A few years ago, a very dear friend showed me a page from her journal. It was a letter she had written. “Dear God,” it read. “Please help me fix the following things about myself.” And it went on for two pages, listing 20 or 30 things she felt were wrong about her. It broke my heart. If only she could see what I saw. A devoted friend, wife, and mother. A funny, warm, enthusiastic person who cared so much about others. I wanted to shout at her, “Rip up that list!!”
Like so many of us, my friend saw herself as something broken. A cracked pot. But what I also saw in my friend was longing. A longing to be better. To become some perfect ideal of herself, before she felt truly loved and accepted by God. Waiting until she was whole.
What I’ve come to realize since then is that this kind of waiting is not the answer. Our cracks are part of who we are. But more than that, they’re actually critical to a deepening relationship with God. We need our cracks. We need our brokenness. Playwright Heather McDonald wrote one of the most beautiful lines I have ever read in all of literature:
It is said that grace enters the soul through a wound.
What if we stopped looking at our cracks as barriers to God, but instead saw them as openings through which God’s love and grace might enter our souls? In the story of Creation, Adam and Eve needed to experience original sin and be expelled from the Garden of Eden, so that we all might experience the gift of salvation. This fall from grace… this first and ancient wound that we all carry inside of us… brought about the most beautiful act of sacrifice the world has ever known.
Greek mythology gives us a story about a curious young woman named Pandora who opened a box. Out of the box escaped all the evils of the world. This is how the ancient Greeks tried to make sense of a world full of brokenness. But according to the myth, at the very bottom of the box, there lay hope. We experience this same phenomenon today. We must live through the ugliness of despair, in order to appreciate the beauty of hope. The terrible destruction and despair after natural disasters like the earthquakes in Haiti or the tsunami in Japan brought about acts of caring and devotion that united our world…even if just for a little while.
Yet another way to illustrate this idea of God’s grace entering our souls through our brokenness can be found in a Robert Frost poem called Mending Wall. Some of you may be familiar with this poem…it’s the one that contains the well-known line: “good fences make good neighbors.” In the poem, two neighbors get together every spring to mend the cracks in the wall that separates their property. A common interpretation of the poem is that the barrier between them is what allows them to maintain a cordial relationship. But a closer look reveals just the opposite. It’s the time they spend together mending the wall that sustains the friendship. The cracks and broken places in the wall provide the opportunity for a richer relationship. And so it can be with each and every one of us as we strive for a deeper closeness with God.
What these stories reveal to me is that we don’t have to wait until we’re completely whole to have a relationship with God. God wants us to come to Him just the way we are… cracks and all. In fact, there’s a particular beauty in our brokenness. After all, it was the broken body of Jesus—beaten, whipped, and nailed to a tree—that brought us the ultimate salvation. We celebrate this every week at Eucharist in the breaking of the bread. The crucifixion is the ultimate proof that God doesn’t shy away from brokenness.
God’s sending Jesus to suffer and die a brutal death was an act of profound love. Do you believe it? Can you believe that God loves you that much? In Isaiah, the Lord says to us: “I have called you by name. You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) “I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16) John 3:16 says: For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. We are God’s beloved. Take a moment to really reflect on the enormity of that statement. You are God’s beloved. In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen describes it in the following way:
Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love.
Can you fathom such a love? Can you fully comprehend the impact this Divine love can have on the way you see yourself and the way you live your life? One thing I know is that God’s love has never been dependent on our being perfect. When Jesus lived on earth, he spent his time with the poor, the meek, the sick, and the sinful. None of these could claim to be perfect. Yet Jesus loved them. Just as Jesus loves us. Not because we’re perfect… but because we belong to God.
Broken and beautiful.
Questions for reflection:
- Can you think of a time when you held yourself back from God because of your flaws or imperfections? How did this “holding back” manifest itself in your life? (Did you stop going to church? Did your prayer life suffer? Did you cut yourself off from people that you loved?)
- What might it feel like to let God’s grace enter your soul through your wounds? How do imagine God might react to those wounds?