt more if we don’t clean it and leave it open to heal.”

We talk him into it–no bandages for the night so the exposure to the air can do its work on his scraped-up skin.

In the morning, he is surprised to find the wound already scabbing. He wants Neosporin and bandages for school but by the time he arrives home later that afternoon, he has pulled them off. His knee feels better and it’s hardly a distraction.

Days before, my husband took a rototiller to our garden plot. It is our second year for a real garden and I thought of last year, how we had to dig deep to turn up the grass to expose the soft, rich soil that would nourish our plants. This year, the turning was not as difficult but it was still painful and harsh. Sharp blades digging into the ground, overturning the grass and weeds, spitting out the rocks.

After the first pass, the plot looked like a mess of grass clippings. After the second pass, it started to look like a place where a garden could grow. When he had finished, I could almost see our garden growing this year. The fertile soil sits ready and waiting to receive the gift of life that we hope will flourish and bear fruit this summer.

Earlier this year, I asked God for a tender heart. As last year ended, I could feel the hardness creeping in, the temptation to be bitter about life, uncaring about the world. I am prone to feel the many hurts of the people around me, the world at large, and sometimes I just don’t want to feel anything at all. This is when I binge-watch TV or eat comfort food or drink wine or read too many novels. Escape. Numb.

For Lent this year, we decided as a family to not watch any television and those weeks were some of the hardest for us. Life did not cooperate and give us easy days and when I wanted to zone out with a Netflix marathon, I couldn’t. Not without breaking our pledge.

I was forced to feel things and deal with those feelings. And it hurt. Just like washing out a wound.

While I watched my husband break the ground to expose the soil, I thought about the rough work required to cultivate tenderness. Tenderness sounds soft and easy but it requires breaking and sometimes even bruising. We tenderize meat by hitting it repeatedly with a mallet or letting it marinate in something acidic. The result is flavorful but the process is actually a bit brutal, isn’t it?

I need a tender heart, but I didn’t think about how painful it would be to get there. To experience breaking and bruising and sharp edges exposing the softest parts of my soul.

But as the garden plot now waits to receive plants, so my heart is better able to receive life and bear fruit after it has been prepared.

Healing sounds good. And it is. But it’s also work. And it hurts.

In the end, though, it leads to life.

Lisa Bartelt About Lisa Bartelt

Lisa has been writing stories for more than a decade, first for newspapers and now as a freelancer, blogger and budding novelist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Read more at her blog, Beauty on the Backroads.


  1. Laurie Driesen says:

    I like how you purposefully didn’t lean on those comfort things during Lent. It’s amazing what God can do in our hearts when we cut stuff out. I admire you for doing that, you have a heart for God! I like how you compare breaking up the ground with our hearts becoming prepared to bear fruit. It’s so true!

  2. Wow! I never thought of a tender heart in quite that way before. Thank you.


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