I broke some dishes a while back.
Not just any dishes.
Important ones. Sentimental ones.
The dishes my mother gave me just before she died.
I was sitting on the kitchen floor unpacking the box of breakables. I wanted to rearrange and repack them into a sturdier box. So I unwrapped each carefully. Then I stacked several fragile bowls high up on a chair for safekeeping.
They must have been unbalanced, lopsided, something. Distracted with the remaining contents of the box, I accidently jostled the chair’s legs.
Down fell the bowls.
Before I could catch even one of them, a hundred ceramic pieces now lay scattered all over the floor.
It took me a while to recover. I won’t lie. Even though it has been years since my mother’s passing, those broken bowls meant something. In so many ways, they were my soul’s own brokenness. My lingering, recurring grief right there in fragments of blue and white and grey.
And the worst part is I intentionally set them there. Up off the floor to safeguard them. To protect them from the inadvertent bump of an elbow or knee. Yet the very thing I tried so hard to avoid had happened.
What could I do now?
Cry a little to start.
Then pick up the pieces. It was all I could do. All anyone could do. The big pieces by hand, the shards and chips with a broom and dustpan.
And that’s what I did.
Because whether we like it or not, whether we want to accept it or not, brokenness in this life is inevitable.
Even if we are cautious, even when we are careful, even if we put every preventable measure we can think of in place, at some point we all get hurt. We grieve. We suffer. We still have a pile of pieces we have to pick up off the floor.
We are human, after all.
Such is the reality of living in a broken world. Of living in a defective world, a world of imperfection, selfishness, sin, sickness, death. And Jesus never skirted around this fact. He told His disciples plainly, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV).
And He was right. They did.
And so do we.
Trouble heaped upon trouble. In part because we choose to follow Him.
God, you see, never bubble wraps His children. If He did, it would be a derisory, pitiful kind of existence.
To start, we would all have to dwell in complete isolation since we are, each and every one of us, flawed, contaminated, sin-prone, accident-prone mortals.
Secondly, we would also need to give up our ability to choose since choice itself by nature involves the very real possibility of error. Of making a wrong decision and therefore experiencing (or inflicting) pain.
But without relationship, without choice, what would be left of us?
A lonely shell? A robot? A slave?
So God chose a different path. A risky path. A road heaped with trouble for us, yes. But a road also paved with love.
Love persistent and unyielding. Love relentless and overcoming. Love given unconditionally, without expectation, without the promise of reciprocation or return.
And love with complete, unwavering freedom.
Freedom to choose to love or not. To choose to be selfish or unselfish, generous or ungenerous, kind or unkind. And freedom even to choose not to believe in God at all.
So here we are.
Living free in this messy, messed-up world. A world with brokenness and heartbreak. A world with hardship and difficulty. A kick-you-when-you’re-down world where dishes break and mothers die of degrading, horrifying diseases.
But in this place we have love.
We are loved.
God loves you, and He loves me. And that is the hope and comfort we must cling to.
Not to some abstract notion or fickle human emotion. Rather, to the greatest embodiment of love that has ever existed.
You see, Jesus freely chose to come into this damaged world. He freely sought to experience brokenness of the acutest kind, not just physically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well (see Isaiah 53:3 and Hebrews 4:15).
And He did this because He wanted to. So that we could know Him. So that we could see how much He understands our pain. So that we could believe He gets our grief, our heartbreak, our brokenness, even when no other soul on the planet can.
Now even in the worst of circumstances, we are never without Him. We never have to be apart from the God who loves, who is love (1 John 4:8) and who continues to shower His love in downpours of experiential, tangible, unrelenting grace whether or not we choose to follow Him, whether or not we choose to ever love Him back.
God loves without taking freedom away. And He loves even when freedom hurts. He loves us through the hurt. That’s His promise. Even if it takes a lifetime and beyond to do so.
And it’s more powerful than all the broken dishes that might come our way.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.