This morning I drove to a new friend’s house, down an idyllic country road. The drive is stunning–flaming Fall colors flanking expanses of cow-dotted pasture and the road twisting enticingly ahead. A flock of black birds rises like a cloud from the browning grass and wheels overhead in a giant sheet of anti-color. It’s hard to drive safely when surrounded by such breathtaking grandeur.
It’s all so ideal. So … perfect.
My friend’s house is clean and white. It looks like I want my house to look, the reason I take boxes of junk to Goodwill every week, so I can dream of someday living in a home with clean white lines and nothing but a glass jar of Lucky Charms on the countertop.
My friend is sweet, and gentle, and kind, and fits beautifully in her clean world.
Walking in a world like this, it is easy sometimes to feel like damaged goods. My life is not so clean and straightforward. I’ve done things that have hurt people, things I’m deeply ashamed of. I’ve lost friends and changed relationships forever because of mistakes I’ve made. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around with the words “Damaged Goods” stamped on my forehead like a dented box at the salvage store.
If you’ve ever done something you were ashamed of–deeply, mortally ashamed of–then you may identify with this: All the self-help books, inspirational CDs, support groups, and encouragement blogs are written for people who have suffered at the hands of someone else or the world in general. Nobody writes inspirational support for people who have done the bad things.
Sometimes I cry for my sins. Sometimes I get angry. Sometimes I want to scream at the world: “I am not damaged goods!”
And we are not damaged goods, we who have done wrong things. But we live in a world, for better or worse, that expects presents–and people–to come in nice, tidy packages with a shiny finish. Hot off the assembly line, fastened tightly in place, wrapped in plastic, padded with styrofoam, and neatly fitted in a glossy box. If it’s not perfect, it goes back for a replacement. If it gets broken… back for a replacement. Lost, damaged, slightly worn, tired, batteries run down, dented, scratched… replace it! It’s damaged goods.
We’ve forgotten the art of repair. We’ve forgotten the beauty of an item once damaged but now more beautiful for the artistry with which it was put back together. The love in the stitches that re-attach the doll’s eye, or worn into the freshly repaired joints of an old chair. The patina of age, the strength of an item tested, tried, and many times repaired. We’ve forgotten the value of an item that has proven its strength and resilience through many trials.
Once upon a time, a young woman fell on hard times and turned to the streets for her living. “Loved” by many, honored by none, she lived many years in sin and shame and filth. One day a great prophet, a messiah, came to her town. She had heard of his mercy and ached with inchoate hope. When she found the house where he was eating, she threw herself at his feet and washed them with her many tears.
The man who owned the house was disgusted. “Damaged goods!” he cried. “How dare you touch the feet of a great man!”
Imagine how the woman’s heart recoiled, and her sobs redoubled.
But Jesus … smiled upon the prostitute, turning his words upon the homeowner: “You didn’t even bother to offer me a bowl of water for my feet when I came in, nor kiss me in greeting,” he said. “But this woman has washed my feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and has not stopped kissing them since she entered the room.” Then: “Her sins have been forgiven, for she loved much.”
She loved much.
I suspect that on the inside, we are all what the world would call damaged goods.
Sure, we put on a happy face and try to pretend we’re new and shiny and without blemish. If we’re successful in that endeavor, the world promotes us as celebrities and then spends the rest of our lives looking for reasons to hate us.
When we die, they find our private diaries and splash them across the front pages of the news media and bemoan the fact that an idol was, after all, only human.
Successful or not, white kitchen and Lucky Charms or not, we’re all damaged goods in the eyes of the world.
And that is the transcendent beauty of the message Jesus brought to us: The world is wrong. We are not damaged goods. No matter what we’ve done, where we’ve been, what has happened to us: We can be beautiful and whole.
Love can do that.
But we have to let the mistakes and the damage break us open to receive and to grow, we have to bring our tears as a gift of love and wait to have our broken pieces and sharp edges lovingly smoothed and knit together. Then, the artistry with which we are repaired can transform our lives and our selves into works of art that bring joy to all around us.
On closer inspection, my new friend and the breathtaking autumn scenery draw their beauty not from their perfection, but from the way they allow love to transform their imperfections. My friend has her own sorrows and shames, and she too is allowing God to transform them into beauty. The glowing leaves are nearing death, their gorgeous colors one glorious gift to the world before they become food for the worms that nourish the trees they grew on. The birds enrich the field with droppings as they wheel into the sky and the cows leave steaming piles of manure that will nourish next Spring’s green that in turn will nourish the next generation of cows.
This I believe: There is no such thing as damaged goods. All that exists is love, if only we open our hearts to receive it.