I used to buy old broken-down furniture to refurbish and sell. For a short time, I even owned a booth in an antique mall where I sold the treasures I’d found. There was something satisfying about finding a piece with good bones that I could scrub, sand, stain, and wax so it looked exactly like it used to look.
Occasionally, I’d come across furniture that had been painted. I loved the idea of uncovering the beauty hidden under layer upon layer of paint. It was work to get through to uncover the raw wood, and many times even when I did get past the last layer of paint, little traces of the color could be seen. Many times, there was no sanding the last trace of paint away, because it had seeped in, and was forever deep into the wood grain.
I’d redone a few pieces like that when I began to realize there was something special in the chippy, peeling paint. The paint layers, dings, and marks told a story of the life they lived and gave them character. I imagined the many hands that had wiped across their surface, the ways they’d been beaten and damaged. These pieces had experienced life, and it gave them a deep beauty. It reminded me of the wisdom people gain after years of exposure to the challenges and experiences of a long-lived life.
So, I stopped painting and fixing those chippy, dinged-up, life-worn pieces. I decided I liked their character, and no longer wanted to change what they’d become. They had a beauty, and I decided to just love them as is.
In those worn, and lovely items, I found there is often beauty when things are less than perfect.
Sometimes, life can take us places we never asked to go. Hard things, terrible things, sad things, and painful things fall around us and on us, and in the process, we get banged up. There was a time, I thought Christians were exempt from that experience, but boy was I misinformed.
Far from being kept from trouble, we sign up for it when we make a salvation declaration. Just look what Jesus told His disciples:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Um…. How’s that for a sales pitch? Ready to sign up?
The thing is, few things are guaranteed in life. But one thing that we can count on is that we’re going to have trouble. Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us; it’s our human condition. We live in a world where sin exists. And with that sin, bad things happen. My sin, your sin, his sin, her sin impacts the people around us. The sin I commit today has the potential to impact others – sometimes in harsh and troublesome ways.
Our comfort is knowing that when we DO go through difficult experiences we aren’t going alone. The twenty-third Psalm – a go-to when things are hard – promises that we are going through the valley of the shadow of death. “Through” is the important word. In that word, we’re assured there will be an end to the suffering. And we see it again in Psalm 30:1-5 where we’re promised there will be joy in the morning.
But, did you know there is beauty in the pain we go through? Isaiah 61:3 is my life verse. It promises that God will take the broken and burned things in our lives and from them create something lovely. In His hand the brokenness is no longer an ugly scar, it’s a thing of amazing beauty.
In 2019, I felt God’s prompting to leave my corporate job – where I’d stayed comfortably for twenty-two years. There was much prayer, seeking God, and talking to mentors before I made the decision. On January 2 of this year, I set in motion my exit plan and looked with excitement to what God was doing in my life. I decided my word for the year would be “go.”
My last day of work was April 1 – yes April Fool’s Day. I walked out the door of my office one last time, smiling at my obedience. I was out of the boat and ready for the next adventure God and I would take.
Then boom. Life kicked in. On April 4, my beloved, amazing sister passed away unexpectedly. It hit me like a punch in the gut. She was my champion. She’d been there growing up and knew the wild journey that had been. She’d supported me when I wrote my book and left my job to step into ministry and self-employment. Now she was gone and the pain was wrenching and awful. Still, I knew God was with me. I knew he would not leave me to walk this alone. And, still, I knew I would get through it.
As I tried to grieve, more things came my way. It seems like every month for most of the year we’ve had some type of major issue to work through – whether physical, financial, in our home, in our relationships. We were able to work through each one, but it was stressful and I started feeling anxious but leaned in even more to God. I knew this was part of the journey, but wondered where the “go” had gone.
So why am I telling you all this?
I know I am not the only one who has had an incredibly hard year. But I want you to know, I can honestly say I’m okay with the year I’ve had. You see I figured something out. There is often beauty in brokenness. Many times, we grow and change and learn to trust God in deeper more intimate ways through difficulty. Often it is then that we know what it means to be poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3).
When I was praying about leaving that corporate job, the message that shifted me was in the words of Matthew 14:22-33. If you don’t know the story, I’ll give you the Shelley-paraphrase version. The disciples, in a boat far off shore, see Jesus walking towards them, walking on water. There’s a bit of a freak out, then Jesus reminds them who He is. Peter, being Peter, decides he too wants to walk on water. He almost makes it but takes his eyes off Jesus. And when he does, he starts to sink. No worries, though. Jesus doesn’t let him go under. Jesus never lets us go under.
My decision to go was based on these words: “get out of the boat.” I thought being obedient to what I was being called to was the most difficult part of the journey. However, it quickly became clear that when you are out of the boat you must trust in God in ways you never thought possible.
Standing on water – let alone walking on it – is where our relationship with the Lord gets real. That walk involves keeping our eyes on the one who called us out to join him. It’s a deeper faith-walk. And it means we must trust that his hand will keep us from sinking below the waterline.
But friends, let me tell you, this is the best place to be. Being thrust into situations where God alone can supply, save, heal, bless, speak into, and lift us up, His provision is made clear. At the bottom, we can clearly see his hand.
It was a challenging time. But I am grateful that my God not only walked through the broken places with me, He never let me go under. The intimacy and insight I gained drew me closer to Him. I learned to trust and I learned to listen. But the most important and life altering thing I learned is that He’s in the brokenness.