God can restore what is broken and change it into something amazing.
All you need is faith. (Joel 2:25)
I have two mugs that sit on my kitchen counter – one painted for me by a dear friend and one painted by my son when he was 3. I use the to hold my pens and pencils. (Yes, I like them separated.) A while back, I organized the command center in my kitchen so that the kids’ school papers would have a place to live other than all over my counter; and so that pens for writing grocery lists and pencils for doing homework would be conveniently available. I love organizing and it turned out perfectly. Since then, I am happy to say that I have been able to maintain that area, even as we enter the third nine weeks of school. It needs a regular purging every now and then but my system is serving me well.
There is only one problem. Although the mugs are full of brightly colored pencils and an eclectic assortment of pens; more often than not, the pen I pick up does not write and the pencil I choose is broken. Now, a few months back, every one of those pens was tested and the pencils were sharpened. Over time, I guess the ink ran dry and the points broke off. That is to be expected, I suppose. What doesn’t make sense is why do I keep putting the broken pencils and dried up pens back in the mugs? Wouldn’t it make sense to throw away the pens and to sharpen the pencils?
Once in a while, I have to make myself sit down at the kitchen counter with my mugs and carefully test all the pens and pencils. The pens will get one or two scribbles and if they don’t work, they are gone. The pencils will be pulled out one by one and sharpened to a perfect point. Those that have gotten too small or have no eraser will be tossed. When my performance test and tool sharpening tasks are complete, I feel accomplished. The joy that fills my heart when I can grab a pen or pencil with confidence knowing that it will work may seem silly; but I assure you, it is real. Having tools at my disposal that will help me accomplish my task makes my life easier.
I grabbed a broken pencil the other day and my mind filled with questions. Why don’t I throw away a pen when it doesn’t work? Why do I put it back in the mug – so that I will pick it up again to find it doesn’t work? It takes the same amount of energy to throw it away as it does to put it back in the mug and it would save me a lot of energy down the road. I do the same with the pencils. Instead of taking the time to sharpen them, I put them back and try other pencils until I find one that will work. It doesn’t make sense and it wastes a lot of precious time ..but I still do it, over and over again.
Isn’t that the same thing we do in life? We keep going back to something that doesn’t work. We keep trying to use the same tools we used before, the ones that failed us. Instead of sharpening the tools we have, we try another one, that probably won’t work. I don’t mean a power tool or a hammer. I mean the personal tools we use daily, the activities in which we participate, the people we invite into our lives. Sometimes, I need to sit down at the counter, test those pens and pencils, and either sharpen them or throw them away. I can’t keep putting them back in my mug. They didn’t work the last time I picked them up, they aren’t going to work the next time. I need to do the same thing with my personal life.
A couple of tools that works as well as a dried up pen is self-pity and anxiety. Life can be hard. Bad things can happen. It is easy to start wallowing in that big vat of ‘whoa is me’ and to scribble ‘why me’ or ‘what if’ all over the poster board in your mind. But just as that pen glides across the paper without leaving a mark … self-pity or anxiety does nothing for us either. God doesn’t want us to worry about anything. We are supposed to pray for everything instead. Our worry will not change the outcome, it will only mess up our “right now”. We still have a blank page because our anxiety paralyzes us with fear. Those pens, self-pity and anxiety, need to go. We need to find a brand new pen that writes, maybe a big red Sharpie that we can use to brainstorm an action plan, to find a solution, to write in big, bold letters, “I can get through this and I trust that everything will be alright!”.
Another tool that doesn’t work is misery. “Oh, my. Life is hard right now and I am going to deal with it by being absolutely miserable. If I can’t be happy, no one is going to be happy. I am going to make sure of it. I am going to grab one of those dull pencils and scrape that empty holed-out wood across the paper. I am going to make deep creases and tear my pretty paper. I am going to do the same on the papers of everyone around me. I am going to avoid sharpening a pencil because that might be hard.” We need to give up that misery, sharpen that pencil, and preferably trade it in for a whole pack of colored pencils, and color some sunshine and flowers on our paper…then maybe others will see what we are doing and start to do the same. God asks us to “Be the Light” in Matthew 5:14. How can we do that when we are living in darkness?
Outside of tools, we also have activities that don’t work for us. Bad habits, perhaps? How are those working out? We all have them. We all want to change them. But we don’t. We keep picking them up, trying them out, and realizing they don’t work. But we don’t throw them out. We don’t sharpen them. We just leave them in our mugs, waiting until the next time we reach for them. We need to live the right way. We need to act the right way. We need to rid our lives of those habits. According to Jude 1:1-4, “The grace of God does not give us license to live however we want”. We’ve got to cut out those habits, throw those dried-up, broken pens and pencils away — along with our negative self-talk, the unhealthy lifestyles, the addictive behavior, or whatever it might be — we need to let it all go.
Then, there’s the mug of people in our lives. Our mug may be bursting with brightly colored pens that help us write whatever we want. The pens decorate our papers with pretty pictures and beautiful words. Our mug may be full of sharp, pointed pencils standing at attention, waiting to help us dot our “I”‘s and cross our “T”‘s. That’s great. Or, we may have a mug full of pens that work sometimes or not at all; pens we can never rely on. We may have a mug of pencils that are broken, their hard erasers leaving marks on our paper when we make mistakes. If that’s the case, we need to do a serious examination of what we allow to remain in our mug. We need to give up the ones that don’t work for us anymore. We need to keep the ones that help to brighten our papers, that leave pretty pictures behind and not those unforgiving eraser marks.
Do you know what the great part is? We get to choose the pens and pencils that we keep in our mugs. We can keep the ones that work and get rid of the ones that don’t. We are in control. We forget that sometimes. We need to take the time to sit down at the counter, test things out, and clean out our mugs. God can help us to discern what is best for us, to lead us in the right direction. We need to be particular about the attitudes, habits, and people that we allow to remain. We need resources that don’t waste our time and our energy, but that bring us hope, peace, and joy. We need God. We need faith. We need prayer.
So think about the mugs you have sitting on the counter in your life? What do you keep in them? Do you need to do some purging, some evaluating? Say a prayer, sit down and do it…because I can guarantee that once you do; your heart, mind, and soul will thank you for it. You life will once again be full of beautiful words and pictures. Don’t let something like a pen that won’t write or a broken pencil keep you from drawing your picture or writing your story.
The beauty of brokenness is that God can put the pieces back together. (Jeremiah 17:14)