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.