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The Beauty of Every Day: Chapter 19 - Caring for the Broken Things

By J.R. Miller

      It was after the feeding of the five thousand. There was much bread left over, and Jesus bade the disciples to "Gather up the broken fragments. Let nothing be wasted." John 6:12. The incident suggests our Lord's care for the fragments. Our lives are full of broken things. Indeed many people seem to leave nothing after them--but broken pieces. They begin many things--but finish nothing. Life is too short for us--to do more than begin things. It is said even of Jesus in his earthly life, that he only began to do and to teach.

      Think of the broken things in our lives--the broken threads of our dreams, the broken hopes that once were brilliant as they shone before us--but now he shattered about our feet; the broken plans we once made and expected to see fulfilled--but which have not been realized.

      Most older people can recall lost dreams, hopes, and plans, cherished in the earlier years of their lives--but which seem to have come to nothing. Some of the men with whitening hairs, supposed once they were going to be millionaires. But somehow the dream did not come true. Many of us think of our career as strewn with broken things like these, and say that we have made a failure of our lives. Perhaps so--and perhaps not. It all depends upon what we have made of our life--instead of what we once thought we would make of it; of what the broken things are--which lie about us; and what the shining splendor really was--which we have not attained.

      If we have been growing up to our full spiritual stature--instead of becoming millionaires, as we once dreamed we would--we have nothing to vex ourselves over.

      There is supposed to be a good deal of tragedy in the broken things of life--but there is a great deal more and sadder tragedy in very much of what the world calls success.

      Some people have lying about them, broken dreams of social success. Some tell of disappointments in other ways, in scholarship, in art, in music, in friendship, in love, in happiness, in intellectual development, in popularity. Whatever these shattered dreams may be, Christ bids us gather up the broken fragments. They are of priceless value--or the Son of God would not set his eye upon them and so earnestly call us to gather them all up.

      There is ofttimes far more value in the broken things of life, things men weep over, things they regard as only the wreckage of failure--than there is in the things they pride themselves upon as the shining token of their greatness. God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways are higher than our ways. When he touched your brilliant dream and it seemed to fall to nothing, he built something better for you instead. When your plan was shattered, he substituted his own far nobler plan in its place!

      It is said that when a cathedral was being built, that an apprentice gathered thousands of broken pieces of stained glass, chippings from the glass used by the artists in making the great windows, and with these made a window of his own, which was the finest in all the cathedral.

      Christ can take the broken things in our lives, our broken plans, hopes, joys, and dreams, and make perfect beauty, perfect truth, perfect love for us. You are discouraged by the losses you have had in business, the flying away on wings of the riches you were toiling for and trying to gather; but, as God sees, you have been piling away in your soul--riches of spiritual character while losing earthly possessions. You think of your sorrows and count your losses in them--but some day you will find that you are richer rather than poorer through them. What seems loss to you--is gain.

      "Let nothing be wasted." This word ought to encourage us in all our life, in our Christian work, and in our efforts to gather up the broken pieces that nothing be lost or wasted. We would say that when such a wonderful miracle had just been wrought, there was no need for pinching economy in saving the broken bits. Why should the disciples be required, each one of them, to carry a great basket of broken bread, to feed his hunger for days to come, when the Master could, by a word, make bread for him anywhere?

      For one thing, we know that God, with all his mighty power, never works the smallest unnecessary miracle. He will never do for you--what you can do for yourself.

      For another thing, the Master wanted to teach his disciples, and he wants to teach us, to be economical. Waste is sin. To have gone off that day, leaving those good pieces of broken bread lying on the ground, bread of miracle, too--would have been a sin. One of the stories told of Carlyle, is that one day when the old man was crossing a street he stopped half-way over, amid hurrying traffic, stooped down and picked up something lying there, brushed off the dust, then carried it to the curb-stone and laid it down gently as if it had been something of rare value. It was only a crust of bread--but he said in a voice of unusual tenderness, "My mother taught me never to waste a particle of bread, most precious of all things. This crust may feed a little sparrow or a hungry dog."

      But bread is not the only thing that men waste. Time is valuable--do we never waste time? Every hour is a pearl. Suppose you saw a man standing by the sea, with a string of pearls in his hands, and every now and then taking off one of them and flinging it into the waves. You would say he was insane. Yet how many hours of time, God's priceless hours, of your last week--did you throw away into the sea? Life itself is wasted by many people. Judas said Mary had wasted her ointment in pouring it on the Master. A little later, however, Jesus spoke of Judas as the "son of perdition," that is, son of waste. Judas wasted his life--he was made to be an apostle, and he died a traitor!

      Jesus was most solicitous for broken lives, always trying to save them. Nobody else ever had seen any preciousness in people's broken lives before. Nobody had cared for the poor, the blind, the lame, and the palsied, until he came. The lunatic was bound with chains and turned out to wander in the wilderness. The fallen were despised. Jesus was the first to care for these broken bits of humanity. He saw the gold of heaven gleaming in the debris of sin. he saw the possibilities of restored beauty and blessedness in the outcasts of society. "Gather up the broken fragments!" was his word to the disciples; "that nothing be wasted!" That is his word to the church today. There is not a wreck of humanity anywhere, along life's rocks and shoals, that it is not the will of Christ that we should try to gather up and save.

