“I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery.” Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust
Transitioning into Brokenness
Jesus said something profound about the character and nature of God when he called Matthew to follow him. As he was sitting in the tax collector’s house, many people came to him. As the Pharisees watched this they questioned his willingness to meet with the lowest of the low. After all, if he was a great man, shouldn’t he only consort with great men?
But Jesus wasn’t merely a great man, he was a humble God. The Pharisees grumbled and Jesus took the moment to make the statement, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:9-13)
Here’s the thing about mercy, it’s much easier to extend it when you realize your own sickness. When we come face to face with something we cannot control and have no power to face, we are confronted with our own broken inner world. But, when we live at a distance from our own hearts, we find all kinds of powerful motivators to keep the thrum of our heart distant and dull. These powerful motivators are difficult to resist: for some sex, some pornography, some alcohol, and for some many others things that distract us from our true inner ache.
For the father whose son was continually thrown into a raging fit by spiritual forces, he must have come to the end of himself:
Mark 9:21-24 ‘So He (Jesus) asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”’
This man came into contact with his deep heart and it drove him to Jesus in the midst of the trial. Many in the midst of difficult circumstances are driven to the thing that comforts them. Why? Because we come face to face with something we can’t control or explain, only God can. And if we don’t know Him it is very difficult to turn to him.
In the Bible, brokenness can mean to be disintegrated or to be confronted with your inner life. Juxtaposing the following two verses can bring the issue some clarity;
Proverbs 15:13 A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
Psalms 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.
The Hebrew word for “broken” in Proverbs 15:13 depicts a seed being ground down to powder (think mortar and pestle). The Hebrew word for “broken” in Psalm 51:17 depicts the striking of a stalk of grain on the threshing floor in order to remove the husk and expose the useful grain inside. One type of brokenness leaves you disintegrated (ground down into power), and one type leaves the useful content on the inside exposed and ready to be used. Largely, our response to life’s difficult trials will determine what kind of brokenness is worked within.
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The purpose of transformative seasons is to discover brokenness. In brokenness we come face to face with our internal world. The crux of brokenness is moving from an awareness of our internal life to an awareness of our internal pain. The moment of brokenness is the moment you are convinced that you are no longer a good and worthy person, but that what is within you needs to die. Self-justification, opinion, pride, selfish ambition, hidden motives, gossip, all are an attempt to make ourselves out to be God. If we are in denial that these hidden motivators exist we will have a difficult time entering into brokenness and the full release of the Spirit.
Four Responses to Suffering
Response 1: The Eeyore Syndrome – See the worst in everything
“…they are going to be eaten if they don’t kill and eat first. To escape the horror of hope in something they cannot control, they interpret life from the darkest possible eventuality.” Dan Allender, The Healing Path
Hope is so difficult for this person to hold on to that they tend to see the through a lens that expects the darker possible outcomes. Hope is frightening for this person. To hope is to set oneself up for crushing defeat and disappointment. Every opportunity is just another opportunity to realize the pity of their own existence, or the worthlessness of others.
Fear for this person becomes the mechanism for controlling disappointment. At the heart of the issue may be this: I am at least familiar with the company of fear. If I can fear I never have to be confronted with the possibility of future pain.
In order to keep the focus off their own broken inner world everyone and everything else becomes the problem. Governments, ideologies, friends, neighbors, etc…anything and everything is game. Anything I can do to externalize my fear help me to avoid the fear that I actually hold inside. On a side note, people that are prone to fear are prone to irrational outbursts of anger. Anger is another control mechanism (but that is a topic for another time).
Response 2: The Religious Platitude – Ignores or minimizes suffering
“God is in control, so just trust him, don’t worry, get on with life. The fatalist handles suffering by minimizing it, shrugging his shoulders, refocusing on the good things in life, and waxing philosophical about real harm.” Dan Allender, The Healing Path
This person has taught themselves to ignore actual and obvious pain. Though they put on a mask of concern their inner life is bereft of compassion. They spout religious sounding phrases, or Bible verses to sound spiritual, but they ignore actual suffering, including their own.
This person will tend to minimize the destructive behavior of others under the guise of giving grace. This is often done to keep the comfort level from ever arising to challenging. Rather than becoming a means to knowing the heart of God scripture becomes a mean to justify bad behavior, or uncaringness.
