After returning from Afghanistan and spending a couple of more years serving at Camp Pendleton, our oldest son Andrew got his discharge papers. He started his transition to civilian life in our home.
Both of his younger siblings were still living with us at the time. In the eight years of their brother’s absence, Meredith and Patrick had grown to adulthood.
Andrew’s default setting with his sister had always alternated between benign neglect, playfulness, and fierce protectiveness. She adored him for it. Just as I had anticipated, they picked up more or less where they had left off.
Meredith had been a high school student when Andrew entered military service, so he had at least glimpsed a more grownup version of her.
By contrast, Patrick had been a little boy nearly eight years his junior. Andrew frequently asserted his perceived superior status in the family pecking order.
For instance, Patrick shares this tidbit from time to time. “You know,” he says, “Andrew used to tell me that you and Mom bought me at K-Mart on the damaged goods aisle.”
Patrick admired his big brother. But I could tell that he retained lingering doubts that Andrew would see him as anything more than damaged goods, as something less.
Before Andrew arrived from Camp Pendleton, Joy and I anxiously wondered about how he and Patrick would get along. Andrew would meet a man who now stands taller then he, who holds down a challenging, full-time job, and who has no patience for being treated like a kid.
The brothers interacted tentatively at first. But an adult friendship eventually emerged. They fished together and went shooting together and rolled their eyes together about their father. Andrew sees Patrick as a younger equal, not as an inferior or a subordinate. He doesn’t make any more cracks about damaged goods.
But that phrase “damaged goods” has lingered in my imagination.
My pastoral experience has taught me that plenty of us see ourselves that way. So in anticipation of judgment and rejection, we hide our flaws and imperfections from others. Often we can’t bring ourselves to look at them.
When we can’t love our imperfect selves, we’re likely to find fault with our imperfect neighbors. We’ll see them as damaged goods.
Here’s the liberating truth that Jesus came to give us. We all have our share of dents and scrapes and cracks. This world will break your heart and bruise your body. If you’re like me, some of this is self-inflicted.
We’ve all been damaged. Through the power of God’s love, none of us belongs on the damaged goods aisle. The way God sees it, nothing and no one is beyond mending.
Paul says that in our relationship with Jesus, we each become a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The love of Christ mends hearts, restores relationships, and heals bodies. Paul urges us to celebrate ourselves and to appreciate one another as mended by the power of love.
In my book A Resurrection Shaped Life, I illustrated the power of love using the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery called Kintsugi:
“Artisans mend the chips and cracks of bowls and saucers, pitchers and jars using lacquer mixed with gold dust. Initially you might assume that the artists are trying to disguise the damage to a piece of pottery by covering it with gold leaf. But these artists aren’t trying to hide anything. They realize that the gold-infused lacquer will effectively draw the eye to the very places where the object has been cracked. They intend to highlight the broken places. Beauty emerges from the distinctive broken places of each individual object.”
God knows that we’re damaged and yearns to mend us. Our part is simply this. Admit that we’re damaged and acknowledge our deep need for love’s healing power. Well, okay, it’s not so easy to admit that we’re damaged. Still, that’s our chief spiritual challenge.
Jesus makes this point in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32):
A father had two sons. The younger one demands his inheritance before his father’s death, and the old man consents. The young son moves away. In no time, he’s flat broke, having spent every nickel on wild living.
Slopping hogs for a Gentile just to keep a crummy roof over his head, the younger man hits bottom. He can’t live this way anymore, and he can’t live the way that got him there in the first place. So he goes home expecting perpetual second-class treatment.
After all, he sees himself as an utter failure and a complete disgrace. He assumes that he’s just damaged goods.
His father, by contrast, has spent every day looking for his boy to come home. When the young man appears on the horizon, the father sees a son bruised and battered by life’s hard knocks and by his own reckless, ill-considered choices. A beloved child damaged. Not damaged goods.
Dad throws a party for the disgraced party boy. He demands no restitution, no probationary period to test the genuineness of his transformed heart, not even a formal apology.
The older brother blows a gasket. He can’t believe that the old man is going to treat this waste of space like a son. The kid has lost that privilege. He’s just damaged goods.
Apparently, the older brother couldn’t detect within himself any damage that needed mending. Otherwise, he might have welcomed his brother home in recognition and gratitude that the same power of love that had mended him had now restored his own brother.
It can be hard to admit that we’re damaged and that we need mending. But it’s a relief when we do. We can live comfortably in our own imperfect skins. And we discover the profound beauty of the mended souls all around us.
You can learn more about my latest book Looking for God in Messy Places here. To find out about scheduling me for in-person or Zoom events please email my EA Holly Windham (firstname.lastname@example.org).