The courtroom in the Chaffee County Courthouse boasted dark stained wood benches which no longer held the polished promise of justice but rather the scratches, smudges, and stains of the thousands of broken lives that had parked on them. Their stories were stuffed in the files on the edge of the judge’s desk and written on the tired faces of the courtroom staff. I was early apparently, leaving too much time to muse about why I was there. To support him. Help him. Save him? But how does one do that? Life’s a gallery of pain how do you love those shattered, including yourself, by its trauma?
I prayed. Don’t know what I prayed, though. I didn’t know what to pray. Should I pray for freedom? Compassion? Or would jail time help? Consequences?
The Gallery of Pain
The gallery filled slowly. My prejudice must have been showing because everyone sat across the aisle clumped in a corner away from me, like they all knew one another and had done this before. One man, crumpled, tired, and hung-over, pestered the public defender, saying his positive alcohol test was due to cough syrup. He later admitted to the judge it was tequila cough syrup. His sadness washed over me like a wake behind a boat as they led him down the aisle and off to jail. How do we help those who can’t or won’t help themselves?
A guard followed a string of men, my reason for being there among them. They were dressed in chains and orange or black and white striped jump suits. Not GQ. They shuffled, chains jangling around their ankles, holding their cuffed hands palms up, belt buckle high as if pleading for a second, third, fourth or fifth chance. My reason for being there glanced over his shoulder at me and tried to smile. His eyes said, get me out of here. Help!
I flashed an impotent smile back.
We Shared Love and Guilt and Pain
Two years younger than me, he once was a bullet fast halfback in Pop Warner football. Better than me at most things I thought mattered back then. Smart, funny, mechanically deft like our late father, handsome he was. That was twenty-five years ago. Before he slowly but surely poisoned himself with alcohol, cocaine, pot, and any other substance that would kill whatever pain, joy, hurt, or love he didn’t want to feel. I once partnered with him in this life-killing lifestyle. I may have even started him out. Lord, have mercy. We shared a childhood bedroom. Now all we shared was blood, guilt, and the pain of his brokenness that no drug could anesthetize.
The judge sentenced him to a year. I hung my head. I prayed again. Anger, hurt, confusion, and helplessness swirled inside me. I only imagined what swirled inside him. I looked around at the abusers, the abused, and the bystanders together. A gallery of pain. No one can convince me that drug and alcohol abuse are not demonic destroyers of life.
Oddly I remembered a story by Gary Thomas, from his book “Sacred Marriage.” Thomas related how he and his family had visited the National Gallery of Art. One of his children had reached out to touch one of the priceless pictures. His wife whispered sharply, “This is a Rembrandt. You can’t touch these.”
The lesson for Thomas was that his wife too was a work of art—a Rembrandt, so too speak, to be treated with holiness, respect, dignity, love and all that we offer other great works of art. This was a new way to love my brother and myself.
I realized these too, these gathered in a local gallery of brokenness, were God’s works of art—more priceless than any Rembrandt. Once they were painstakingly created under God-sized dreams, hopes ,and designs. But something toxic had touched them, often, ironically from within themselves. So, here they stood, unrestored masterpieces. But I knew, in that instant, they were still passionately loved by the Artist who created them. And me too, even though the marring on my canvas was not as obvious. Finally, I knew what to pray, God, restore him; let us all see the art you wrought in us, lest it be obliterated.
How Can You Help The Shattered Including Yourself?
How would that gallery have changed had each of these works of art been treated as such, even by themselves, more often or even once in life? God knows. But it’s not too late.
Look in the mirror. Scan around the living room or diner table. Glance at the driver in the car next to you. Survey the picture of your political enemy. Each are portraits of the living God in their own gallery of pain. How do we help those who need help? Recognize that even in brokenness we are all works of art.
Here are some other posts that may help: Sunday Psalm: The Imago Dei in Human Face & Finding God Beyond the Selfie: A Prayer for Seeing God in Others & Finding Your True Worth and Identity in a Word.
Some more thoughts that will help with transformation. One Word That Will Spiritually Transform Your Life
P.S. This took place in 2005. The year in jail for my brother was changed to a year in treatment with Salvation Army. He hated it but was clean and sober for two years after. Unfortunately he slipped slowly back into his addictions, only worse. He added Oxycontin to his pain killers. He passed on Thanksgiving Day in 2015. I mis him like I would miss an arm. But he is now at peace with Jesus who walked with him even in his struggles.
