I almost titled this talk something like, “What do you actually think restoration looks like?”
I didn’t, because it seemed a bit punchy for such a soft subject. But, after you read the next few pages, I think you’ll understand that line from a place of tenderness. Perhaps even from a place of hope.
As we were going back and forth about the forward for my book on which these talks are based (Claim Your Freedom), JB and I sat in a pub in downtown Salt Lake City discussing “hard things.” He experienced his version of a few tough chapters just like me. Each of us have different details, and both stories were- are- difficult to live in their unique ways.
About the time the appetizers hit the table, JB observed, “Everyone looks at the book of Job as this great story of redemption.”
“I used to,” I confessed. “But I don’t see it just as that anymore, though.”
“Yeah, it’s way more complex.”
We discussed the tension between the beginning of the book (when Job’s life is ripped right out from under him) and the end of the book (when things are “restored” multiple times over what he originally had). That’s the surface read, anyway.
In the first few verses catastrophes rock him-
His friends all blamed him for this. Surely, life wasn’t working his way because of some secret clutter, a stashed away skeleton, or a pet sin he nurtured. That’s what they told him (God later corrected them, by the way, attesting to Job’s righteousness).
And, his wife couldn’t stand him. She loathed the fact that he even breathed (19:17). She encouraged him to die. Yes, that’s exactly how it’s penned in the Bible.
“At the end of the story,” JB said, “Job ends up with twice as much wealth as before. His net worth doubles overnight” (42:10). “In fact, the Bible says people actually brought money to Job, as an offering of love and support” (42:11).
“Yes,” I said, “And he has seven more sons and three more daughters” (42:12).
“But, he still lost his family in the beginning. Restoration didn’t mean they come back from the dead.”
“And we have no idea what happened to his wife in all of this. We don’t read much more about her. Did she stay around and see her way through it all? Or is it a different woman at the end of the story?”
We decided there’s no way to know all of the answers to all of the questions this story raises. We do know, though, that the restored life didn’t look like a “cleaned up” and “returned” version of the old one. He still mourned his kids for the rest of an extremely long life. He lost servants and co-workers who were once close to him. His friendships may never have been the same with the people who wrongfully accused him. Life was different.
“We lost Evans a few years ago,” JB said. “We got through it. The Lord restored us. But my son is still dead. I still miss him. That’s part of the tension.”
In that moment I could sympathize. Not in the same way, but in some way. I spent a solid year jumping though every conceivable hoop and meeting every demand that was given to me. No matter how “good” I was or how hard I begged for relational healing, I was black-balled, ghosted, and met with legal shenanigans.
Restoration doesn’t always mean return. We like to think that it does, but many times it doesn’t.
I suppose I realized that about six months ago. I just didn’t have language for it back then. That was about the time I really found myself grieving. I realized that things I hoped and prayed for would probably never return to the way they were.
The truth is that, after any difficult season, things may never return “just like they were before.” And, in fact, if we’re honest, we probably don’t want them to be. Not “just like they were before,” anyway.
It’s easy to look back at life after a traumatic event (or events) and wish we could “just go back to how things used to be.” Our minds have a powerful way of not only causing us to avoid pain in the future (by perceiving reality in ways that protect us), but also by re-scripting the past such that we often remember a “greatest hits” or highlight reel rewind rather than the raw reality we endured.
Because we often observe the rearview of life with rose-colored glasses, we tend to overlook some of the pain and dysfunction we’ve endured. When we take an honest assessment, we see it. And that means that, even though no situation is perfect (nor ever will be), sometimes things do need to go back to “how it was” and sometimes they don’t.
For a season, one of the things that yanks us back to the past is grief, an extremely real emotion that we talk too little about.
It’s all complex, and it’s the stuff that needs to be sorted during those pauses of Sabbath and sleep. In other words, grief and dealing with the hard things is one of the reasons we need to slow down and live in the right rhythm.
I want to highlight something that often- though not always- happens when people face situations that demand grief. Here it is: we often create a false scale of polar opposites. On one extreme, we place the label “imperfect” and on the other side “valuable.” Any move towards the direction of imperfection by necessity pulls us farther away from valuable.
Here’s the result: The more perfect things are (including less “hard things,” less emotional baggage, less spiritual clutter), the more valuable we perceive ourselves to be. The worse things are, the more worthless we perceive ourselves to be.
This is a difficult place to live- for several reasons:
In other words, it's possible to be imperfect and valuable at the same time. We can all agree that there are things we’re great at, as well as things we’re not so great at. In fact, this- imperfect and valuable- describes the human condition perfectly.
