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  • Writer's pictureMark McMinn

Rupture and Repair

There's nothing in my John Deere lawn tractor manual describing how it can be used to rip siding off a hen house, but I found out a couple weeks ago that it works really well for this.

This is how I described the incident on Facebook:

You know that thing where you're moving a little too fast because there's a lot to do, and then you catch the hitch on your lawn tractor to the deer fence, which is hooked to the trim piece on the hen house, which is caulked very tightly to the siding, and then the siding rips off as you think you're mowing? That thing. It happens to a lot of us, right?

I received some fun comments. Thanks, friends.

Time has passed and now the hen house is all repaired. Those old scraps of siding stored in the rafters came in handy, as did an aging Hardie Plank blade for my circular saw and some metal flashing left over from a landscaping project I helped my daughter with in the early months of Covid. The hen house is now as good as before. Well, almost as good. In some ways it isn't quite, and in some ways it may be even better, but I'll spare you the details.

As I work outside on this little farm of ours, I have lots of time to think. Maybe too much. This hen house incident has me thinking about the concept known in my field of psychology as "rupture and repair."

Rupture. All relationships get stressed and show damage at times. A parent fails to pay attention when a child is asking an important question. A partner says something mean to the other. A therapist keeps a client waiting for 15 minutes in the waiting room. A friend feels betrayed by words spoken. So many things go wrong in life, and the ones that are most salient have to do with relationships rather than homes for foul.

What comes next is critical. Some ruptured relationship devolve into bitterness, distance, and atrophy while others recover and may even become stronger as a result. Many psychologists see rupture and repair as the normal rhythm of life, essential for every relationship to endure and thrive. Breathe in, breathe out. Rupture again? Yes, let's repair.

Repair. Things break, and then what do we do? Sometimes they're so broken we just need to tear them down. That happens, and sometimes it must. Other times, we back up a step, take a big, long look, and remember what is possible. We see beautiful potential even in the most difficult times. Then we get to work.

How do ruptured things get repaired?

One thing is doing the work. My hen house didn't get better on its own. I'll not nail that down further--the metaphor is pretty clear.

A second thing is grace. I can't really think of a better word to describe the way broken things heal in our world. It's a mystery bigger than any psychological formula I might try to offer. There's this pit of despair and panic in our gut when we realize what we've done to hurt a person or a relationship or a chicken coop, but then with time we settle into the reality of what has happened and catch a vision for some way to make it better--listening well to the other, offering an apology, leaning into humility, asking for and granting forgiveness, practicing empathy, learning to walk in the other's shoes.

We say that time heals all wounds, but I wonder if it's more about grace than time. And it's not really all wounds, is it? Some never get healed, but many do. And whenever that happens, we ought to stop and notice and recognize some force of utter goodness--whether we call it divine or not--that swirls around us, enveloping us in the possibility of grace.

Part of grace puzzles me, though. To cite Dr. Seuss writing about the the Grinch, my "puzzler gets sore" whenever I try to limit grace to the good outcomes in life. Some relationships never get repaired. Sometimes the hen house can only be razed to the ground. There is grace in devastation, too, though sometimes it takes years to see it. And it seems odd to even write such a thing because any defense or explanation I might offer seems thin to those in the midst of great suffering. Still, I have this persistent sense that grace is everywhere, all around.

I was chatting with Lisa, my dear spouse of 42 years, about rupture-and-repair and she reminded me that psychologists didn't really invent the notion of rupture and repair because it is a theological notion that goes back thousands of years. The Cliff Notes version of Christianity goes like this: God created a beautiful world, it was ruptured by evil, but God never gives up on us, always inviting us back into loving relationship. Rupture and repair. And so much grace.


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