Rather than confronting someone they may say, “Love covers a multitude of sin.” Rather than help a hurting heart and being the real presence of Jesus to the helpless person in front of them they spout off a spiritual sounding beatitude. Or in the face of real need they may just say, “I’ll be praying for you.”
Response 3: I can do it by myself… – Being your own hero
“The heroic approach champions some good things, such as personal responsibility and a sense of individual destiny, but it leaves little or no place for dealing with real pain or experiencing community. At some point, we will be unable to finish the race without the sacrificial support of another person. But if our highest value is sweaty, gritty performance and perseverance that is both personal and private, then life is nor a team sport but solely an individual endeavor.” Dan Allender, The Healing Path
This person would be caught thinking like this: I’ve just got to persevere and buck up. I can face this suffering myself, I need no one else. When life is hard you just try harder. Hunker down and get back to work.
The reality is no, you cannot deal with life circumstances on your own. No man is an island and Paul claimed that the power of God is made perfect in our weakness. This approach leaves little room for journeying together and dealing with pain. This person most likely overestimates their own ability and leaves a trail of wounded others in their wake, others that just “didn’t get them.” They may carry the idea that it is their responsibility to show others how to respond to painful and difficult circumstances. Eventually their façade of strength will come crumbling down, or they will be left alone to numb their own ego.
Response 4: “God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives.”
“Indeed, God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives. But that plan may be to labor for forty years with a recalcitrant, hard-hearted youth group that ages and dies in the wilderness, with only a few who make it into the Promised Land. How could God’s best for Moses be to bring the man to the brink of what he’d worked his whole life to achieve, and then bar him from enjoying it before he died? The fact is, God’s perfect plan might include untold suffering that has no clear purpose or meaning in this life. The optimistic path breaks down in the face of this kind of reality.” Dan Allender, The Healing Path
Yes, this is true, but what do you say to the person who has lost a child? Who sees little change in their abusive spouse? What about those who die in meaningless wars and conflicts? Those who have been subject to terror attacks? This answer falls apart in the midst of actual, real suffering.
This person could be a “You just need more faith” person. When life is hard, these people seem to lack some basic empathy. Rather than seeing the dark lining in everything, they look for the silver lining. There is nothing wrong with being an optimist, but not at the cost of avoiding human suffering. “God is going to do something great” can translate to “I don’t want to face the reality of what God is allowing to happen.”
The problem with this optimist is that God’s plan is not really about you, its about Him. Hope is not found in God’s plan for you, but in God Himself being with you. God longs to walk with us through highs and lows. If we spend all of out time anticipating the highs, we miss the moments of encounter within the lows.
“Humanity is not a disease that needs to be cured or a state of deficiency from which we need to escape. The spiritual journey is not intended to make us into angels, cherubim, seraphim, gods, or some other form of spiritual beings. It is intended to help us become all that we, as humans, can be.” David Benner, Soulful Spirituality
The True Response of Brokenness
Psalms 51:16-17 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.
Brokenness is never something to be avoided. That is our own assumption, but David carried an incredible insight into the heart of God. He will never turn you away in your brokenness. In fact, it is His delight to meet you there.
When Solomon offered the acceptable sacrifice at the dedication of the temple, something incredible took place:
2 Chronicles 7:1
The sacrifice is consumed by fire and the glory of God comes in to occupy the temple of Solomon. When we offer our broken, worthless hearts to God, full of depravity, negativity, and deceit, something wonderful happens. See, when you think you have it all together and can do this on your own, you are never more distant from the sustaining presence of the Father. But when you offer the reality of your worthlessness to Him, His fire and glory come to consume and transform.
Brokenness is incendiary, it is one of the greatest augmenters of the spiritual life. It is the kindling of God, it is the oil to His fire. Our brokenness creates a combustible environment for the Spirit of God. Jesus made a radical claim when He claimed that God desired mercy, not sacrifice. His mercy is His tenderness. When we encounter the radical tenderness of the Father, we can’t help but be transformed.
Lastly, I leave you with this word the Lord shared with me a few years ago when I was going through my own season of brokenness. I had spent a significant amount of time shutting down. But God had a loving way of exposing my heart. In the midst of it all this is what He said to me:
“My treasure is your brokenness. It’s the deepest part of you that you abhor. When you can give me your brokenness it speaks of a depth of trust in our relationship. Without trust brokenness cannot come to the surface. I treasure the pieces within you that you do not know what to do with. These are the disintegrated parts of yourself I long to breathe on. To make my power perfect in your weakness.”