I have become like broken pottery. Psalm 31:12 (NIV)
Nothing prepared me for the intensely cold winters of New England when I moved here from London. I had been accustomed to the climate of an English city where temperatures rarely dipped below freezing during December and January. Still, I thought I had suitable footwear for a cold season. However, the smooth bottoms of my boots turned sidewalks into skating rinks. The thin leather soles transformed my warm toes into blocks of ice within minutes. These were new experiences. I also learned about the harshness of the weather in other ways.
I had placed my collection of beautiful terracotta flowers pots, which had adorned our little English garden with geraniums, petunias and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens), on the patio of our apartment during our first New England winter. In London, the odd overnight frost only chipped off small flakes of brownish-red pottery.
However, in Massachusetts, my pots cracked from rim to base, spilling dirt and plants onto the concrete. All I could do was mourn the destruction, sweep up the pieces, and throw them in the trash.
I hesitate to write about this during the month of July, because those of us living in the North East would rather forget for a few months about the past grueling winter. After all, it is summer—which beckons us to relax, enjoy the warmth, forget our stresses and be carefree.
However, regardless of the time of year, sometimes our lives can fall apart, just like my pots.
When your world is in fragments, it can seem there is no hope of the pieces being put back together. For some of us, it may be a particular circumstance that has shattered our lives. For others, life may have been broken for as long as we can remember. We don’t know who to turn to, or where to turn next. Even God seems distant. Maybe you are familiar with this feeling of despair.
Yet, there are two things we can learn from Psalm 31 and put into practice when we hit rock bottom.
First, we need to recognize it’s normal to feel abandoned, even by God, in the midst of trouble. We are not alone when we think God no longer cares. The Psalmist experienced just this fear: In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” We question whether God loves us. We wonder why he allows bad things to happen. We may even think we’re being punished.
Second, in the midst of our despair, we must remind ourselves of God’s goodness. This is what the Psalmist does. He weaves the promises of God’s faithfulness throughout the agony he is experiencing. Likewise, we need to keep God’s promises close to hand to give us hope. We can do this by reading, remembering and reciting God’s truths. To make it easy for us, this Psalm is full of them. It reminds us: God’s love for us is constant (v16). Our heavenly Father hears our cries for help (v22). He still showers us with goodness (v19). God gives us shelter (v20). He protects and guides us (v3).
Be strong and take heart, says the Psalm. A broken terracotta pot may be beyond repair, but God promises to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.