It was a week of things coming apart. A line from W.B. Yeats ran through my head on repeat: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
That poem is 95 years old and as true as ever.
Let me start small: with a pair of pants.
Our daughter loves just one pair of pants — soft brown corduroy. When the material on both knees thinned and then split open, she was happy to learn that Oma could fix them. The blue patches didn’t faze her a bit. Sometimes I’d wash them late at night so she’d have something for the next day.
One morning, in our typical get dressed/brushed/fed/out-the-door rush, she grabbed the pants from a basket of clean but unfolded laundry to find they had dried weirdly. A big wet patch remained, and no other pants would do.
The toaster! It sounds idiotic but struck me as inspiration at the time. Quick, hot heat, right?
A little too hot. Luckily for me, she loved the pants enough to put them on sporting a clear grill pattern on her upper left thigh. I was foolish enough to be pleased with this solution.
At least until that afternoon, when she came home. The singed fabric had disintegrated during the day, exposing pocket lining and skin.
There are other contenders for Worst Mothering Moment Ever, but that one is high on my list.
A few days later, I hollered at the kids to get in the car quick — we were late for the eye doctor. They obeyed in a hurry. In fact, one of my children ran right to the car without stopping for shoes, which didn’t come up in conversation or to my attention until we had driven across town. We parked just as it started to rain. The rain increased.
So we ran together, heads bent. The sidewalk was already a river. Even those of us with shoes got wet feet.
Things fall apart: clothes, instructions.
And our car? It’s been shedding palm-sized flakes of rusted metal and crumbled rubber for months. There’s a hole you want to watch out for in the foot well on the driver’s side. I try not to look too closely.
Our true condition
These disintegrations are natural.
Nothing man-made lasts forever.
But what about when more important things break apart? Our physical health may crumble. Relationships fall apart. Marriages dissolve. Friends move away. Churches separate. Retirement funds erode. Job prospects fall through. Plans die.
There are days when we humans just can’t, if you’ll allow the expression, keep our sh*t together. We simply can’t preserve what God created as good.
Everything we do reveals our true condition as broken people in a broken world.
“Bad crap is happening to people everywhere and people are doing terrible things everywhere,” writes Veronica Roth on her blog. She’s the author of Divergent, a best-selling sci-fi book turned movie. Roth is a Christian, which surprises some fans of the violence-laden, action-packed story that does not mention religion or God. But that shouldn’t be a shock: all it really means is that we have a weird definition of Christian fiction. We’re not used to a writer like Roth describing the mess of this world with eyes wide open.
Here’s more from her blog: “We need to understand how damaging sin is or we'll never understand why we need to turn away from it, and fight against it with everything we have. […] Then we can all talk about it. We can talk about how sometimes the world sucks but we believe in a God who wants to mend it, and we are His hands and feet; we get to help.”
That’s the good news — the turning point in every troubling narrative. That realization is the moment when things stop falling apart and start to fall together.
We don’t work alone, not when we serve a triune God. Christ fixes all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe (cf. Col. 1:20). The Holy Spirit renews us day by day from within, “even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us” (2. Cor. 4:16, Msg). And God, who “holds the high centre, sets the world’s mess right” (Ps. 9, Msg).
Last week I finished reading Allegiant, the third and final book in the series that starts with Divergent. It ends with these lines:
“Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage.
But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended.
We mend each other.”
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