“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” Vance Havner
One of my friends has an eye for broken and discarded furniture. I suppose it is because he is both an artist and a man of the flock. He once found this table that had been discarded, waiting for the garbage truck. He took it home, fixed the broken panels, varnished it and chopped the legs to create a coffee table. Looking at it, one would never have believed that just a few months earlier, it had been left on the sidewalk for the garbage truck and that no-one was giving it a second look. He challenged me to reach for the superglue before I dropped the broken thing into the bin. You see, I was the sort of person who liked things just so, perfect even. Broken plates, cups and, dare I admit it, broken people, bothered me. What if you couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again?
But life has a way of breaking you. It reminds us constantly that brokenness is not something to be feared, if anything, it is part of the human condition. We are supposed to take the broken places of our Iives and painstakingly put them back together. What we end up with may not be perfect but it can be invaluable.
This past week, one of my beloved wall masks fell and broke. Whereas before it would have caused me despair, I hunted for every last broken piece of wood. Thereafter, I used superglue to put it back together. Once done, I looked at my work satisfied. You could still see the cracks where I had joined the pieces. My daughter looked at the mask as I returned it to its place on the wall. “But it looks so ugly!” she protested. Yes, I nodded, “Ugly and so beautiful”. Like most of us, it had been broken, and put back together. Anyone who saw it, would wonder, “how did it get that way?” And I would tell them the story of my search for it, a search that took me to woodcarvers in Mombasa. When I found it, it was marked down half price because the woodcarver had made a mistake. It wasn’t quite proportional, and did not sit flatly on the wall. The salesperson directed me to a more expensive but similar, perfect piece. The woodcarver had got this one right. But I just couldn’t take it home with me. I looked at the imperfect piece, and confounding him, decided to buy that one instead. Most people never saw its imperfection but I did. Wasn’t it like our lives? Don’t we dress up to camouflage our flaws and cover up our pain? Most people cannot see beyond the outward mask to our souls but God does. He uses us in spite of our imperfection or perhaps because of it. And when we fall and break, He doesn’t discard us, if anything, He superglues us back together.
Why is this so important? Perhaps so we can encourage others who are going through their own brokenness. The retrenched worker who has no idea where his next meal is coming from. The grieving parent who wonders how to make it through the rest of her life with only the memory of a beloved child. The business person who has lost everything and wonders how to start again. There are broken people all around us. We must be brave enough to take off our masks and show them our superglued cracks. We need to tell them that they can make it, because we did.
The Japanese have coined a phrase for celebrating imperfection and brokenness that has made it into popular thought, particularly in design. It is the phrase wabi-sabi that is rooted in their traditional tea ceremonies where imperfect bowls with chips and cracks would be used. Perhaps the reason it has found such global resonance is because life is really wabi-sabi, because the broken and put back together object is not weak but strong because it survived. And accepting brokenness, we honour it, ourselves and life as objects of perfect imperfection.