Lately it seems like there’s brokenness everywhere I turn.
Families experiencing health crises, having their worlds irreversibly altered by an unexpected diagnosis, or suddenly struck with the blow of losing a beloved one of their own.
Brokenness in relationships, in the virtual screaming matches we see on the news and internet, and the tensions and unspoken factions we navigate in our personal circles.
Injustice and chaos wreaking havoc in our local and global communities; governments and militaries shirking their duties and needlessly winding each other up; simple civilians paying the ultimate price for being accidentally caught in the crosshairs of politicians’ games.
Even nature occasionally seems to turn on us. Most recently we’ve watched helplessly as it’s lit itself up in flames, crushing the illusion that we’ve mastered our world and our fates with all our grand ideas, new tools, and technologies.
To be quite honest, sometimes I find it hard to bear the weight of it all. When bad news is followed by bad news is followed by bad news once again, I can start to feel overwhelmed, and like the small breakthroughs of light in the midst of such constant darkness are too few and far between.
I’ve recently been feeling this, and, combined with watching my mom experience illness, it’s made me realize something: I think part of what is so jarring about bad health, violent unrest, and disaster, is that truly bad things are such an extreme anomaly from everyday life. While this means these events stand out more and may be almost disproportionately impactful (just because they’re so out of the ordinary), it also means that, in reality, the majority of our lives are actually made up of very good things. Unfortunately, our lives are just so full of good things that good has become the norm and the thing that we expect. And when something becomes the thing we expect, it becomes something we feel entitled to, rather than something we recognize as a blessing to be thankful for.
So I decided to stop and pay attention, and to take stock of the daily good things I experience even in the midst of the brokenness.
Though this is far from an exhaustive list, this is what I’ve come up with so far:
It’s a blessing and privilege to have a home, a warm place of my own to retreat to and rest. A place with permanent walls and a permanent foundation; a place to be in long enough to get to know all its quirks, to grow attached to, and to change and alter as I change and alter. A place to be creative with and make my own; to have the freedom and authority to leave it a mess or organize however I like. It’s a blessing to have enough stuff to make a mess with, or to have to think about storing and organizing it at all.
It’s a blessing to be able to eat what I like, to be able to eat solid foods (maybe something weird to be thankful for, but not everyone can), and to be able to taste and enjoy each meal without worrying if I’ll be able to keep my food down or if it will make me feel sick later on.
It’s a blessing to have the energy, freedom, time, and transportation to go out, to see a good movie, to see friends, to go shopping for groceries, to go out for supper, to run errands, and to just generally plan my free time as I please and have the physical ability and resources to do all I want to.
It’s a blessing to have friends. It’s a blessing to have the energy and freedom to spend time with friends, energy and freedom to talk with friends, and the energy and freedom to make new friends.
It’s a blessing to have people to talk to. To have people that care about me enough to listen, and who put in time to understand me – whether or not they always succeed at it (lots of the time they do, but the very fact that they try seems most important). It’s a blessing to have people that care about me enough to make the effort to know me and do what they can to make sure I'm okay.
It’s a blessing to smell good food. Or fresh rain. A warm and cozy candle. A pleasant perfume.
It’s a blessing to hear good music, to sing fun songs, to play instruments, or hear them played.
It’s a blessing to laugh with friends, at inside jokes, at funny pets, old stories, silly things that kids say, favourite TV shows, and surprising coincidences.
It’s a blessing to have family and old friends who have been around long enough to see things in me that I sometimes don’t, and who are able to lift me up and tone me down whenever either is needed. It’s a blessing to have people around long enough that we've been required to show one another grace…and patience and compassion and love and kindness and empathy and all that it means to grow and become fully human. It’s a blessing to have a foundation of love and shared experiences – however complicated the shared history may occasionally be – and to have so much known about me without having to explain everything.
It’s a blessing to have clothes, to have clothes I like, and to be able to choose what clothes I wear.
It’s a blessing to have hair, even when it doesn’t look like whoever’s, or isn’t curly enough or straight enough or voluminous enough or light or dark or red enough or anything enough. It’s a blessing to be well enough that I can expend energy on thinking about such shallow things as looks in general, rather than more serious or genuinely heartbreaking things.
