A video I saw the other day spoke powerfully to me about repentance and transformation. Available at the Jesus Tattoo website, the video has stirred controversy because of the image of tattoos on Jesus’s body. I’m seeing lots of comments, both positive and negative, on friends’ Facebook feeds as well as on articles about the video. I love that this video is challenging people to really think about who Jesus is and how they perceive Him. People are opening their mouths (well, their typing fingers) and speaking about who and what Christ is to them.
Although I understand why some people oppose the video, I also know that it reached into my heart and enriched my faith and understanding in a mighty way.
What I want to write about is not the video itself but some beliefs that the video communicated, beliefs that grabbed at me in a new way because of the visual presentation. I need to describe the video as it provides a context for what I really want to say, so please bear with me.
The video shows Jesus as a tattoo artist. We see Him at the beginning of the day, with a naked and completely unblemished back. He heads to the tattoo shop, where He transforms people’s tattoos. These tattoos are words that represent the marks that life has left on our hearts. We hear the words, “All of us have been marked. As time passes, life leaves its etchings on our minds, our body, even our soul. These markings come to define us, our place in society, how we perceive ourselves….” We see words like invisible, useless, fear, outcast, and depressed. The tattoos people bring in are marks that have been inked on them by their life experiences. They are the words that people often keep hidden in their hearts, unspoken but carried with them always.
Jesus reaches to each person, touching the tattoo and looking the person in the eyes. Then He bends over the tattoo with a tattoo gun. He transforms the ink into positive words, like confident, purposeful, and trust. At the end of the video, Jesus turns His back to us and removes His shirt. On His back are all the markings that He removed from people that day.
The visuals had a strong and sudden impact on me and sharpened my understanding of three beliefs:
- I must choose to bring myself to Jesus to ask for my markings, my baggage, the weight of my life to be removed. I have to walk through the door myself; He isn’t going to drag me in.
- Jesus truly took my sins and markings to the cross with Him. He took on my sins and transforms me.
- A personal relationship with Jesus really is personal, with Him looking into my eyes and truly seeing me.
I spend a lot of time pondering the process of healing from sexual gate-keeping and refusing, and seeing these three beliefs helped me think about that process in my own marriage more deeply.
As I think about the roots of my sexual refusing and gate-keeping, I can point to some of my own markings, the etchings on my soul that have defined how I see myself. All these markings are things that shaped my marriage because I hadn’t dealt with them: invisible, slut, unlovable, unworthy, self-righteous. My refusal and gate-keeping not only grew out of markings I brought to the marriage, they also reflected even more markings back onto me: misleader, depriver, un-lover, self-righteous, and even more markings that have to do with the fact that I provided the ink for some of the marks written onto my husband.
Once I recognized that my refusal and gate-keeping were wrong, I faced two important tasks:
- Repent. I had to stop sinning, and I had to ask forgiveness from my husband and from God. This took me at least two full years, although for some women, it is immediate. This process involved taking my markings–the ones I caused by my own sin as well as the ones I carried with me as the result of the sins of others–to Jesus for Him to remove and transform them into new words: visible, pure, loveable, worthy, obedient.
- Transform myself. Even with the markings that have defined my view of myself and of others mostly gone, memories remain. Our memories and feelings can make it hard to step out of long-time behavior that was grounded in those markings. I have needed to look into those memories and feelings and learn different ways to act. My greatest tool has been taking deep calming breaths while praying for help as I try to break hurtful habits. This work of transformation is for me to do. Jesus took on my sins and suffered for them–and part of my gratitutude for this is reshaping myself into someone who will be able to truly do differently and not commit those sins anymore.
I don’t know that my work will ever be done. As I continue to grow and heal, I discover new things to work on in myself and how I live my life and marriage. This work is mine to do.
I need to own my own transformation. Some of this means that I own how I contributed to the marks that my husband carries. His markings may include words like rejected, unloved, and alone.
However, I also need to recognize that my husband’s transformation is his own, not mine. I cannot remove his marks for him–even the ones that I helped to add. All I can do is stop providing the ink. I can lead him to Jesus. But I cannot remove my husband’s marks.
This was a hard lesson for me to learn, and I know that it can be hard for other wives as well. We feel the burden of guilt for our sins. As wives who come to recognize that our control and/or deprivation of sex is wrong, we want to do everything possible to make it up to our husbands. Out of guilt or as a self-imposed penance, we bend over backwards to make it up to our husbands.
Fortunately for me, my husband is one who holds onto the past lightly. Once he truly knew I was done hurting and marking him, it was done. His prayer to Jesus was one of thanks. Still, there are times when I can see that those markings I helped make are still part of how he thinks and acts. If I yawn, for example, he still has a habit of assuming that I am telling him, “I’m tired, so no nookie tonight.”
Even once we stop providing the ink and adding hurt, the hurt can remain. It is natural that we want to un-do what we have done. But we can’t.
We may try to step outside our sexual comfort zones too early, before we’ve even created a zone where we are sexually comfortable. We may try to interact within rigid guidelines in an effort to prevent backsliding. We may try to do everything differently in order to avoid the problems we encountered earlier in our marriages. We may become doormats. We may suppress our true feelings. We may become someone completely different than who we are as an apology and penance for having provided the ink that marked our husbands with hurt and rejection.
When we decide to change, it is on us to stop adding new markings onto our husbands. We should ask for–and accept–God’s forgiveness. We should ask our husbands for their forgiveness.
But then, while we go forth and try to sin against our husbands no more, we need to remember that we are not the ones who can remove those marks from our husbands. No matter how much we try to erase what we’ve done, we can’t. No matter how hard we try, this simply is not ours to do. We are not the ones who can take those markings onto ourselves, even though we helped to add them.
It is on our husbands to go to Jesus, to ask to have those markings removed and transformed into positive words like accepted, loved, and connected. And it is on our husbands to ask God’s help in transforming themselves into husbands whose actions reflect these new words.
Let Jesus Do What Only He Can Do
It is up to each of us individually to go to Jesus and ask Him to remove the markings that hurt. It is up to each of us to work on ourselves to transform ourselves into people who think and act differently.
Repent and transform yourself, which is yours to do. And let your husband, a child of God just as you are, do the work that is his to do. Let go of the urge to un-do the damage you’ve done. Step back so Jesus has space to do the work that only He can do.
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net