11 thoughts on “In an Art Gallery of Pain: Loving the Shattered, Including Yourself”
What a beautiful letter of love!
Thank you, Elna.
my computer’s still “very cranky”, and I need to do some other necessary things, so I’ll have to be brief, for now,…
Romans 8 comes to mind, in that “all Creation” appears to share in our suffering and need of redemption,… our “natural”/physical lives have all been damaged by the Fall,… we struggle to see clearly, and to understand,… but something ungodly is at work in our midst, continually throwing us “bad pitches”,… no, it’s not personal,… it’s just the way things are,…
our hearts can go out in compassion, but we can’t “fix” everything,… it is ” the truth that will set us free”,… God’s Truth, penetrating our understanding and these fallen, broken conditions,…
in our public “conversations”, I hear so many lies and distortions coming out “as if true”, that it is mind-boggling,… yes, I feel sorry for people who believe that “lies are true” (even if they claim it as being “their truth”),… but all Creation is groaning for the deliverance of the triumph of truth,… we can do our best to help – care, speak and pray,… but only God can complete this work,… and He wants our Love, Hope and Trust (Faith),… and Patience, rather than self-blaming, while we all go through this process together,…
I hope your computer is doing better. Yes, I love that reminder from Romans 8 about all creation groaning in anticipation of redemption.
I hope you got the first comment,… I know that in my “regular” life experiences, growing up in America, it took me a long time to really question the “status quo” of many things that were being generally “accepted” by the society, education, msm, entertainment, etc,… because, “you know, we’re all different”, etc etc,… it almost felt wrong to question and judge things,… but I did know there were things that made me uncomfortable, and that I didn’t want to be involved in,…
“meeting God” and His Word cleared a lot of that up,… so the societal confusions and contradictions became “background noise” for this challenge/adventure of learning to value and discern “truth”,…
lies are nothing like Truth, no matter how “good” they might sound to those who entertain them,… the Truth that God provides is something that strengthens us, teaches us and that we can stand on,… lies, on the other hand, are seductive and will weaken and mislead us,… even destroy us,…
we can love, care about others, help and pray for them,… and ultimately, we have to trust God for them,… I have had some “blessed experiences” that have shown me improvements in the “spiritual conditions” of people who have passed from this life under less than happy circumstances, which have made me willing to consider the Catholic teaching about having a chance to improve ourselves even after death in some cases,… I do not say that I know exactly how these things occur, but I think it is a part of our “sovereign God’s” Mercy and Love for us, understanding that the confusions of this “brokenness” in life are not easy for many people to deal with well,… for my part, I am just grateful and trust in God’s Love as being His Will,… and “where there’s a will, there’s a way”, (they say!),… who can answer how big Faith can be, and what it can do?,… God is Sovereign and His Love is Big,… He won’t fool around or trick us, and He will do what’s right,… I see no reason to proceed in “doubt and fear” when His Love warms our hearts,… neither do I feel that we should take Him for granted,… all I can say is “Thank You, Lord God, forever and ever,… truly You are Good!”,… Amen,… (-:
I appreciate that reminder to trust God with them. God, make it so.
Dear Eugene,… so sorry to hear about your brother’s passing,… I’ve been having terrible problems with my computer, but it’s ok at the moment,… I did try to respond, using my cellphone for a couple of comment attempts, but I’m not even sure if they went through, so I’m sorry if they missed you,… I didn’t know a way to “copy” them, so I can’t really reproduce them, either,… I’m busy at this time, and will see about writing more in a few days,…
Thank you. He passed in 2015 but God seems to be bringing it up as a healing movement. Also, I received your other comments but I was off on a fishing trip in the mountains. I’m back up to speed.