It’s OK to affirm our value and simultaneously embrace the imperfections of life- even the ones which result from our poor decisions.
We often don’t translate that message to their core identity, though. We often feel we deserve what we got… because we’re not valuable.
I’ve spent the majority of my life in “church world.” When you do that, you get to hear a lot of statements that sound right but just aren’t true. Add to that today’s propensity towards sound bites, memes, and tweet-able quotes and you’ve got a situation that’s ripe for slick sounding almost-truths.
“Your wounds should never be part of your identity,” some people say. “If they are, it shows you haven’t fully healed yet.”
Or, “You’ll get over it.”
Hogwash. Or whatever other phrase you want to throw in there.
A few years ago Jim Bob and Cindy lost a baby boy. After a rough few years, followed by a reconnection and restoration, Evans’ birth seemed like redemption.
And then, within just a few hours, it didn’t. He was gone.
Do you “get over” that?
“No,” JB said. “But you do figure out a way to get through it. And sometimes that means the scars remain. They no longer control the story, but they are part of it- perhaps even a significant part.”
Let me back it with some Bible.
When they killed Jesus, they battered Him mercilessly. Isaiah prophesied the soldiers would beat Him so horrifically that you wouldn’t be able to recognize who He was- or that He was even human (read Isaiah 53). They shredded His back, they forced a crown of thick thorns into (not just onto, but into) His skull, and they shoved a spear through His abdomen to puncture His heart.
After He arose from the dead, He bore almost none of those scars. That’s right, almost.
Clearly, when the disciples questioned as to whether or not it was Him, He showed them certain scars which remained- the ones where the nails punctured Him and the wound on His side (John 20:20). In fact, those scars were His proof to a doubting Thomas that He was, indeed, Himself.
Jesus encouraged Thomas, “Look, see the wounds in My hands and on My side” (John 20:27).
I don’t know the significance of some scars for some people as opposed to other scars for others. I do know, though, that some scars remain and others don’t.
Perhaps part of the difference is that whole people- those who’ve claimed their freedom and learned to walk with grace and health- don’t lead with the scars. Rather, they selectively, deliberately reveal them when those wounds can encourage, equip, and empower someone else to put one foot forward and begin their freedom march, too. That is, perhaps the sharing works best when it’s no longer about the one who is now free, it’s about those who remain in the struggle.
I don’t know. I’m still processing it. I tend to write books for myself, about things I need to know, rather than things I’ve mastered. Right now, I’m trying to figure this one out…
I do know, though, that the narratives of our lives- the more whole we become- become a living version of kintsukuroi, Japanese art form in which broken pottery is repaired. Rather than restoring the piece to look as if it’s never been damaged (which is, really, impossible), the artisan injects gold into the cracks as the pottery is restored.
The flaws are accentuated, celebrated. In other words, not only are those flaws not hidden, they’re actually highlighted.
Yet, at the same time, those scars never determine the shape of the vessel. The identity originally given by its creator does.
It’s some what of an oxymoron, isn’t it?
Google it. The “new” version of the pottery looks like the old, but better. It’s simultaneously more raw and more beautiful than the original, untainted version.
Grace is the gold. And healing. And the wholeness we walk in as we therapeuo our way forward.
Furthermore, the trifecta of grace + healing + wholeness means my imperfections now serve a greater purpose than the pain and shame originally created by them. And the more golden those scars become, the more whole I am and the greater substance I can carry.
In the Old Testament we meet a prostitute named Rahab. Before taking over the Promised Land, Joshua sent two spies to scout the land. Apparently, they spent the night in her home. With all the “coming and going,” they’d never be noticed. Plus, even if they were, no one would ever tattle about who was in the whore house with them. In doing so, they would rat themselves out.
She told those spies that the people in the of Jericho had been “melting in fear” of them for the previous 40 years (Joshua 2:11). Even though the Israelites were certain the “giants in the land” would smash them, the giants were the ones afraid (Numbers 13:33).
She told them, “Save me and my family.”
The spies agreed- as long as she threw a red cord in the window of her home- the window that sat in the city wall (Joshua 2:18).
Where did the cord come from?
It came from her door. Before electricity made “red light districts” possible, scarlet cords were the signposts prostitutes and madams hung to denote they were open for business. She took that sign- the one thing that would have marked her as a woman of shame- and placed it in her window for the world to see. Everyone marching with Israel would see and know that the very thing which shamed her was now the thing that marked her for salvation (2:21). The red scar became gold.
