“Brokenness” has been a theme in my life this past week. Coming up in conversations, referred to in the reading for morning prayer, and the title of the chapter i read from Henri Nouwen’s book “Life of the Beloved”.
First a friend made the argument that “brokenness” was not a “Biblical” word (or at least not in the sense that we often use it), in an excerpt from Ronald Rolheiser in the book of “Common Prayer a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” an author declares that we need a theology of brokenness. And then finally Nouwen counsels the reader to embrace our brokeness and to hold it up to the light of our belovedness.
After brief conversation with my friend who argued that “brokenness” was not a Biblical word I did some research, and came across a blog written by Dr. Bob Kellemen that I found to be helpful in defining “brokenness” (http://www.rpmministries.org/2014/09/4-reflections-are-we-using-the-word-brokenness-biblically/). To sum is up the Bible refers to brokenness in regards to our pain and suffering and brokenness in regards to being broken hearted over our sin. In the Bible brokenness and sin are not synonymous. I think that is the argument my friend was making, that today often people refer to their “brokenness” as their sin, as if some how it is not their fault that they sin, because they are after all “broken.” I would agree with her that this understanding of “brokenness” is not represented in the Bible. I would also agree with the Ronald Rolheiser as quoted in the book of “Common Prayer” that we need a theology of brokenness, that is we need to understand how our brokenness in regards to suffering and being broken hearted over our sin relates to God and who He is. Again from that blog Bob argues that our brokenness whether related to suffering or sin, should lead us to God. In our suffering we turn to God as our source of hope, in our brokenness over our sin we turn to God in repentance and to receive forgiveness. Our brokenness should lead us to God.
I think that Nouwen is referring to brokenness in regards to our pain and suffering. So when he counsels us to embrace, he even goes as far as to say befriend, our brokenness I think he is calling us to acknowledge our pain and suffering, not to try and run from it, or numb it or ignore it, but to face the pain as a reality. Then when he counsels us to bring it into the light, I think he is saying take the reality of your pain and suffering and hold it up into the truth of God’s perfect and unfailing love. And it is not that this will instantaneous take your pain and suffering away, because it will not, but I do believe that with the continued and persistent practice of this what I might call a spiritual discipline, the truth of God’s love will dull the pain, take off the edge, not erase it completely but make it bearable. But the thing is we need to work at this, this is a struggle, a battle, Jesus has freely given us abundant life, but we still live in a fallen world, and there is an enemy working against us who does not want us to live into the abundant life Jesus has given us. Earlier in his book Nouwen explains that this is a spiritual struggle, there is joy in the struggle, but it is a struggle none the less. And I would add that there will be break throughs, but it is a struggle that we will be engaged in our entire lives on this side of eternity, because we live in-between times, there will be a day that Christ returns and sets all things right, and there will be no more pain, or tears, or death, but until that day we must continue to struggle, knowing that he has already won the victory, and that even as we suffer and struggle we know that he has not left us alone but has sent us the Holy Spirit, who is our Counsellor, and help us in our suffering and struggles if we allow him to.
A side note: You might be thinking, that’s it!? But I don’t want the pain at all. I would say I’m the same way, I don’t want the pain at all, so I’ve tried other methods to get ride of the pain, by drinking, partying, and what not, and maybe this has numbed me from the pain for a little while, but the pain is always there, and when the numbing wheres off the pain is worse then before. Some people try to get ride of the pain by working, and accomplishing, even by doing “good” things, but from what I have experienced and what I have learned from other peoples lives who are wiser than I none of it works!
How are you suffering? Is it cancer? It is a failed relationship? For me it is that life has not turned out the way I though it would, I have deep disappointment and an aching heart. This morning I am sitting before my Father holding this pain, not ignoring, not trying to numb it, holding it up to the truth that I am perfectly loved by my Father in Heaven. It does not take the deep ache and longing away, or even dull it, at this point I only have the hope that by persistent and continually practising this embracing and holding up of my brokenness before my Father God’s perfect love eventually the pain will be dulled, my perspective will be shifted, and I will be able to live more and more into the abundant life Jesus has given me, until the day he returns and there will be no more disappointment, longing or heart ache.
Another side note: When I say I am “holding up my pain to the light of God’s perfect love” what I mean is that I am spending time reading Scripture out loud, the Psalms are a great place to start, because so much of them are prayers of struggle, crying out to God for help, and then declaring the truth of God’s love. I am also simply sitting still and in silence with God, try starting with 15 minutes, I started by listing to music, or by repeating a simple phrase such as “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2). I have also found journaling, they are more like written out prayers, to be very helpful. The most important things are: First, to be completely honest with yourself, and with God about your suffering and pain, do not hold anything back. Second, to make this embracing and holding up a part of your daily life, to practice it continually and persistently. because break throughs, shifting of perspectives, and taking the edge of the pain, will not happen over night, and it’s not like you can just do this for a month or two, “deal with it,” and then you’re good to go for life, remember we live in-between the times of Jesus having come, but he is still coming back, and therefore we will continue face suffering and pain, so we need to continue to embrace our pain and holding it up to the light of God’s perfect love for us so that we might live into the abundant life Jesus has given us!