It’s a blessing to have a job, to have the education needed for a job, and to have the physical capabilities to get out of bed in the morning and go to work and stay at the office all day.
It’s a blessing to have money to occasionally buy a little treat on an otherwise low day, and to buy much bigger things when the need arises.
It’s a blessing to have a steady paycheck, and to not have to worry about money to the extent that I’m worried about having food or losing my home. While it can be easy to think of all the things that I don’t have money for, it can be easy to forget all of the things that I do.
And whether or not the end of the month is tight, it’s a blessing to have people around me whom I know I can depend on if worse came to worst and all of my money and financial safety nets disappeared tomorrow. It’s a blessing to have people that love me enough that I never have to worry about things getting so bad that I’d be left out in the cold; it’s a blessing to know I would always have people who would step in to care for me in case of disaster and would do everything in their power to get me back on my feet.
It’s a blessing to be able to think freely and capably, to be (mostly) in possession of full mental faculties and to be able to apply them however I so please. It’s a blessing to have tools and opportunities to learn, to have access to read almost anything that’s ever been published and to be free to choose what I dedicate my attention to. It’s a blessing to have the freedom to talk openly about controversial or difficult subjects, to have enlightening conversations with people who think differently than I do, and to share, sharpen, affirm, challenge, and generally grow deeper with those around me.
It’s a blessing to be able to worship however I please, to practice my faith freely and to meet with brothers and sisters. To be able to focus fully on encouraging one another, serving one another, and pushing one another on without the distraction of worrying about our safety or legal standing.
It’s a blessing and privilege for all of us to be able to be with the ones we love. To be near them, to recognize their smell, to hear their voice, and to hold their hands in ours. To lean our head on their chest, feel their heartbeat, and hear their breath. To both be alive and together and held in one another’s arms. To hear their stories, to roll our eyes at their jokes, to get frustrated with them, to argue with them, to learn from them, to hear their advice, to ask their opinion. To share good news with them. To share bad news with them. To learn something new about them, and to grow with them and watch them grow. Just to have them alive and in our lives at all.
It’s a blessing and privilege to grow old. To have had enough birthdays and days in this world to have reached the age of wrinkles, aches and pains, and pill boxes. To have moved past our “prime” (whatever that means) and still have the privilege of sharing life with those we love; to get to watch them grow and be a part of their lives, while still having time to grow ourselves and share our lives with them.
It’s a blessing to be part of something bigger than ourselves. To have the energy, resources, and connections with people to contribute to making life better in big or little ways, for one individual or for many, both now and for the future.
It’s a blessing to be able to enjoy nature and be reminded of our smallness in its presence. To glimpse the reflection of what this world was intended to be, and the perfection and wholeness of what we are headed towards in eternity. To have the physical wellness to go outside, and to live in a world where there are still areas of nature whose God-crafted beauty remains untouched.
It’s a blessing to care for those that we love. To be able to be near those we love, and to have the resources that allow us to spend time with them. Any time we need to offer care it’s a reminder that God has made us part of a network of safety, of caring, of love, and support – one that we have surely already benefitted from far more than we can ever know. In other words, when we offer care it’s a reminder that we are blessed with having people who love us and would do the same for us. It’s also tangible evidence of God’s practical love, the working of His hands and feet in our lives through the people He places in our way.
To be honest, I’m not sure I have any grand or deep realization to end with, or resolution to make all the pain of the brokenness around us make sense and disappear. I’m not actually sure we’re meant to make the sadness disappear, and am very sure that we’re not meant to ignore it or not feel the weight of it. Jesus Himself was documented weeping multiple times over the brokenness of the world, and sometimes I think that the more we have our hearts opened to the longing for heaven, for Christ, and for wholeness, the more devastated we will be when facing brokenness, death, and all that heaven is not.
I guess all I’m saying, and all I hoped to show myself in completing this exercise, is that perhaps the darkness really isn’t as overpowering as it sometimes seems to be, or maybe as ferocious. However dark and weighty the evil and brokenness and injustice of our world may seem, those ugly exceptions are just that – exceptions. Exceptions in a life overwhelmingly ruled by a Goodness that saturates every breath.