Over the last year, I have been thinking about getting a tattoo. Most people who have tattoos start when they are pretty young. My brother, for example, got his first tattoo (as far as I know) when he was seventeen while my sister starting tattooing herself (with India ink) at a much younger age. I have thrown around the idea of getting a tattoo for a number of years, but it has only been recently that I have been much more serious about it.
I have discovered that many people who do not have tattoos have avoided doing so because of a fear of pain. That was my number one reason for not getting a tattoo for most of my life. However, a few years ago, I had two basal cell carcinomas removed from my face while I was completely conscious, so the fear of needles is definitely gone.
So now that my fears of pain and needles are gone, I am planning my first tattoo. But why? If I have gone on this long without a tattoo, why do it now in my mid-forties? There are a number of reasons, but for me, the most important reason is the reminder that a tattoo can serve for the person. And in my life, I want a constant reminder of the transformation that God has done throughout my life, especially in the last five years.
I have been exploring the concept of resurrection over the last few months in my reading of Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ. One of the insights that I have gained through this book is that resurrection first requires a death. Now, that sounds like a fairly elementary concept – of course resurrection requires death. However, I don’t know how much we meditate on the different types of death that happen throughout our lives. Sure, we experience the deaths of loved ones or family pets, but there are other types of death that exist, sometimes on a daily basis.
Throughout my life, I have experienced many types of deaths. Some of the most tragic deaths have been students who died far too young. Recently, I lost my stepdad to congestive heart failure, a loss that my family and I are still grieving (and I foresee, that we will feel his loss for quite a long time). During the midst of COVID in 2020, my family and I had to say good-bye to two beloved dogs who were suffering from different forms of cancer. Their deaths were only two months apart!
Besides the deaths of students and loved ones, I have experienced the loss of relationships, the loss of comfort, the loss of jobs, and the loss of love. Even though these things were difficult at the time to lose, I have also lost things that I do not miss: depression, anxiety, fear of not being understood, toxic relationship, toxic work environments, and toxic church ministries.
Each of these losses, those I miss and those I do not miss, have created opportunities for new life. Resurrection can only occur when there has been a death. Daily we can put to death certain habits, dangerous thought patterns, and unbridled emotions. When we put these things to death, we allow the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to guide us to new growth. When we surrender our will and our desires to God’s will and desires, we are able to see more of His plan for our own lives and the lives of those around us.
It is ok to sacrifice your comfort, your convenience, your time, your head space as long as you are leaving room for God to lead you into a new part of your journey. Resurrection requires a death but it promises new life. I think that is the most beautiful part of Easter each year – the promise of new life.
So, what’s the story with my tattoo? As an avid fan of Flannery O’Connor, I have found an affinity for peacocks since she raised them on her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. Peacocks are an interesting creature because they are beautiful, but they also scream at night – a great example of a spectacular horror in the world. Peacocks are also symbolic of resurrection because each year they lose their feathers only to grow new ones.
As I have been thinking about my peacock tattoo, I have looked into scriptural references and O’Connor quotes that reflect the trade off of death and life that God promises to each of us when we surrender to Him. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes the words that I feel represent the promise that each of us can experience in Christ: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Each time we surrender to Christ, a part of us dies so He can live in us. His perfect grace gives us the power to change. And as O’Connor writes: “Grace changes us and change is painful.”
I may not be looking forward to the pain of a tattoo, but I am looking forward to the reminder of the pattern of death and life that we experience with resurrection. And more than that, I look forward to sharing this story of resurrection with all who ask me about my tattoo.
Accept death so that you can experience the promise of new life. This is not easy to do. However, Christ demonstrated that resurrection is possible so that we can trust that we will be given new life as well. And this resurrection is not just at the end of our lives when we are in eternity with Him, but we can experience resurrection each and every day as we surrender our will to His.