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Broken Pieces

Broken Pieces

Westina Matthews Shatteen ’70 January 19, 2021

“If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” the old folks used to say.

“Never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you.” That’s another good one.

There’s a lot that is broken in our world today. Pandemic, economic crisis, kids heading back to school, protests, federal troops in cities. It all does seem so ... well, so broken.

Our emotional health is being affected with the fear and worry about one’s own health and the health of loved ones, financial situation or job, or loss of support services. A recent CDC survey found that one in three Americans are reporting symptoms of depression or anxiety, more than three times the rate from a survey conducted in the first half of 2019. My friends are quietly sharing how they are having difficulty exercising and concentrating, with a disruption of their sleep and eating patterns.

In Acts 27, we learn of Paul who is on a voyage to Rome to be tried because he would not shut up about the Gospel of the Lord. Paul was a prisoner in the care of a centurion by the name of Julius. Paul warned the centurion not to set sail yet. 

Think of it — a prisoner suggesting to the head guard and captain of the ship that they not begin the voyage if they wanted to arrive there safely. But they set sail anyway, and — as Paul predicted — the trip became treacherous. The crew began to lighten the ship, throwing things overboard. It got so bad that the crew was about to abandon the ship.

But because Paul had heard from an angel, he told everyone to “be of good cheer, for there shall be no loss of man’s life among you, only of the ship.” But the condition was that they must all stay on the ship. Then the ship ran aground.

The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners — including Paul — so that the prisoners could not swim out and escape. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, commanded that those who could swim should go first into the sea and get to land. And the rest miraculously got safely to land, the Scripture says, some on boards, and some — as the King James version phrases it — on the ship’s “broken pieces.”

Broken pieces of the ship took them to land. They were saved by staying on the ship — not by abandoning the ship but by holding on to its broken pieces.

I had almost forgotten that story about Paul until I heard in midsummer that every 80 seconds, an American was dying of COVID-19. It would seem that our ship has run aground, and we are all holding on to the broken pieces, praying fervently that we will arrive safely to shore. Waiting, wondering and worrying ... fighting hard not to fall into deep despair.

I do not know what you think is broken today. Is it a broken heart? Or a broken body? Or a broken job? Or a broken relationship? Or a broken promise? Or a broken spirit? 

But I do know this: You must find that which gives you hope and joy and to hold on for dear life! It is only if we can stay together: prisoners and crew; Christians, Jews and Muslims; rich and poor; elected leaders and constituents; law enforcement and civilian; men and women; old and young; abled and the disabled; gay and straight; white, black, brown, indigenous and people of color. Only if we stay together on the broken pieces of this broken world will we be able to safely get to shore. 

So, my dear friends, in your own brokenness, in each other’s brokenness, in our world’s brokenness — hold on! And when you’re tempted to question, to doubt, to fear, to judge or to abandon, hold on even if you feel as though you are being broken into pieces. Hold on to the broken pieces as we are swept safely to shore. 

And when this is all over, together we will begin to love the world back to wholeness again. 


Westina Matthews Shatteen is an author, a public speaker, retreat leader and professor. Her reflections have turned into a newly released book, Dancing from the Inside Out: Grace-Filled Reflections on Growing Older (Church Publishing, 2019). After living and writing in New York City for more than 30 years, she is now writing along the banks of the Wilmington River in Savannah, Georgia.

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