Acceptance – Finding Beauty in the Broken
Have you ever thought to yourself: cant things just go back to the way they used to be?
- You make a mistake, hurt a friend hurt, and realize trust has been broken and you just wish to yourself: Can’t we just go back to the way it used to be?
- That little girl who you swung over your shoulders and sang lullabies to and rode the carousel with is now dating boys and wearing makeup and – lord knows what else! And you think: Can’t we just go back to the way it used to be?
- You lose your cool, yell at your spouse with words you probably wouldn’t use around polite company and realize the next day she won’t even look at you. And you think to yourself: Can’t we just go back to the way it used to be?
- Someone steals your car right from your own driveway, someone mugs you on the street, someone steals your identity putting thousands of dollars of purchases on your credit card completely violating your sense of security. And you think to yourself: Can’t things just go back to the way they used to be?
- You’ve worked hard at a job for 10 or 20 years only to be laid off as if you had been hired yesterday. And you think to yourself: Can’t it just go back to the way it used to be?
- Someone close – a family member or friend – moves away leaving you lonely and empty. And you think to yourself: Can’t things just go back to the way they used to be?
- Your dad is becoming more and more verbally abusive and aggressive and when you go home to confront him about it you discover bottles everywhere and suddenly realize he’s an alcoholic: And you think to yourself: Can’t we just go back to the way it used to be?
Whatever it is in life, you want the current bad times to give way to good times but only on the pretense that the bad times never happened. Here’s the thing: Brokenness can be repressed, but it can’t be erased. If we want freedom from what’s broken in our lives we have to embrace our wounds, our brokenness.
But that isn’t what we’re taught to do. Far from it… we are taught to buck up, don’t let it affect you, overcome it, pretend it’s not there. Because broken is weak and ugly and useless in our culture. We throw broken things away.
Our ideals are western, based on a Greek Hellenistic culture which saw beauty in perfection, things like symmetry, balance, proportion, clean lines – all this originated because Greeks based their ideas of beauty on the human body – not just any human body, but those kinds of bodies you see in Greek statues – muscular, unblemished bodies.
So when you and I think beautiful, we think through the same types of ideas: balance, proportion, clean, strong, whole, perfect… You get the idea. Things that are unbalanced, weak, broken, disproportional – they are not as beautiful to us.
But other cultures define beauty differently. For example, Japanese culture defines beauty through the concept: Wabi Sabi. It’s about imperfection, asymmetry, roughness and modesty. Wabi Sabi holds these ideals: that nothing lasts, nothing is ever complete, and nothing is perfect, so it defines beauty in terms of impermanence, incompleteness and imperfection.
Wabi sabi and other Japanese values gave rise to an art form called Kintsugi.
Kintsugi literally means golden joining. It’s a Japanese art form of repairing broken pottery with gold, thereby highlighting the cracks and breaks making it more beautiful.
Kintsugi finds beauty in things that are incomplete, imperfect, asymmetrical…things that are broken. Fractures and broken places are not the end of a perfectly good and whole piece of pottery. Rather, the fractures represent an essential moment in its history – a moment of change.
The piece was not complete because it was unblemished. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s brokenness is a step on the journey of its life. Therefore, the flaws of its shape are not hidden, but rather emblazoned with gold!
Kintsugi highlights the brokenness as a moment change making the cracks a key feature of the piece in a way that adds to beauty. Kintsugi reminds us of this truth:
Repair requires transformation.
And that transformation is about accepting flaws and brokenness. It’s about learning that the pristine is less beautiful than the broken. Things aren’t damaged or useless or ugly because they are broken, as our westerns minds would see it. Rather, the beauty is in the brokenness.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve struggled with brokenness in my life.
When I first moved to Charlotte with Joanie and another couple who were good friends at the time to start a new ministry, I was viewed as unplanned and unorganized. Planning and organizing were not my skills, not my favorite things to do. I had been pretty successful in life to this point without them. But not being good at planning or organization was a huge fault in the eyes of our friends.
Now, keep in mind, I was the one who held down the only full-time job. And I was a band director – a high-school teacher in one of the nation’s largest school system (top 25) and at the largest school in that school district, largest in the state of NC at the time. I had to have lesson plans turned in ahead of time. I had competitions and football games to prepare for. I had a booster organization to manage and dozens of volunteers. Most of our fundraising was doing concessions on the lower level 50-yard line of Carolina Panthers games. And I was accountable to a team of folks that organized that each and every week.
Over a year and a half at that school, I tripled the size of the band. I took a group of students who went to competitions in a lower grade music and received an average rating to competitions in a higher difficulty of music and receive not good, not excellent, but superior…the highest rating. And you know how I did it?
I encouraged kids. I helped them take steps to be better. I took everyone of them – skilled or not – and I gave them a chance. I worked hard with them one on one. I taught them leadership classes. I carefully and consistently built a team mentality. I respected the students, and had fun with them. I took a chaotic and unorganized band program and I turned it into an hard-working, disciplined, fun and engaging group of young people who made music together.
But at home with the group of people I had come to Charlotte with, I was still viewed as unorganized and incapable of planning. You know how I felt?
Flawed, messed up, drained, empty, useless, unloved, unaccepted. I felt broken.
A year later, despite loving the work I did with young people, I wanted to throw myself away. And I did. Some challenges at the school (which were going to require an immense amount of more time from me to advocate for the continuance of music education) and the battering I was taking at home (being left out of things, constant reminders of my flaws)…it all led to me leave teaching. Knowing a potential ministry job lay in the future, I sat at home and threw myself away for months.
