As I grow older, I’m increasingly aware of the number of broken things that surround me. In some cases, these items have been part of my life for awhile. No matter how much they bother me, these small wrecks in my lifestyle have resisted my repairing and discarding skills.
So, for example, I live with a hair brush detached from its handle, a tool with a missing part, a tottering fence propped upright by concrete blocks, a bike with a perpetually flat tire, a clothesline that needs a new line, a vacuum cleaner whose filters can be purchased only in vacuum cleaner museums and a printer that occasionally limps through its work in spite of its spats with unexplained digital gremlins. The soil in one part of our garden harbors molds, plant viruses and Japanese Beetle eggs. Cracks in our driveway are emerging like the wrinkles on my face. Whether man-made or part of the natural world, what-doesn’t-work-so-well occupies a good share of my daily existence.
Sure, I could quickly exchange what has gone kaput for replacements that are new. But that’s not always a good idea. It might initially be satisfying to be completely enclosed within the perfectly functioning boundaries of the good life. Big and little ticket items, fully covered by ironclad guarantees. A special Replacing Things Fund set aside for immediate use. High-functioning, well-maintained appliances and tools. An ordered living space, where there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place. A hardware store employee specifically devoted to my regular householder needs. Perhaps even someone to do the repair and maintenance work on my behalf?
In the presence of those factors, I could at first have every reason to feel good about life. About myself. Because everything would be spiffy-new, I could reassure myself that I, too, am spiffy-new, not subject to deterioration or brokenness. A Bob God, as it were….
But those attitudes could be the first steps on an inevitable journey down the slippery slope of addictive materialism. Keeping only new-and-perfect around me at all times, I might be tempted to think I was avoiding the approaching fingers of Death. I’d have (dubious) reasons to look down on those who are trapped by their broken things. I’d add tons of refuse to my local dump, contributing to the decline of the environment. And I’d soon run out of the financial wherewithal that my wife and I hope to pass on to our descendants.
Since that doesn’t work—practically or spiritually—what do I do about the brokenness that seems to meet my eyes and hands every day? Several thoughts come to mind, most of them framed by Scripture and Jesus’ example.
One necessary mindset is remaining satisfied. Another: Accepting the inevitable disintegration of all things human-made. (For a sobering reminder about that reality, see Alan Weisman’s 2007 best-seller, The World Without Us, www.worldwithoutus.com.) I can live simply, wherever possible making-do with what I already own. Coming to necessary humility about my place in God’s creation, I can look at the less-than-perfect things in my life as reminders that I, too, am broken. That I sometimes defy others’ attempts to restore me. That I am not God or god-like, and thus can understand and accept others whose imperfections are similar to my own. That I am loved in spite of my patched-up persona. That God in Christ died to redeem my perpetual brokenness for God’s purposes.
As I live with brokenness, I can rejoice that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.
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