Why Broken Lampshades Are the Best Gift This Holiday Season

Lampshades can emit tremendous beauty. Even broken ones. Maybe we’re all like broken lampshades, and maybe we don’t need to wait to be fixed in order to be beautiful…

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Photo Credit: swirlingthoughts (Creative Commons)

THE WAITING GAME

Every therapy office has a waiting room. Waiting rooms are an important part of the therapeutic experience—they contain those rare moments of peace and quiet before entering the psychotherapy room. Moments of decision, when we decide what parts of our story we will share with the person we have chosen to trust.

But I wonder if sometimes the waiting doesn’t end in the waiting room.

We enter into the therapy room and immediately begin a waiting of a different kind. Waiting to be fixed. Waiting to be cured. Waiting to be repaired. Waiting as passive recipients of a remedy—a word or an experience that will leave us finally feeling whole. We have put our lives on hold until we feel, finally, perfectly put together. We wait to truly begin our lives. We are waiting until we feel properly fit for purpose and meaning.

I think this happens in psychotherapy offices all the time.

But I wonder if we also wait like this in our hearts and homes and neighborhoods and nations and in our world.

Advent—the liturgical season leading up to Christmas—is meant to be a season of waiting, but I wonder if we’re all waiting for the wrong thing. I wonder if we are all waiting until we feel like we have it all together—afraid to really put ourselves out into the world while we still feel so cracked and broken.

MY BROKEN LAMPS

I have three lamps in my office. Each of them has a lampshade the color and texture of old parchment paper. They emit a warm, even glow and people who peak into my office on a dark winter afternoon will often remark on the sense of peacefulness evoked by the lamplight.

My lamps create beauty.

And they appear to be pristine themselves—perfect, whole, untarnished, classy. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: they’re all broken. The lampshade on my desk is marred by water stains, which are rendered invisible when the light is turned on. The lampshade on my side table has a gash across the back of it. And the shade on my newest lamp—the floor lamp—was torn in assembly before I even had a chance to turn it on.

My lampshades are stained and ripped and torn. My lamps are a mess.

And they are beautiful.

BROKEN AND BEAUTIFUL

We’re all ripped lampshades.

We’re all stained by life, ripped by experience, and torn by pain. But there is good news: we don’t need to wait to be beautiful. We don’t need to wait to be fixed or cured or somehow redeemed in order to be an inviting light in this world.

On U2’s most recent album, Bono sings: “You don’t know how beautiful you are. You don’t know, and you don’t get it, do ya? You don’t know how beautiful you are.”

Perhaps the best gift we can give ourselves this holiday season is to know that we are all broken lampshades. Broken people. Stained, ripped, torn and beautiful people. If we could cling to the grace of this, perhaps we would step out of the waiting rooms of our lives and step courageously into this world—into marriage and parenting and friendship and into quiet moments in which we keep only our own company.

Maybe we would discover that our rips and tears are like a prism, reflecting the light within us in unique and beautiful ways. Maybe in this discovery we would become a gift given to others, as well. Broken and beautiful givers of light, inviting others into the peaceful glow of the light we cast.

Let’s be ripped and torn together this season. And let’s know precisely how beautiful we are.

QUESTIONS: Is there something you’ve been waiting to begin. How could you step into that new part of your life now, before you are completely whole? Share your thoughts in the comments section.          

DEAR READER, As many of you already know, my new eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is now available free in PDF format. (It will soon be available in Kindle, Nook, and iBook formats but I wanted to honor the Season by delivering this gift to you now.) If you are not yet a subscriber, you can simply click here to subscribe. Your subscription confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook for free. If you are an existing e-mail subscriber, your e-mail of December 11 contains a link to download a free copy of The Marriage Manifesto! I have so much appreciated your outpouring of praise and support for the book in the last few days. You have given me the gift of your readership, and I’m glad to be able to give this gift back to you. Warmly, Kelly

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Chris Jefferies

    What a great thought, Kelly. We are still beautiful even in our brokenness. I especially like the thought that the stains are invisible once the light is turned on 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Chris, it’s a great observation. And I think it’s so true. Yet I opted not to elaborate on it, because I think we run the danger of shining our light IN ORDER to diminish our stains, and this can perpetuate the cycle of shame, rather than healing it. It’s when we no longer want/need to hide them, ironically, that the stains truly begin to disappear amidst the light. Thanks for reading, Chris!

  • Catharine Phillips

    Continuing to begin… again. And again. And again. If I waited to be declared whole… or sought to cancel the past, I*d never get never get to the starting line. I like that all three of your lampshades are broken in one way or another… even the new one. Beautiful metaphor. Thank you.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Catharine, when I heard the new one rip, my first thought was, “You’re kidding me.” Followed quickly by, “This is just right.” 🙂

  • Jill

    I’m waiting to feel happy. I don’t know what that means or even if it is something that I am capable of attaining. But it’s what I waiting for, so there it is.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jill, I’m sorry to hear about the place you find yourself in. I think many of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves waiting like that. I hope this post, if nothing else, is encouragement to seek any help from which you might benefit.

  • Brian Teachman

    I needed to hear this. Surprisingly, for me anyways, this insight is not as obvious as it seems. Thank you for having a voice I can hear outside your office!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Hey Brian, my pleasure, truly! It seems like it should be obvious, right? And sometimes it is intellectually, but I think oftentimes it is so hard to “get it” emotionally.

  • Jennifer Newell

    I think waiting to be completely whole is like waiting until you are ready to have kids. If you wait until you think you are ready to have kids it might never happen. Even when you think you are ready once the baby is born you bring him or her home you know you were not ready at all.
    In some cases I think this is like wanting every thing to be perfect but as you have stated several times life is messy. Nothing is perfect and you know you would miss the beauty of seeing the growth in your life if you continue to put off getting started.
    Yes I have wanted to work towards walking in a 2 DAY walk at some point in my life. So this next year I have a friend who has committed to get me in at least 2 5K walks just to get some experience. NO I am not ready for all of this but you have to start somewhere.
    I am most grateful my husband see my brokenness, embraces it and continues to encourage me. When you are loved like that, it makes the days shine a little bit brighter.

    • drkellyflanagan

      The kids analogy is an excellent one. I hear more and more young people putting off having kids because they want to be in the perfect financial/life situation. Of course, when the kids actually arrive, you realize there is no such thing. 🙂

  • Nancy

    beautifully written, I like picture analogies