“A simple way to think about dissociation is to think of it as instant forgetting -amnesia, or a fractured mind. The brain has a switch that can deal with overwhelming feelings, and record them in a place that does not contact the conscious memory. That is hugely beneficial at the time.” Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You, Friesen and Wilder
II Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us
The Other Side of Brokenness Part 1
In Mark 10, Jesus sets out towards Jerusalem to begin the high point of his earthly ministry, his death and resurrection. Jesus shares with His disciples one of the most direct statements about what is about to happen to Him:
Mark 10:33-34 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
The disciples meanwhile are preoccupied:
Mark 10:35-37 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”
While Jesus was sharing one of the deepest, most guttural truths about his life with his disciples, all thye could think about was their position in the coming kingdom of God. A quick review of what the disciples expected the kingdom to look like brings this in to clarity.
In the Jewish culture, messiah’s were not the uncommon. Many men had come before Jesus, and some came after, claiming to the messiah, the anointed one of God. The expectation was that these messianic figures would be the next great king, or general, that was to lead the Jewish state back to the world primacy that was seen in the golden ages during Israel’s history. Each of these figures led military campaigns and believed that God would grant them victory over the Greek or Roman empire (depending upon which century they rose). Each one of them failed in their endeavors. Of course, the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God is radically different than what anyone expected would come from the coming messiah.
James and John were not asking for some special heavenly privilege or esoteric spiritual experience, they were asking to be the right- and left-hand men when Jesus conquered the Roman empire and established the coming Jewish kingdom. This was a grotesque misunderstanding of the Kingdom Jesus came proclaiming.
James and John were wrestling with what Jesus said, what they expected the Jewish messiah would look like, and their own pride-filled hearts. Look no further than the response of the other disciples to see this:
Mark 10:41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.
Just imagine that your best friend had told you he was about to die, and your response was to ask him what kind of inheritance you should expect. A more calloused response would be hard to find. However, this was the focus of the disciples leading up to Jesus torture, death, and resurrection. Is it any wonder that most of them wilted under the pressure of such a situation?
If Peter, James, and John could have visited their younger selves while on the road to Jerusalem, and later while they stood defeated by the sight of Jesus hanging on the cross, they may says something like, “Keep your eyes on the Father and don’t give up!” They were about to be plunged into a trial that would expose their hearts, and that would work deep transformation. And along the way they would learn brokenness.
Our brains have the incredible capacity to continue functioning in the midst of painful situations. Built right into the physiology of the brain is the ability to separate pain and the present moment, this is a good thing as it lets us return to normal biological function in the midst of chaos and turmoil. It is why you can probably still go to work and think about the menial tasks when you are going through difficult circumstances.
The function of dissociation is to enable normal life in the midst of trauma and tragedy. Without the ability to dissociate, the pain would be crippling to anyone. The problem with dissociation is not in the fact that dissociation happens, but it comes in the weeks, months, and years afterwards, when we fail to process the pain of the past. The pain remains unresolved and a constant companion, even if we are unaware of its presence.
“Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds. images. thoughts, and physical sensations related to the trauma take on a life of their own. The sensory fragments of memory intrude into the present. where they are literally relived.”
Every difficult predicament presents us the potential opportunity to face our pain and anchor it in the love of God. The reality of all of life’s difficult seasons is that we have two choices: to move away from the heart of God or towards the heart of God:
“Suffering can move us toward God, or it can move us away from him and consequently away from being fully human and alive. If we are closed to sorrow, we will also be closed to true joy.” Dan Allender, The Healing Path
Moving away from God keeps the pain present, dissociated from the present season. In one particular difficult season of life, I carried the pain of failed friendships into the future. It wasn’t until months after the particular circumstances, when I was with some caring friends ministering to my wife and I that the stinging pain of past accusations surfaced. I had carried the pain as a present companion, even though its source was from nearly a year prior.
For the disciples, the trauma of Jesus death and burial had to be met by the resurrected Christ. Every moment of encounter, Jesus dealt with the reality of their pain-filled experiences. For Peter, his denial. For Thomas, his doubt. For the disciples on the road to Emmaus, their crushed expectations. For Mary, the perceived abandonment of Jesus. Each one chose to face their pain rather than shrink away and diminish the difficulty of what they went through.
Imagine if Peter would have offered a religious platitude, or waxed poetic about the nature of suffering when Jesus asked him about his love? Or if Thomas told Jesus he just needed to hunker down and work harder, or eschewed Jesus’ offer of touching the wounds in his hands and side in favor or a resilient façade of working out his faith by himself.
Jesus met each of them, brought their pain to the forefront and dove in head first with each of them. If they would have neglected to process the pain of disappointment and failure they would have been bound by their pain.
“As long as the trauma is not resolved. the stress hormones that the body secretes to protect itself keep circulating. and the defensive movements and emotional responses keep getting replayed.” The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk
James says something interesting about the nature of trials:
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
The tests that we go present the opportunity to anchor us. They teach us to wait upon Jesus. He moves at his own pace, not at yours. When we face the trials anchored in him we begin to find something beautiful, the perfect and complete work of Christ within your heart: peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). The trials of our faith journey teach us that God is with us in any given situation.
The other side of brokenness does not mean you will feel that you are all together, but that you are aware that what is within you is broken. And when that outer shell, the façade of your life begins to crack, the real you, the one Jesus has known all along begins to flourish.
The Inner Man
The trials of life that work brokenness expose the seed of God’s life within you. Remember the word for broken in Psalm 51:17 that we spoke of in the previous post? (link) When the head of grain hits the ground, the outer husk is broken off and the inner seed is exposed. The outer husk of our humanity are the painful experiences that have hardened us from the life of God and the likeness of God. When that hardness is struck by life’s difficult, painful situations, we have the opportunity to shed who we have become to become who we are mean to be.
Brokenness removes the shell of ugliness, to reveal the true beauty of your inner man: Christ at work within you.
1 Peter 3:3-4 ‘Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
Prior to walking through brokenness your life is ruled by external circumstances. If something serves to upset your, or anger you, you become angry, on the other side of brokenness, when the life of Christ begins to flourish within you, you are no longer ruled by the external matter, but the heart of the Father begins to dictate your response. Why? Because your heart is becoming like his.
The outer you suffers a deathblow every time you turn to the Father rather than shrink away from your pain. Truly, our outward man is perishing:
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
The light affliction is working something deep within us, the glory of God. While brokenness is an unavoidable reality on the journey to transformation, it is not the end. The end is the imge of and glory of God:
2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
However, it just so happens that between one glory and the next is the painful process of transformation. But we can expect something eternal being worked within: the life of the age to come.