Broken. All of us have, at one point or another, felt like we were broken. As if something within us had been shattered. Or bruised.
We know this to be true. Sometimes we can articulate exactly why we feel this why. Perhaps a loved one died. Other times a close relationship ended. You got dumped or you did the dumping. Maybe someone you considered a friend broke your trust and traded in your friendship for a short term personal advantage of some sort. It leaves our hearts feeling as if a bucking bronco had just been let into a room full of glass ornaments. It hurts. And it is also messy.
Other times, though, we have a much harder time figuring out why we feel such a profound sense of brokenness. Things seem to be going well. Life is good by all measurable standards, and yet the nagging sense of despair is still present. There is nobody to blame and we can begin to grow bitter or jaded at life in general, and sometimes we even try to blame God for such feelings.
We come to church on Sundays, we see the smiling faces, and maybe we look at the stained glass windows. We are even told about the beauty of this world and the great gift of life, but in that moment it is much easier to scoff at such words because life doesn’t feel like a gift. In that moment it feels more like a cosmic joke at our expense. Looking around everyone is smiling, so we too plaster a smile on our face to fit in, but it is as fake as the plastic plants used to decorate so many church buildings. It might look nice but it isn’t real.
Whether or not we can pinpoint the cause of this sense of brokenness in our lives, many of us often wonder what we did to deserve this. Somewhere along the way we got this idea into our heads that once we become Christians, everything will get better.
Even I have preached and said things that, while they are true, they don’t always feel true. Things like “God has the power to heal that which is broken”. Or maybe something like “It is only in Christ where we can be healed”.
So if Christ has the power to heal all things, and if we have come to Christ and committed our lives to Him, then why do we still experience these profound feelings of brokenness? Why does the pain in our lives get so great that it feels like we become numb to the joys of life?
These are questions that plague our minds in the difficult seasons of life. They are important questions to wrestle with, however the more I have wrestled with them, the less adequate my answers sound.
There are some clichés that do have some wisdom to offer:
“The majority of growth happens in the valley”
“It is our struggles that make us stronger”
“If there was never rainclouds, our lives would wither away in the sunlight”
All of these have provided me with some degree of comfort at different times in my life. Yet each one of them has also sounded strangely hollow in the midst of a period of suffering or brokenness.
While these things have provided some comfort, and later sounded hollow, there was something else that I learned—and repeatedly relearned—that sounds trite at first, but has become more profound in my life as time goes by.
Brokenness forces me to cling to God.
In our neat and tidy churches, we frown upon brokenness, and only really talk about it once it has been healed or overcome. While in the midst of a period of struggle or brokenness, we seldom acknowledge it to anyone, and just ignore it hoping it will go away. In fact, I would guess that the place it gets mentioned the most is in malicious gossip where one person tells someone else about the terrible struggle so-and-so is going through. Sometimes the gossip is even spread like this as a “prayer request”.
We talk about giving our best to God, and though we talk about “giving our all” to the Lord, we often conveniently leave out the possibility of bringing God our brokenness as a gift. In one of David’s psalms, we read “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17, NIV).
What if it is in our brokenness that we can offer God something meaningful? What if in our brokenness we are made more into the likeness of Jesus? In Isaiah, one of the prophesies about Jesus describes Him as, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). What if the reality of the Christian life is such that the more we are transformed into Christ’s likeness, the more sorrow we will experience? Could it be that the more Christ-like we become, the more we will find sorrow in the things that bring God sorrow? I think this is a very good possibility.
Ecclesiastes 1:18 says, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
I believe that the more we know about God, the more our hearts will break for the things that break God’s heart. The more we become like Christ, the more we will feel sorrow for things that bring Him sorrow. We will see our own inadequacy, or our own failings, and our own need for God in each and every area of our life. When we get caught up in “the good life” of material wealth and prosperity, instead of the meaningful life of service to God, we will also feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit showing us that something isn’t right. The more we understand about who God is, the more our hearts will rejoice in what brings Him joy, and the more our hearts will feel broken for all the things that bring the Lord sorrow.
I think that as a church we need a better theology of sorrow. We too often equate both sorrow and suffering with evil—even though Jesus was a “man of sorrows”. We believe that everything truly good is happy, easy, and altogether “shiny”. The reality is, much of what is good is also hard. Much of what is holy is difficult. Being refined by the Lord often involves walking through fire, and our brokenness is often not a punishment but a gift. To be taught requires to learn, and sometimes it requires us to unlearn some things in order to re-learn them the right way.
When we are in places of brokenness, many of us become desperately dependant on God and Him alone because we really have nothing and nobody else to lean on for such things. And it is that desperate dependance that deepens our faith, strengthens our walk, and enables us to stand firm through the storm. Don’t hide your brokenness. Stop feeling as if these present trials are there to harm you, but look for the grace of God in the midst of it.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes, “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Featured Image by Shimelle Laine