Broken but beautiful. Ever had the experience of seeing the same pattern over several days? I don’t mean patterns like traffic or how we arrange silverware in our kitchen drawers. No, I mean patterns that speak to something deeper. If you have experienced them, what follows may resonate with you. If patterns are lost on you, skip this altogether. I write as one convinced that patterns are important. Why? Because confluence, convergence, and the coming together of ideas may serve as presages. Patterns exist for several reasons. One of those reasons is to act as messengers. Let me explain.
Last week I read a short theology book. The author wrote of how all people who are honest admit that our world is broken, and that we all are broken people. We know intuitively that the world is a fallen place. And we know that we’re fallen, too. Witness the current destruction of statues and monuments to America’s history by angry mobs. Witness the targeted slaughter of law enforcement officers. Witness the rancor among pundits who seem to have relinquished reasoned debate and replaced it with ad hominem attacks. Most of us would admit that the world we live in is hostile, rancorous, and well—broken. This brokenness is not just external to us. It is not merely “out there.” If we are honest, brokenness is part of the way we see ourselves. No pattern yet, right? Hold on. It is coming.
So I kept reading the book and thought, “Yes, this rings true. We are broken.” But then the author did something else. He used the term “beautiful” to describe us, too—amidst our brokenness. For many readers, that term might not signify much. But for others, that term denotes that a lot more is going on; namely, there is beauty in this broken world. There is an aesthetic to the universe. Yes, there is ugliness, deformity, depravity, etc. The list is long of how brokenness manifests itself in some people’s cruelty to one another. However, humanity is still beautiful. Then I put the two words together—broken but beautiful. That was last week.
Now to this week. In a Sunday school class, a teacher was leading us in an examination of some of what Scripture teaches about how Christ-followers will—not may—but will suffer. We looked at Peter’s words: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). And then we read James’ words: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2). Do you see the pattern? The world is broken, but beauty abides still. These broken people are beautiful in the crucible.
Then we looked at Paul’s words from prison: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear than I still have” (Philippians 1:29-30).
Then the teacher said this: “We are broken but still beautiful.” I almost slid out of my chair. The same terms, the same truth, the same pattern—broken but beautiful.
The pattern asserted itself through experience, through a book, then through a teacher at church—with its simple message: broken but beautiful.
When we had eaten lunch and returned home after church, and changed into comfortable clothes, my son said, “Dad, let’s throw the football.” Even though I had a thousand other things to do to prepare for the week ahead, the pattern emerged. Excuses came to my mind: I need to work in the basement; I need to wash my truck; I need to prepare for the course I’m teaching, and on they ran. But here was my son, asking to do what is beautiful to him.
As we threw the ball to each other, I watched him run the hill and sprint for passes. I saw the white laces spin round as the football arced towards him. I heard the sounds of his cleats on the earth and watched the way sun fell in patches on our driveway and through the overhanging white oaks. And the pattern whispered—broken but beautiful.