I tend to think that we’re all kind of expected to have to “wrestle with evil” along our earthly journey to salvation and “knowing God”,… just how productive we will manage to be during a “lifetime” of these efforts and focus, is obviously something of great variability from person to person, and situation to situation,… surely, God desires growth, both now and in the future, which will include “afterlife circumstances”,… surely, “damnation” sounds pretty much final and irredeemable, obviously something to avoid,… but I tend to think that there is a continuing “developmental zone” that our “naturally occurring” love and care for others has a legitimate place being involved in,… can I ever leave my gratitude toward another person, who has “passed on”, behind?,… I expect that we will be seeing marvels of ongoing deliverance for those who have been innocently victimized and/or misled in this life, above and beyond what we’re accustomed to thinking about ~ like “from glory to glory”!,… God is so Good!,…
your fishing trip sounds nice!,… (-:
another thought comes to me about “being concerned about / praying about” those who have “passed on” before us,… it is really quite “natural” to be “heart-connected” to our family and loved ones, and even as they pass into the beyond,… we talk about feelings of “grief”, “loss”, and “missing them”,… I “discovered” later that my own “grief and mourning” experiences (which followed a certain identifiable pattern after the very early and tragic loss of my father), actually had corresponded very well with things that the Catholic Church teaches (even though I had no prior knowledge of such, and my family did not discuss these things, either),…
we are perhaps more familiar with (or “focused on”) thinking about “our own side” of the grief dynamic, our own suffering of “loss” and “missing them”, and “how to cope”,… some may feel “guilt” or “personal insecurity” about being “worthy”, and etc, but also with the feeling that “nothing much can be done about it now”, permanent loss, end of relationship opportunity, etc,… but I disagree,…
as a female, I couldn’t disavow what my own emotional experiences were communicating to me,… and sometimes my emotions seemed to be touching on the emotional condition(s) of those who had passed on,… but “passed on” to what?,… it’s not that I had “answers”, but I remained emotionally connected and concerned, as my own earthly life kept on going,… eventually, I did participate directly in the Catholic Church, and learned more about their perspective,… (btw, my father was from a Catholic family, which my mother shied away from),…
certainly, it is desirable and “right” for humans to “get their act together” with God and His Will during the “Gift of our Lifetime” here on earth,… and hopefully, that is the best and easiest way, for “personal salvation”,… but we also know that that doesn’t always happen simply 1, 2, 3,… if “rescue, healing and salvation” are still possible for the “seemingly somewhat lost(?), or blinded” soul, God is able to provide a pathway for that, and it may include our “love and prayers” that linger and continue,…
in my own experience, there was an “oblivious period” (probably because I was very young), then a very deep and long-lasting grief period later, that gave way to a beautiful and refreshing (and surprising) sense of complete “release”,… actually there was a precious moment of reaffirmed connection between my father and myself, and from that moment on, I never ever suffered about it again,… and all this happened way before I had ever even heard of something like “purgatory”,… (so when people tried to convince me later that there was “no such thing as purgatory”, I would just tell them that they “were too late”, I’d already seen it in action,… by the way, from the time of my father’s (suicide) death until the release “into glory”, it took 21 years,… and I think he and I suffered much of it together,… but, I can say, it was COMPLETELY worth it,… God is SO Good,… I’ve had similar things going on following other deaths,… I accept the “love, loss and emotional suffering” and combine it with prayers of ongoing faith and healing, etc,… perhaps I sense release (and/or improvements) over time,… recently, I’ve noticed a situation that is now showing “more light and release” after about 16 years of continued, but accepted, “grief and mourning”,… yes, as the evangelists tell us (and I listened!), NOW is the Day of Salvation,… and yes, that is the easiest route, if we do listen,… but many don’t, or are blocked for some reason,… God is so Good that instantaneous damnation is not necessarily inevitable (people have to be really really committed to “badness” to earn that shared result with the devil and his demons), and His (God’s) Mercy, which endures Forever, has provided for us genuine “ways of escape”,… yes, these ways of escape may involve isolation, suffering, humility, penance, sorrow, etc, but, (believe me!), the escape is so worth it!,…
I’m sure there are many further “helpful lessons” about what “suffering and sorrow” can teach us, as humans (especially about “pride and ego”), and it’s definitely not the “mainstream American way”, and it’s not something that I routinely delve into (consciously),… and this might be the first time I have approached writing about the suffering/purgatory topic at length,… I do talk about it conversationally, however,… one thing that I omitted here, was a vivid description of that “moment of glory” of being reunited with my father, after the 21 years of perpetual anguish, ~ how he was young, radiant, beautiful, surrounded by gold, and I was also 6 years old again, walking into his waiting arms, for a silent embrace which completely eradicated the pain and memory of the loss and those 21 years,… what are “earthly years” compared to the Glory of God’s Truth, Love and Eternal Kingdom?,…
so, there it is,… “the story”,… and it hasn’t changed a bit in 50 years!,… (-:
I guess I’m “on a roll” with this topic,… I forgot to mention this thought that came to me, while telling the above story ~ and it is repeated twice in Revelation:
Revelation 7:17 “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 21:4 “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
also ~ 1 Corinthians 15:54,55
54 “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
it is a blessing to have even had a small taste of these things,… God wishes for “the eyes of our Faith” to be enlightened by the growth of our understanding of Him, and His Ways,… (-: