by Ashley Hales
Our neighbor Dan sat on our black couch. My husband and I were in the wingback chairs across from him, drinks in hand, our heads bent in sorrow. On this winter night we were lamenting how his wife was leaving him. We were broken right open. Our conversation changed to prayer — in pain, there were no words except pleas and groaning. It was the ache of our heart and our privilege to pray.
We had words with God. We asked for repentance, restitution, reconciliation. But none of it came. We stood in the gap for Dan and his wife that night, and yet now years on, that precise pain has severed the line of our friendship. They’ve moved on — from each other (they’re divorced), from Christian community, and both from their relationships with us as friends and church members. It hurts. We stood in the gap. We opened our home and our hearts and tried to create belonging in our neighborhood, but it didn’t take. Our relationship cracked, and it’s been a while since Dan sat on our black couch.
The delicate art of being the church in a place as comfortable as the suburbs means that creating real community — not the faux wave-at-your-neighbor kind — but the kind where you dig into the cracks of loss, addiction, isolation, and loneliness with the gospel, means you’ll stick out. And you may be left alone. Perhaps this is the price of community.
And yet even though it can be hard and heartbreaking, building community is central to our call as believers. In a world where the allure of bigger, better, stronger, and faster that can characterize suburban living, we stake our hope on the goodness of Jesus. In a crooked and dark world, we are to be both salt and light: to bring flavor, preservation, goodness, and beauty to our neighbors (Matthew 5:13-16).
The story of the suburbs tells us to clean up, keep up, and live it up; and yet when life shows its deep cracks and real vulnerability is offered, we get to offer a better story: God’s story of bringing beauty through brokenness.
Kintsugi is a centuries-old Japanese art where broken pottery is pieced back together not with a clear epoxy, but with lacquer mixed with gold. Its veins of gold snake around the piece, each one unique. The cracks aren’t hidden, they’re emphasized. Something that once was broken and unusable becomes a work of art — not because of its perfection, but because of its transformation. We’re invited into a new way of seeing.
Brokenness doesn’t mean the pottery is no longer worthwhile; it’s in the brokenness that it can be rebuilt into something beautiful. God does similar things with the shards of pain in our communities, but often we shy away. We’d rather be intact and useful than a work of broken yet beautiful art.
But when we’re broken open — whether it’s through sin, suffering, or even a hard day — that’s when what was just ordinary can be turned into a one-of-a-kind work of art. And it happens through pain. The challenge for us is to be willing to sit with others in their pain and brokenness, and show our own cracks in need of God’s restoration. Trusting that God’s bigger story in our pain is likely not going to tie up all the loose ends in a neat bow, but perhaps look more like Kintsugi means we’ll be different kinds of neighbors. It means we’ll stay present despite the pain, and choose to be with others even when we’d rather go on a Target run to slake our thirst for newness. We choose to show up to church, to invite people into a bigger community than one they can buy. We leave all the loose ends and all the cracks with Jesus and know that somehow, someday, and in his time, he’ll patch us up with gold.
Suburbia needs real community that points them not to the biggest house or latest pay raise as markers of belonging, but to a community where it’s safe to be broken because there is hope in the healing veins of Jesus.
We miss Dan and his wife. We’ve been broken open both in interceding with and for them and in bearing their loss. We are the jagged shards of our once-confident selves. Yet -- we hold on to the anchor that Jesus is sweeter than our own vulnerability and pain. Like Peter who told Jesus he had nowhere else to go (John 6:68), we trust that God patches our stories together. Though we see and experience the broken pieces, we’ll find one day that we’ve been swimming in streams of gold.
Ashley Hales is the author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much. A mom to four, wife to a church planter, PhD, author, and speaker, Ashley also hosts the Finding Holy Podcast. Follow along on Instagram and Twitter @aahales and snag your free simple start-up guide to loving your neighborhood this holiday season here.