“….but now it was ruined and completely useless.” Jeremiah 13:7b

Friends, here’s an honest but painful story…

I’m not sure if credit cards are advertised in college the way they were when I was young and naïve in the 90’s, but they were everywhere back then. Somewhere in my junior year, when money was tight and I needed gas and clothes, and I hadn’t saved enough to buy books, I decided I’d try one of those credit cards. It just seemed like the “adult” thing to do….and all my friends had one. Why not?

Jeremy was in the process of doing the same thing somewhere in Kentucky.

At first the credit card seemed great. All I had to do was pay a minimum balance and I could keep up with the latest styles and have fun with my friends. I’m not even sure what the balance was when I graduated, but I’m certain I would find it alarming today. Once I found a job I paid some on my credit card…more than the minimum balance but still not enough to really make a dent. In graduate school I learned to live more frugally….I suppose the credit card scheme was beginning to make sense to me. But then Jeremy and I met and got married, and together we combined our debt.

You can imagine what that might have looked like. We were still a bit oblivious of the pain we were causing ourselves.

The bills came…and came and came like a relentless storm. Soon we were transferring balances, trying to make ends meet, always sure we would get a handle on our growing problem. It became too much. We tried to hide our brokenness from others but our new marriage was struggling under our load of debt.

Needless to say, some changes happened in our life. It took time. I wish that I could say we completely wised up, but it was really several things that took place that headed us in the right direction.

  • We completely gave up credit cards. If we didn’t have the money we didn’t spend it.
  • We tried to live on a budget. I say we tried, because we really aren’t very good at this….but “try” is key here.
  • We admitted we had a problem and quit ignoring it. It’s so easy to keep transferring balances and thinking it will get better.
  • We made hard decisions and tried to stick with them, even if sometimes we failed. Setbacks are hard.

But besides making some of these hard decisions in our life, we had people who loved and cared for us. I’m not sure if these people really knew how bad life was…..we tried very hard to hide it. They were the hands and feet of Jesus without really even knowing it. Or maybe they did know and I just thought I was hiding it so well, which may totally have been the case.

My parents always said “we won’t let you starve” and they would bring groceries over. My mom would go to the day old bread store and buy me several bags to keep in our freezer. She watched our baby so I could work. My Aunt and Uncle offered to let us live in a house my Uncle had lived in growing up and keeps for sentimental reasons….for virtually nothing.

We continue to be thankful for the “safety net” we found through family and friends. Many who didn’t even know our story was as bad as it was and over those next few years we consolidated and were able to pay off our credit card debt and move into our own home.

I’m not sure you’ve ever found yourself in (what felt like) ruins like we did? This is one of many stories of brokenness in my life….of decisions I made that took me down a wrong path. Sometimes it wasn’t me, but someone else who made some poor decisions and it took me down a hurtful road. Those hurtful decisions led me to make more poor decisions and those poor decisions led to other poor decisions, and the cycle kept going. It’s easy for things to begin to spiral out of control.

I have a feeling you have a few stories yourself. Most of us carry brokenness and destruction around in our life and it remains just under the surface. Sometimes we hide it under the surface for so long eventually it comes bubbling out.

There’s a story in the Bible about ruins. It’s a story about the prophet Jeremiah and a linen belt. (Jer 13)

The quick version is this: Jeremiah is told to buy a belt (the kind that priests would wear). He’s to wear the belt around and not get it wet. Then after a while God tells him to take the belt and bury it a long ways away. Jeremiah does this and returns home. After a long while God tells Jeremiah to go back and get the belt. When he returns the belt is “ruined and useless.”

Jeremiah can see the destruction that Judah has brought on itself. A tiny vulnerable kingdom, surrounded by power, Judah is prone to being led astray. False prophets are more in tune with the whims of people rather than the heart of God and so Judah is heading for destruction and brokenness. Idols, adultery, oppressing the poor and foreigners, sabbath breaking… name it, they were doing it. And it was spiraling out of control.

They were heading down the wrong path.

The belt is significant here, because it represents Judah’s glory. A Jewish priest would wear a belt like this that would signify his service to God….a high calling, a respect.