I was stuck with me. And I’m not sure I really liked me. I wanted to fight back against the negative perceptions at home. And I did here and there. But the truth was this: I began to see myself the way those folks saw me. I let their views of me become my views.
And one day it all hit the fan: One person made some particularly passive-aggressive comments to me on her way out the door one morning, and I lost it. I was so tired of negative comments about me thrown in my face that I started yelling, “Stop trying to take the sawdust out of my eye while there is a plank in your own.”
You ever felt like that? That someone is on you all the time pointing at your flaws, the cracks in your life. And you just can’t take it anymore? And you snap cause you just want some relief. You just want that person to accept you, to pay more attention to their life than yours? For me that was summed up in that famous statement from Jesus about the sawdust, the log, and our eyes.
As I was saying this over and over, I took a coffee mug that I had been drinking from and I threw it down on the floor….hard. And it cracked into a thousand pieces. It was green, handmade and had been given to us by some friends just after we moved to town to celebrate the coming of our “intentional Christian community” to the west-side of Charlotte.
That mug represented exactly how I felt. About myself. About the community of people I was living with that called themselves Christians. The mug represented everything that was supposed to be good and saintly and perfect and whole about what we were doing on the west-side of Charlotte, and it was all broken. Most especially, the mug represented that I was broken.
And when I think back to this time now, there were some things in my life that told me I was okay, that I was valuable, that I was good: the band parents, my students (in the ways that kids do in their teens), my family (we had just learned of Dad’s cancer during part of this story and we grew so much closer; Mom and dad let us cry on their shoulders and loved, accepted and supported no matter what), even folks from the neighborhood in Charlotte who had become good friends.
But what really stands out most to me now is a journal that Joanie has kept for me over the years. Every anniversary she wrote in it and she would give it to me again as a present each year. She would write about the trials and triumphs of that particular year. She would write about how amazing I was to her. She would lift me up, remind me how loved I was and how good I was despite what was happening around us.
That journal – though I never really told her this at the time – always reminded me that Joanie was in my corner, that she loved me even when I didn’t love me, that she accepted me when I felt like no one else did.
That journal was written in Joanie’s hand, and yet it was also written in God’s hand. As I look back today, I know it was also God’s voice reminding me that I was loved and accepted and that God was in my corner. That journal was God working through Joanie to make some Kintsugi art out of my life. Those words were gold filling the flaws and cracks of my life. Words reminding me of what the psalmist says in Psalm 139:
Lord, you have examined me. You know me. You’e studied my life… There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t already know completely. You surround me—front and back. You put your hand on me. No matter where I go, you are there.
And yet….even the darkness – even my darkness – is not too dark for you!
For You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I praise you, for now I realize, now I accept that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Those are the things God has written about us in a journal meant for us. Those are words that are Gods way of repairing our cracks just like a Kintsugi artist. Sometimes those journals are words of scripture. Sometimes they are words from a spouse, a friend, or a parent.
The truth is this: God is a Kintsugi artist with each of us. If we look around us, we can find the gold that God is lacing into our broken places.
And if we can trust in God’s loving hands working gold into our broken lives, then maybe we can learn to accept ourselves too. It’s taken me years to do so…years to stop worrying about what others said about me, to accept myself, to know that what others think doesn’t define me. It’s taken years of working on my faults to be better, to put my life back together.
I definitely spent time learning to plan and organize. Yet the truth is, I knew how to do those things and I was good at them. I wouldn’t have succeeded with that band if I wasn’t. But still, I worked on myself, I grew and got good and organizing and planning. And you know what? Those former friends, they never saw it, never acknowledged it, never affirmed it.
Because other people don’t always see how gifted and beautiful you are. They always see the negative, find fault because they don’t have your best interest at heart and because they refuse to see as God sees.
What we have to do – our job – is to see as God sees us. To realize that we aren’t perfect, but we are perfectly loved. Our job is to accept – accept yourself and accept one another. You never know how what you say may impact someone…what you say could like my old friends break someone or it could, like Joanie, remind someone of how loved they are. So your job is be about acceptance. Your job is to accept and even embrace brokenness – your Brokenness, your cracks and faults. Your job is to see with God’s eyes the beauty laced in the Brokenness. Your job is to always remember as Paul does in 2 Cor. 12 (The Message translation):
God’s grace is enough; it’s all you need. God’s strength comes into its own in my weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.
Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. It’s the definition of Kintsugi! Christ is the gold that repairs the brokenness in our lives making us God’s beautiful work of art. And that is always the way God see us – as his beautiful work of art.
I wish I still had the green mug today. It would be the perfect Kintsugi piece. It took me time to see that, but God took that mug broken because of my hurt and pain. And God put it back together. All you and I have to do is accept how beautiful it is. I couldn’t for a long time, but today I can imagine it in my mind – those green shards of handcrafted clay, repaired with golden glue.
So here’s the point. Here’s what I want you to remember and leave with today:
God’s love turns broken mugs into gold laced masterpieces and teaches young “unorganized” band directors to make beautiful music with their lives.
The question for us is this: Will we accept that love, receive that love and through it accept ourselves?
I encourage you this week to look for God’s love laced into whatever metaphorical “journals” might be around you, I encourage you to accept those words, to see yourself through those words the way God sees you, and to embrace yourself – your brokenness, your incompleteness, your imperfection. Let God glue you back together with those golden words because here’s the gospel truth: You are beautiful!