Here’s where things get even more interesting…
Not only is this woman mentioned in the Hall of Fame of Faith (Hebrews 11:31), but she’s also an ancestor of King David. This makes her an ancestor of Jesus, the Author of and embodiment of the grace + healing + wholeness trio that creates that gold where the flaws once were. She’s also listed in the genealogical records that we generally skip when we go looking for the Christmas story (Matthew 1:5).
And then there’s this…
That red cord is featured all throughout the sacrificial system. Apparently, when the priest laid an offering on the altar, they also set a red cord atop it for everyone to see (Leviticus 14:49-51, Numbers 19:6).
“Let’s just toss this skeleton that’s in the closet right there into the middle of the room,” the sacrificial system effectively communicates.
It’s the ancient version of that Eminem rap from 8 Mile we talked about in the intro.
How’s that for irony?
Perhaps this is what Isaiah meant when he wrote, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (1:18 ESV).
Yes, grace works greatest when we strip the Accuser of his accusation, taking it and flipping it into a signifier of salvation.
Paul says we have a treasure in earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7 TLV):
… have have this treasure in jars of clay, so that the surpassing greatness of the power may be from God and not from ourselves.
We love that verse. We place it on coffee mugs and calendars and bookmarks.
Notice the next verses, though. They provide us with the context of the first (4:8-10 TLV):
We are hard pressed in every way, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not in despair; persecuted, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of [Jesus] so that the life of [Jesus] may also be revealed in our mortal body.
Notice the tension- the revelation shines in our flesh, in human form. Jesus doesn’t reveal Himself just through books; He reveals Himself through the grit of the broken places. Through the gold that shines where the flaws once were.
Paul reminds us in another passage that it is precisely in the places in which he himself is weak that he- because of the presence of a living Christ that embodies him- becomes strong. Paul writes (2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV):
I delight in my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I’m not there, yet- delighting in the hard things. But Paul is clear that God’s power is made complete- whole- in the weak places (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). That is, He manifests in the fractures.
The gold can only be placed where there are cracks to be filled. No crack, no space. No space, no gold to fill the void. Brokenness is the thing to which grace almost exclusively bonds. As Donald Miller writes,
Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can't accept grace, either.
In recovery, you eventually get to Step 4, that infamous place where you pause and take a moral inventory of your life. I know firsthand. Not only have I written and shot film for a 12-step program, remember, I attended one. Some of the stories in this series, in fact, are an overflow of my Step 4.
Sponsors tell you, “Don’t just write down the bad. Step 4 an inventory of your life. Not just a list of your failures. It should be balanced.”
I get it.
Yes, sometimes our stories may seem a bit lop-sided- slanted towards the bad. Especially when we’re cleaning up the clutter and walking towards wholeness and freedom.
But that’s where we meet grace. And it’s where we truly uncover that grace is not a theological system or a random bit of verses strung together. Grace isn’t even a sentimental feel that things are forgiven and something will work out for the best.
Sure, grace is that. All of it. But grace is more. Grace is a person. Grace has a name. Grace is called Jesus.
I avoided my story because there were things in it I couldn’t fathom. Owning the story meant owning the main character of the story, me.
I’ve seen, though, that Jesus didn’t come to condemn (John 3:17), He came to save. And He continues saving. Salvation is now.
During the New Testament era they were so certain that salvation was a now, in-this-lifetime experience that many of them punted off the promise of Heaven. Paul had to go out of this way and remind them that salvation is future, too.
We often flip it backwards. We forget that Jesus invades life now. He always brings with him the fullness of grace (and truth) (see John 1:14). He moves us gently, graciously, from our past… to our potential.
And He does that completely… wounds, fractures, scars, and all. He seals the cracks with the gold of grace so that we no longer leak our pain. Then He fills us… to the point that we overflow His presence.
May you be healed, may you walk in health, and may the gold in those scars highlight the possibility of wholeness to others. And may you find peace not in the return of what was, but in a redemption to what should be.
Links for this talk
Claim Your Freedom- the book- (5.5x8.5, 264 pages)- https://amzn.to/2xwQcEY
Take The Next Best Step recovery course at www.TheNextBestStep.info
Scary Close (Donald Miller)- https://amzn.to/2B2t9Ul
Podcast #18, "Freedom is now" (about 1 Corinthians 15 and not punting the promises of God off into the future)- at www.Jenkins.tv/blog/18
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