      Those who are laboring to gather up the broken pieces, should never be discouraged. Christ is with them wherever they go. They are his, these broken lives. No particle of matter ever perishes. Life is immortal and imperishable. No soul shall ever cease to be. Then no work for God is ever lost.

      The broken pieces of bread, were part of our Lord's miracle, and therefore were sacred. The broken things in our lives, if we are living faithfully, are of Christ's breaking. They are his way of giving us what we have longed and asked for, of letting us do the things we wanted to do. It will be well if we accept them as such. The disappointment we had--was Christ's appointment.

      One tells of a broken day, nothing done that in the morning was put into the schedule for the day--but countless interruptions instead--the coming of others with their needs, to be helped, until all the hours were gone. In the evening, the day was deplored and grieved over as a lost one--but the answer of comfort given, was that these interruptions were bits of the divine will coming into the human program. They seemed only broken bits--but they were the best of all the day's work. We may gather up these broken pieces in faith and love. Not one of them shall be lost.

      There are broken fragments, however, in our lives which are not part of God's plan for us--but failures to do our whole duty. At the end of a year there are in our records many broken things--broken pledges, broken promises, broken intentions, lying among the debris. Have there been tasks not even touched? Have there been duties of kindness left undone day after day? "Gather up the broken fragments." But can we? Can we make up for past failures? Yes, in a sense.

      Because you have been carrying a miserable grudge in your heart against a neighbor, treating him coldly, selfishly, unchristianly, for eleven months and eighteen days--is no reason why you should continue to keep the grudge in your heart, the unloving coldness in your treatment of him, the remaining thirteen days of the year. Because we have been haughty and proud and self-conceited, spoiling all the year thus far--must we spoil the little that yet remains of it? We cannot undo--but the people we have harmed and neglected will forget and forgive a very unkind and even cruel past--if we come now with genuine kindness and flood all the bitter memories with love while we may!

      It is a beautiful arrangement that Christmas comes in among the last days of the year. Its warmth melts the ice. Everybody gives presents at Christmas time. Robertson Nicoll, in a happy suggestion for Christmas, says that giving presents is not always the best way to help the joy. Most of us do not need presents, he says. But what will do our hearts far more good--is to write a batch of kind, affectionate, and encouraging letters. We can readily call to mind friends and acquaintances with whom life has passed roughly during the year. Let us write to them. Write to the friend far away, who is fighting a hard battle, and tell him what you think of his constancy. Write to the sick friend who imagines herself of no use in the world--and tell her that her life matters much to you.

      There is no way in which we can half so successfully gather up the broken fragments that we find strewed along the stories of our friendships, our associations with neighbors and business companions, as by doing a great deal of thoughtful letter-writing from time to time. Write to the person you think is not your friend, and does not like you. Do not say a word about your past difference or quarrel; just tell him that you have been thinking about him and want to wish him happiness. Write to the than who did you a marked unkindness during the year. Do not remind him of what he did, and do not tell him you have forgiven him. Just tell him that you wish him all the joys of the blessed days. Write to the discouraged person, to the one who is suffering, to the shut-in. To have a warm, sincere, encouraging, and cheerful letter on almost any morning--will mean more to thousands of people than any gift you could have sent them.

      "Gather up the broken fragments. Let nothing be wasted!" Do at the end of a year, as far as you can, the things you have been leaving undone through the year. Go and say in the right place--the kind words you have not spoken--but ought to have spoken. Do the duty that for a good while you have been neglecting to do. Gather up the broken things, whatever they may be, as far as you can possibly do it. Finish up the unfinished things. Do the things that have been left undone.

      Time is short, and when the end comes, no hustling or hurrying of ours will enable us to go back and do neglected things of past years.

      Watkinson suggests that if men could come back from heaven, and complete what they have left unfinished, it would be a strange lot of workers we would find among us. "There would be preachers coming back to preach their unspoken sermons, and what sermons they would be! Sunday-school teachers would come back to repair scamped lessons, and rich saints would come back to complete their giving, and what church collections we would have!"

      But, we are not going to come back, any of us, to finish up the work we have neglected along the way. "Night comes, when no man can work." Whatever we do for God and for man--we must do now, as we go along the way. What we get into this year's story--we must put in in the three hundred and sixty-five days which make up the year!

Back to J.R. Miller index.

See Also:
   Chapter 1 - While We May
   Chapter 2 - The Glory of the Common Life
   Chapter 3 - Seeds of Light
   Chapter 4 - He Calls Us Friends
   Chapter 5 - Not Counting God
   Chapter 6 - Perfection in Loving
   Chapter 7 - Shut Your Door
   Chapter 8 - Things That Hurt Life
   Chapter 9 - Getting Away from Our Past
   Chapter 10 - Thomas' Mistake
   Chapter 11 - Friends and Friendship
   Chapter 12 - The Yoke and the School
   Chapter 13 - The Weak Brother
   Chapter 14 - The Lure of the Ministry
   Chapter 15 - Narrow Lives
   Chapter 16 - The True Enlarging of Life
   Chapter 17 - Through the Year with God
   Chapter 18 - The Remembers
   Chapter 19 - Caring for the Broken Things


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