In my neighborhood lives a tree that I noticed years ago is shaped like a heart. The amateur photographer in me has been meaning to capture the image, and I finally got around to it after a recent snowfall.

I posted the result across my social media pages, labeling it as an early Valentine to my followers and friends, who seemed to appreciate it as much as I did.

But when I look at the picture, it occurs to me that this beautiful tree is the shape that it is because of tragedy.

See the middle branch that abruptly stops? If not for that, the tree wouldn’t be the shape that it is. In fact, I’d venture to say that if it hadn’t grown so large and then fallen, it wouldn’t have impacted the shape of the other branches enough to leave them heart-shaped now. So imagine that large branch there, dominating the center of the tree. Then imagine the force it took for such a large bough to be broken. The crack and crash as it fell, the damage it did to the rest of the tree and to the ground when it hit.

This tree knows hard times. It was shaped by them, and we now appreciate it because of them.

To be human is to walk around with a few broken branches of our own, representing loss and unfulfilled hopes. This time of year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, those without significant others tend to feel that missing branch of their life. Other times of year, we miss those who’ve died. Or other tragedies and difficult situations cause big branches of our lives to snap and plummet to the mud. So, it’s by growing seasons and seasons of loss that we are shaped.

We are tempted to let those losses embitter our hearts against the situations, the people, and the God we believe wronged us.

Let us, as Christians, drop this bitterness and remember that broken branches make us beautiful, just like they do this tree.

Tragedy gives us causes to fight for, shows us what love should be by teaching us what it’s not, and instills in us empathy and compassion we could achieve no other way. Hard times expose our weaknesses so we learn to rely on Christ’s strength instead of our own. Failure redirects us toward or qualifies us for the special work the Lord has for us to do in this world.

The sadder and harder events of my childhood, especially, have shaped me into the introspective writer I am. The difficult moments of your life have shaped you, too, and all of us, as we’re shaped by losses and trials, are in very good company.

It was by painful sacrifice that Jesus became our perfect Savior, and now, because he is our Savior, we can trust that he is in loving control of even our trials. If you’re a believer, then the Bible promises that everything, including the hardships, is working for the glory of God, the same God who has wonderful plans for you. The God who promises to heal and restore.

We can have faith in that. And even if the only result of our tragedy is to strengthen our faith in God, isn’t that truly beauty worth sacrificing for?

Yet I know how easy it is to get bogged down on the journey toward seeing the beauty that follows pain. Sometimes, that journey takes years or a lifetime. Sometimes we don’t see the beauty at all on this earth. Always, we’ll never see the full beauty until heaven when our Creator shows it to us.

While we wait for this, let’s draw courage from God’s promise to be the healer of the broken and the redeemer of our souls. Let’s rest in the truth that God will give us “oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning, a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement” and that we “will be called oaks of righteousness, trees planted by the Lord to reveal his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3, NET)

All this, inspired by one beautiful, damaged tree. What do you find beautiful despite its brokenness?