It was a dark night last winter when I was tossing and turning and woke from my fitful sleep at four in the morning. I had been discouraged the day before after months of isolation from the pandemic and going through divorce. It was one of those times when you have a hard time seeing hope– in spite of your best efforts to focus on the positive, to believe that things will get better. When I traced back to the seed of that despair, it took me to a conversation with a family member many years prior.
The subject had been a man whom we knew who was getting married. The woman I was speaking with was very curious about the particulars of how they met, details about the fiancee’s age and occupation etc. I told her what I knew as I would with anyone– providing a picture of the soon-to-be couple. The woman’s response surprised me when she learned that while this would be the man’s first marriage, the woman he was marrying had been divorced.
“Well,” she said, “he’ll be getting damaged goods.”
She elaborated on her view that the woman was very lucky that he was marrying her– since he was a “good catch” and hadn’t been married before.
I don’t think most people I knew would have responded that way; it seemed to have more to do with that woman’s narrow view than a commonly held belief. But still, to hear her pronouncement gave me pause and stuck in my memory over many years.
The day before my fitful night of sleep, a conversation with a friend who was mentoring me in online dating, had reminded me of the conversation years before about the couple getting married.
In my conversation with my online dating mentor, I complained that many of the men I’d ‘Liked’ or messaged on the dating sites either didn’t respond or were slow to respond.
“Well, you know, Connie,” she said, “a lot of the guys on these sites seem to be emotionally damaged. They’re unavailable emotionally. I don’t know why they’re on here because they don’t seem like they really want to form a new relationship.”
Lying awake and looking at the red numbers of my clock slowly changing to mark the quiet moving of time through the night, the four o’clock becoming five, I kept hearing snippets of those two conversations. The word damaged kept cycling through my head, and in those hours when objectivity is sound asleep, I felt the destructiveness of that word seeping down into my soul.
“I’m considered damaged goods,” I said to myself, pressing my face into the pillow, squeezing back my tears. “I didn’t ask for divorce, it wasn’t my idea. But even if by nothing else than association, I am a divorced woman and therefore damaged goods.”
That realization filled me with sadness, with despair that I’d been pushing back. I let the feelings come, trying to follow my therapist’s advice not to deny them but just allow them–and then deal with whatever came forth. I laid there covered by that blanket of heaviness, alone in my apartment on that cold winter night.
Eventually, the ‘still small voice’ that for me is God within me said, not in an audible voice but as a thought, “I’m not damaged but I am a broken vessel. All of us are broken in one way or another.” A broken vessel is a familiar term from my Christian faith. The Bible uses metaphors like that of ordinary earthen vessels, or “jars of clay” to refer to the weakness and fragility of humans. Those useful vessels hold strength when God fills them. Even if they crack, the Potter can repair and remake that jar into something useful and beautiful again.
I didn’t feel so alone when I thought of myself as broken rather than damaged. Whether it’s through the break up of a relationship, or some other thing that has impacted your life, we all share in being broken.
Years ago, when I worked as a nurse in an adolescent inpatient psychiatry unit, I met with many teens who were broken. Some of the ones who felt most deeply wounded were those who’d been sexually abused. I helped to form a therapy group for those patients. Along with my co-therapist who was our clinical psychologist, we met several times a week to help girls and guys share the terrible secrets that had led to serious problems. They felt so damaged by what had been done to them, forcefully against their wills, that they were hopeless, feeling their lives were destroyed. But as they came to see that it was not their fault, that no one should have ever done those things to them, they began to heal. They eventually came to understand that they had been broken by the experience, but they were not forever damaged; they were not damaged goods.
Now it’s summer, and a long time since that sleepless winter night. I’m not so discouraged, so overwhelmed as I was then. But I have felt that I needed to share that experience with you all because I feel that some of you may have been thinking of yourself as damaged goods. We all have had life experiences that could break us– but hopefully, we will see that broken clay jars can be mended, can be formed anew. In doing my online research for my jars of clay references, I came across a quote that I’ve never heard. It was made by the late Vance Havner, a well-known Christian revivalist who was gifted in being able to say a lot in a few words.
“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”
Vance Havner (1901-1986)
My hope for all of us is that we find grace in accepting the places that are broken in our lives, and that we experience healing and new life as we are remade into new and beautiful vessels.