It is the occupational hazard of being a naturally law-abiding person and growing up in a functional, spiritually grounded home that I should find it easy to underestimate things like grace. And to find it difficult to believe that wrongs can be transformed or that whatever I have gotten myself into, God is glad to lead me out again.
‘Cause the times I find myself broken, I can’t imagine being “fixed.”
Moreso when the “breaking” is my own fault. When I stand, motionless, before the thing I ought to do and don’t do it. When a moment ago my soul was lifted up to God and then I am faced with a temptation that I fail to resist. Those are the worst times, when I see exactly how weak I am. I knew it was wrong as I did it. Worst also because I see clearly, later, that I could have just handed it over to God and asked for courage, or patience, or a way out, and I didn’t. I fell to bits. Again.
Yesterday I peeked out at my balcony and saw that my beloved strawberry pot had been knocked over by flying patio furniture. (That’s the kind of the wind we get in this part of the world!) It had landed on its side and one of the cups had broken right off. So today I went to the store and bought some super glue. I cleaned the broken pottery and pieced it back together again. It’ll be fine for growing strawberries next year.
An inanimate pot couldn’t be more helpless than when it lies on its side in pieces, lacking any way to put itself together again. Living hands must do that.
When I find myself failing again, standing there knowing that I am at that moment failing, grace is too big a thing to believe in. Being made whole again is a joke. I’ve done what I’ve done and I deserve what comes next: pain, humiliation, suffering, punishment. I deserve the shrinking of my soul and the stunting of my growth. I’m in bits, broken down, rusted, rotted, choked, helpless, and I should be let be, because I did it to myself. I want to be abandoned.
Lucky for me, when I glued that pot back together, it had neither voice nor volition to resist. I sat, both hands wrapped gently around the shards, counting seconds as I waited for the glue to dry, and bit by bit the broken cup took shape again. Its pretty glaze reflected the fading evening light and the lamp in my room as I turned it over, searching for matching edges. I wasn’t going to let it lie there broken. The pieces still made a whole.
The greatest gift is not merely knowing that everything can be forgiven. The greatest gift is the forgiveness itself. There’s no trick to repenting sincerely when you know exactly what needs forgiving, and why. The trick, if there is one, is being in the middle of that cold unbelief that forgiveness could exist and letting it do its work anyway. This is humiliation: to submit, completely, to hand over what’s broken and say, “I don’t think it can be fixed. But I’m sorry, and I’ll let you do what you do.” And then shutting up.
There’s a certain magic when, as a child, you hand over the broken toy to your parent, hoping that it might be fixed. As you wipe away the tears of your distress, you watch in wonder as your parent takes the pieces and patiently puts them back together. There’s a greater magic when you’re grown up and you hand over something bigger and more precious to the repairer, the restorer, or the rebuilder, and stare in awe when it’s returned to you whole. Professional restoration is an art form, and perhaps someday we’ll have the technology to really make things good as new. But the problem of a broken life is far greater. For all that we have learned about helping each other heal, for all that we can do to help heal ourselves, we will always fall short.
And this is grace. There is no injury that cannot be healed. There is no scar that cannot be transformed. We fail, but we are only human. The one who is perfect, the one who created perfection, the one who knows the pattern of the whole universe knows what is wrong and how to put it right. The God of grace can take our broken pieces and make them whole again, and make the wound itself beautiful. He can do so in ways we cannot begin to imagine. The solution is more extraordinary than the problem, and the end more wonderful than the beginning. A great musician may make a minuet out of a wrong note, but God can turn chaos to symphonies.
When the one who fixes does it for love, he turns no one away. We should let him do what he does.