The belt signifies Judah’s beauty and holiness and intimate relationship with God.

And God asks Jeremiah to put on this belt for all to see. Not just in the Temple, but out and about. This would have probably attracted attention especially because Jeremiah had been banned from the Temple.

So Jeremiah is walking around with a belt that everyone knows signifies a closeness with God and is reserved for priests in the Temple….

And then he leaves. He just disappears. The word “Perath” used elsewhere in the Old Testament is reserved for the river Euphrates. That would mean he traveled 350 miles away because God instructed him to.

He was gone…..for quite a while. When he returns he’s not wearing the belt. This probably caused some discussion among the people. “Where did that priestly belt go and what did it mean?”

It says after “many days” the Lord told him to return for the belt, so off he goes once again on a 350 mile journey to retrieve the belt.

But when he gets there, it’s completely ruined. It says….”it was ruined and completely useless.”

Once, a belt worn for all to see the closeness of Judah to their God, now soggy, tattered and useless.

I’m not sure about you, but I have felt tattered and useless in my life.

There was a time when Jeremy and I were so poor and so downtrodden and felt so buried in a hole up to our neck that we felt like we could never be whole again. We felt this way early in our marriage, and then just when we thought we were getting back on our feet financially another wave crashed and cancer left us struggling again (more than just financially).

It was a long road….it felt like 350 miles on foot, times 2.

We had made choices, sometimes bad ones, that led us to another mistake and another, till we didn’t know how to turn around.

We were not unlike Judah.

I have felt more than a few times in my life that I resemble a “ruined and completely worthless” rag. Beaten up, downtrodden and unable to get it together. I’m just going to admit it. I try really hard to cover it.

Have you felt that way?

Often times we refused to listen to people who were pointing us in the right direction. We lived in captivity to our decisions, not unlike Judah who fell in captivity under the powerful Babylon.

But woven through God’s message of destruction and a long journey is one of hope. God would allow Judah to fall, but he would bring a remnant back to rebuild the Temple.

He would bring beauty out of a worthless rag…..Judah would once again be beautiful and whole. They would hit bottom but God would be there, always present, waiting for them.

He would allow Judah to experience brokenness and destruction, but he would also provide hope if they would turn their hearts back towards God and His ways.

I don’t know what kind of choices you have made in your life. I don’t know what kind of foundation you had that allowed you the ability to change course when you sensed you were making a wrong turn.

Sometimes pulling out of a tailspin is nearly impossible without some sort of healthy network. I’m thankful for the foundation I had growing up that allowed me to self-correct and my heart mourns for people who don’t have that.

I hope you have that.

I recently came across an organization called Grace Like Rain that’s in the business of helping people on the journey who’ve found themselves in a tailspin, or who have taken a wrong turn. They’re in the business of heading people in the right direction. And not just a point and nod, but really leaning in and gearing up for the long haul. The “walk-with-us” kind of people.

I don’t have easy answers here. It’s easy for me to write about a problem I had several years ago, but I couldn’t have written about it then because it was too painful.

Maybe you’ve been told something really pretentious, like if you’d just believe more or trust more it would just fall in to place. If you really loved Jesus more you’d be healthy, wealthy and fulfilled.

I believe in miracles, but the miracles I’ve witnessed in my life have come about through the help of others. I think God’s in the business of community….and people helping people. Sure….you might wake up one day completely sober after having a drinking problem for years, but chances are probably not. I’m not saying that God can’t do that….but sometimes choices we’ve made take a while to correct and the miracle that God gives us are through doctors, and Christian community and neighbors and family who aren’t just willing to point, but who are willing to walk with….

I hope you have someone to walk with you. I don’t know if you have the courage to ask for help….but that’s my prayer. And that the person on the other end would respond like Jesus. I hope they walk with you.

Jeremiah put on a priestly linen belt to signify that Judah was a treasure… matter how useless and ruined you may feel you are not worthless, or useless or beyond repair. You are treasured.

Wrap yourself in that today dear friends…..

By Jennifer Starr-Reivitt at

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