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Damaged goods

Even the most grievously harmed people are not irreparable

Damaged goods

(Krieg Barrie)

A woman my age whom I have known for years doesn’t drive a car and relies on rides from people everywhere she goes. I learned only recently that her brother died at age 19 in an automobile accident.

The first time I heard the phrase “damaged goods” applied to a person was in the film Mystic River. Three boys playing hockey on a Boston street have their lives changed when a car of pedophiles posing as policemen abducts one of them and works him over for days before he manages to escape. The phrase is uttered between two gawking neighbors as they watch young Dave Boyle being delivered back to his parents’ home after the ordeal.

It chills to the bone because “damaged goods” are not supposed to be people but inanimate objects in cardboard crates that arrive broken in transport and are good for nothing but tossing in the landfill. To say it of a human being is not only to say that he is harmed but that he is irreparable.

What do you do if you are with a person who shows up at your house one day, sits across the kitchen table from you for a whole afternoon nursing a cup of tea without saying anything; who doesn’t smile, doesn’t care about awkward silences, and lets you know when you try striking up a conversation that he doesn’t do small talk?

We work these out in fear and trembling. Surfeit of compassion is enabling; surfeit of rebuke crushes the spirit.

What do you do with a woman you spend a week with who was damaged by her mother, who happens to be your own mother, and who is now bequeathing her own damage, like some toxic hand-me-down, to the next generation?

What do you do with an elderly man who has been whacked like a whack-a-mole by life and has no zest for life though he must live until the Lord returns?

And why is it that others who have undergone like things do not seem damaged but survive and even thrive?

Compassion or rebuke? Of compassion we know of our Lord that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Matthew 12:20). Of rebuke we know He said to Peter on the lake, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25). We work these out in fear and trembling. Surfeit of compassion is enabling; surfeit of rebuke crushes the spirit.

A woman I know who works in the mental illness wing of a hospital and believes the whole nine yards of congenital-chemical explanations for psychosis, and steadfastly rejects the notion of guilt, yet related to me this interesting anecdote: When a patient one day suddenly threatened her with physical violence, she dropped her cloying professional manner and looked him in the eye and said, “Pal, if you lay a hand on me you’re in big trouble.” The patient desisted. They had communicated, finally.

You can get through. One must believe the man is still inside and can be still appealed to. Who was more damaged, il faut supposer, than the demoniac whose personality was so fractured that when Jesus asked his name he said, “My name is Legion” (Mark 5:9)? The Lord was not put off. The case was not too hard. Demonic damage is the very thing that He came to undo (1 John 3:8).

Of the so-called deep, dark mysteries of the human personality the Bible says, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

This is both good and bad. Bad if you think you can hide behind your damaged past to act out all your boorishness. Good if you desire with your whole heart to be known at this deep depth by Someone who can sort it out and clean it up and make you reign in life.

The woman who gets rides to ministries for which she volunteers and serves the saints with joy and cheer? Weep not for her. What things now work together for good for those who love God? All things (Romans 8:28). Are we then survivors of damage? Nay, that’s too small. In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).


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  • JD
    Posted: Fri, 10/27/2017 11:13 pm

    Andree- love this! Thank you! I have a sign that says, "When something bad happens you can let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strenthen you."

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sun, 11/05/2017 07:20 pm

    So true! But God gives grace in difficult circumstances!

  • CovenantWord
    Posted: Sun, 11/05/2017 09:00 pm

    Andrée Seu Peterson is my favorite columnist. Like an eminently sensible great aunt, she is an island of sanity in an increasingly wrongheaded world. I wonder, though, in this case, whether a note of context might edify. I work in the special education department of a public high school, which continually preaches that no child is beyond reach. I sometimes wonder, though, what the limits are for good stewardship of limited resources, preeminently personal time and energy and government monies, in the attempt to redeem a few adamantly truculent students. Jesus healed the demoniac, to be sure, but He also condemned the Pharisees as sons of the devil (John 8:44), and Paul warns against those who conscience is seared (1 Tim. 4:2). Recognizing the need to guard against such people has helped me deploy my efforts more effectively toward those who exhibit signs of benefitting from my attention.

  • nevertheless
    Posted: Mon, 11/20/2017 09:00 am

    Failing to recognize the broken state of our condition becomes a tacit disability, denial of the effects of sin. Thank you Andree.