I love the story of the west window at Winchester Cathedral. During the English Civil War, it was deliberately smashed and destroyed when Cromwell’s forces invaded. It remained broken for a long time, until several years later the pieces were gathered up and an attempt was made to put the window back together. Because it was so badly broken, it was impossible to restore it to what it had been before, so the pieces were put together randomly to create a mosaic-like effect.
It may not be what had originally been intended for the window, and it still shows the evidence of its brokenness, but the end result is something beautiful.
In the same way, circumstances happen in our lives that mean they cannot be restored to what they were before. There are things that we will never “get over” and we will continue to bear the marks of brokenness, but there is hope, because as Eric Liddell puts it:
“Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins.”
A few years ago, I was at a gathering of Christians where I had the privilege of hearing stories from a number of people who had been through incredibly difficult circumstances in recent years. There were stories of bereavement, bankruptcy, cancer, miscarriage, death of a baby and facing up to childhood abuse, and those were only the stories which were spoken aloud- I’m sure there were many others.
One thing that struck me was the faith that each one of these people displayed and how beautifully each of them testified to God’s faithfulness in the midst of their trials. The other thing that struck me was that all of these people bore scars. Their experiences have had a massive effect on who they are, and I believe they will continue to have an impact for the rest of their lives. Some people would say that shouldn’t be the case, but I’m not convinced it is a bad thing.
Of course our identity should be firmly in God, and our experiences should not be what define us, but God allows the things that happen to us and I believe he wants to use them.
To me, pushing aside these experiences and hiding the scars is like saying they don’t matter, that they were all a mistake, that God never intended for them to happen. In one sense, of course illness and abuse and broken relationships are not God’s ideal intention or what he ultimately wants for us. But we live in a fallen world, where evil happens and God allows it, and I would rather know that God is ultimately in charge (even if I can’t understand why certain things happen) and trust that God can use our experiences for good and create something different, but beautiful, from the ruins of our lives.
I think while we have no choice over the fact that the past will continue to affect us, we have a lot of choice over how it affects us. We can choose to be bitter and unforgiving, we can react with anger, we can withdraw and hide our scars and let no-one see, we can give into despair and misery, we can seek revenge, we can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by fear.
Or, because of Jesus, we can let God use our experiences for good- we can seek him and know him even in our difficulties, we can receive his comfort which then enables us to comfort others, we can develop understanding and compassion to help others in similar situations, we can receive boldness and courage to stand up against the things that are wrong in the world, we can become powerful examples of God’s grace and forgiveness, we can give him our circumstances and let him use them, we can let our brokenness lead us to him, and we can see him heal us and transform our brokenness into something beautiful.
In his hands, even our scars can become a thing of beauty that testify to his healing power.
There are times when I wish I didn’t bear scars, when I see the past affect me in ways I would prefer it didn’t, and I wonder what my life would be like if certain things had not happened. But then I look again and I can also see good in my life that would not have been there without these experiences. I know that my faith in God would not be what it is today, and I know I would not have the same compassion for others who are hurting. Sometimes the good and bad seem almost too intertwined to separate.
Whatever your brokenness, “God is not helpless among the ruins.”
“We know that in all things God works for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
And, even when evil seems to triumph, he has the last word and the final victory, and he can take your brokenness and scars and make them into something beautiful.