"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11).
I recently finished participating in the nine week Sanctuary Course offered as a Learning Circle here at Southwood United—and what a learning experience it was! One of the first things we learned in discussion during the course is that we all have a personal language. Words have meanings and associations specific to our own experience and background. For example, when we were introduced to the concept of our mental health as moving on a continuum between languishing and flourishing, I responded with such enthusiasm to the word “flourish” that I adopted it as my word for 2022 and wrote a blog about it. I had a very different reaction to the word “broken,” which is commonly used in Christian discussions to refer to our imperfect state and feelings of hopelessness and despair. I have known for some time that I have an aversion to referring to people as broken, and I realized in our Sanctuary discussions that, to me, the term broken implies “beyond repair and should be thrown out.” I don’t have a problem with being flawed, damaged, scarred, dented, or cracked (my family would definitely agree with that last one) but I would never refer to myself or anyone else as broken, because central to my faith is that in God’s eyes, nobody is beyond repair, and the sacrifice of Jesus made us all worthy of salvation. Having said that, several references to brokenness have recently shown up in my devotional and recreational readings. These related so closely to themes and lessons in the Sanctuary Course that I wondered if I was being told to re-examine my emotional response to that word. My exploration into my personal redefinition of brokenness is the basis for this blog.
One of the first messages was from my daily devotional reading in Joyce Meyers’ “Strength for Each Day”: “To flourish, you must let go of feelings of guilt from past failure and simply begin again.” My ears pricked up at word flourish, so I thought I would think about this statement for a while. The Bible tells us we are called to change—to be transformed. (Romans 12:2 says "Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.") The Sanctuary Course helpd me reflect on the idea that suffering can be a tool for transformation. Pain can reveal our character and is an opportunity for communion with God. Pain and suffering, including the guilt we feel from failing, are normal in life and are a temporary condition. Our transformation is not a singular event, but a continual practise of accepting our past failures and broken bits and moving past them by seeking the will of God.
Next, Joyce Meyers told me: "Whatever your shortcomings, God can use them to show his power and glory.” She used 2 Corinthians 4:6–7 ("… for God made his light shine in our hearts … but we have this treasure in jars of clay") to explain that we are like cracked pots, ordinary and unassuming yet carrying within us the treasure of God’s presence that shines through our imperfections. The Sanctuary Course taught us that spiritual friendship is important for our mental health and that this kind of companionship is based on equality. We are all “cracked pots.” We are all imperfect, scarred and dented, equal in the sight of God, and we need to recognize that and honestly admit to it. It is OK to need help, to lean on someone for a time, even confess to hopelessness and lack of faith. It can be equally as important to share our past trials with those who are suffering now. It can be a relief to hear of the hurt or scars in those you think have it all together or lead a life full of blessings and empty of stress. The point of this is not to wallow in our pain, but to realize that others have suffered, that this is a normal situation that can be overcome, that we are not alone, and, if necessary, help is available. (Philippians 4:13 says "I can do everything through him who gives me strength").
Then, on Facebook of all places, I was exposed to a wonderful piece by John Roedel, where he writes of a conversation he had with God. John asks God to put him back together because he feels like he is falling apart. God tells John that he doesn’t need those pieces that have fallen off. At the end, God tells John, “You’re not broken, but you are breaking like the dawn.” And I had a wonderful vision of all those bits and pieces of me that I have added on over the years—pride, self indulgence, greed, envy, anger, prejudice, self pity, impatience, fear; all those things that separate me from God—breaking off and tumbling down around me like tinkling shards of glass, revealing the person I am supposed to be. (Proverbs 4:18 says, "The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.")
Next I read in Our Daily Bread that God takes the broken pieces of our life and shapes them into something new and I felt like this message was coming together. I need to have parts of my life broken off. This can be hard, and even painful. I like being self-indulgent and some of the things I have done and experienced still have the power to hurt me and cause me shame even if they happened long ago. Yet, these dents and scrapes and cracks and even those broken off bits are part of what makes me beautiful. God uses all those life experiences to shape me, to transform me. I was reminded of Isaiah 64:8: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; and all we are the work of your hand.” Like the practice of kintsugi, where gaps in broken china are replaced with gold, those repairs to the cracks in my life and the reshaping of broken pieces of myself are magnificent works of God. I realized that being broken apart can be a good thing.
Finally, on January 30th, I heard in JJ’s sermon the phrase, “broken but hopeful.” Hope is central to faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that "Faith is being sure of what we hope for." The Sanctuary Course told us that sometimes we are so lost and broken that we can lose hope and need someone to have faith and hope for us. Our Daily Bread confirmed this, saying, “We’ll all feel unwelcome, unloved, in need … we’ll also have opportunities to support others who struggle with these feelings." We may feel that we are broken, but God knows better, and those who know God know better too. God loves each of us, no matter how imperfect we are, no matter how much we have failed, no matter how many things that we have collected or are hanging on to that need to be broken off. God wants us to be healthy and happy and to “live a life of abundance” (John 10:10). Our perception may be that we are broken, beyond repair, useless and ready to be thrown out. But God has a different perspective. To God, we may appear broken, but we are really under repair, being transformed to reflect his image, being formed into something new and wonderful.