“Don’t touch that!”
Startled, I drew back from the assembly line and looked at my colleague, who was giving me a tour of our factory. Various metal parts lay on the conveyor belt before me; fascinated, I’d stretched out a hand to examine a particular unit more closely.
“What happened there?” I asked, pointing timidly to an uneven section.
“That area was welded. It’s the strongest part of the piece,” my coworker added, seeing my skepticism.
To me, the section looked defective — but then again, I knew nothing about welding, that fiery process of fusing metals. Later, as I did some research, I found that my colleague was right — somewhat.
Several factors determine whether the bond between two pieces of metal will hold — the composition of the metals, the particular technique, and of course, the skill of the welder. Often the welded portion is actually the soundest segment.
Yet a welded joint can fail due to impurities in the metal, incorrect processing temperatures, corrosion, or poor design. And if a weld breaks, the consequences can be catastrophic — a bridge deck collapses, a car axle snaps.
Most of us aren’t called to don a welder’s mask and grasp a blowtorch, but we can learn from those who do, especially when we need to repair the fractured areas of our lives.
“Many are strong at the broken places,” Hemingway once wrote. And many of us are. Suffering has toughened us at our vulnerable points. Two inspirational books published under the same title – “Strong at the Broken Places” — recount the experiences of those who have triumphed over tragedy. (Max Cleland, Longstreet Press, 2000; and Richard M. Cohen, Harper Collins, 2009.)
But how we become strong in those areas will determine if our healing is structurally sound. When we’ve been betrayed or rejected, it’s easy to withdraw from those who’ve hurt us, and to patch the cracks of our heart with bitterness.
In hardship, we can refuse to hope, stoically resigning ourselves to our circumstances so we won’t be further disappointed. Devastated by sickness or loss, we can rely on our clenched fists and gritted teeth to see us through. When they don’t, we distract ourselves with possessions, accomplishments, addictions.
Eventually, though, another hurt tests the “self-welded” areas of our lives. And that’s when we realize that our workmanship isn’t up to the task.
Before they touch flame to metal, professional welders consult something called a welding procedure specification, which details the steps and materials needed to complete the job. Everything from surface preparation to temperature and technique is precisely noted, so that the welder doesn’t have to guess at how to create the correct weld.
When we’re trying to repair our broken places without God, we’re following our own procedure specification, which tends to be incomplete or flat-out wrong. We apply past experience and worldly wisdom to a problem that’s bigger than both, and a pain that can’t be healed by either.
As a master craftsman, God has fashioned the perfect plan to restore us, one so detailed that it accounts for “the very hairs of our head” (Mt 10:30, Lk 12:7). Our weakness is no surprise to him, “for he knows how we are made; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:14). And he is determined to mend all that is damaged in our lives, for “he heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps 147:3).
Although precise, God’s plan can be painful at times. Welding requires very high temperatures in order to soften and bond metals. Impurities must be removed and corrosion prevented. When the Lord begins to heal us, we may feel worse before we experience the fullness of his restoration.
Yet if we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of our maker — if we surrender to his plan and his hand — we will indeed be strong at the broken places.
Gina Christian is a writer in Philadelphia and a member of St. William Parish.