The Necessity of Brokenness
It’s a rainy day today, the kind of day that surrounds one in melancholy. Something stirs in my memory as I reach down to set my warm cup of tea beneath my chaise. It’s sorrow, roaming the distant corridors of my mind and pulling me back---back to those difficult days of grief after my father’s death, where pain and suffering where my daily companions, and brokenness had not yet accomplished its work in me. There, in that cold familiar place I have come to know as emptiness, God began to teach me about loss, gently stitching together the pieces of my broken heart.
Sometimes we don’t notice it at first, the breaking of our hearts. It can happen slowly, and yet before we realize it, the effects of our grief have become catastrophic, and the death of our hearts inevitable. Loss throws us off balance, sometimes causing us to lose our way. If enough time goes by, and we don’t repair the distance between what we know intellectually and what we feel deep within our souls, we’ll find that along the journey we will have sacrificed something precious at the expense of protecting ourselves from pain. That something is our heart.
Somewhere edged in between desire and longing, sorrow seems to always stand in our way, reminding us that the happy-ever-after life we dreamed of is often a far cry from the reality we’re living. That moment of realization can be profoundly painful. As each chapter of our life unfolds, we can undoubtedly be guaranteed of two things: change and loss. These make up the unpredictable rhythm of life. How we respond to them will determine the journey of the heart. It will also determine if we live—really live—the life that Christ has called us to. If I am honest, I will admit I let a lot of living go by trying to make life work, struggling to figure out, make sense of, and answer all the questions that life and loss present. Perhaps loss was a necessary part of my journey; it certainly caused me to see suffering as a necessary ingredient in my life, whether I had all the answers or not.
Brokenness must have its way in each of our lives in order to move us from death to life. We need only to observe the seasons to be reminded of this process every year. Take the trees for example: every spring their leaves come to life as tiny new shoots; they grow and flourish, showing us signs of life and hope, only to die each fall. As winter begins to beckon, casting its gray and barren shadow over the landscape, we become profoundly aware of the absence of life around us. That life gives way to the death process, but from this death something wondrous occurs. The leaves produce a majestic display of bold and resplendent color. In other words, they become most fully alive and vibrant as they are dying.
Jesus makes a similar analogy in the gospel of John when he says, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24, italics mine). Here he illustrates metaphorically the power of rebirth through the process of death and dying. Jesus, the immortal seed of the Father, chose to take on immortality. His glory, hidden and buried beneath the earth, like the seed, breaks forth from the dust of death to display a bold and resplendent life. The fruit of the seed is known only as the earth and elements have their way, breaking down the hard shell so that the beauty and mystery that lie within can be fully exposed. The seed gives way to the miracle of life and abundance only through death and this death is most assuredly purchased at the feet of brokenness. Shall we expect the Master to work any differently in our own lives?
While we certainly won’t all be fighting for first place in line for this ticket, we can learn to move through this journey of brokenness and find healing and wholeness. We need only to change our perspective on loss and suffering. If we are willing to allow them to become our tutors, they can and will produce in us that same bold and resplendent life that Jesus is calling us to. If we have the eyes to see, we will come to know and understand that brokenness purifies our vision and chisels away all that keeps us from fully knowing the heart of God.
Brokenness is not only a necessary process in the life of the believer, it is a gift. Not an easy line to swallow for those of us who have been ravaged by the effects of loss. We often have great difficulty accepting the very idea of it. It seems like the godly thing to say, but in all practicality, pain, suffering, and loss are not readily embraced as gifts. The very suggestion that I was to consider them as such made me angry early in my Christian walk. Like somehow there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have enough faith to want to walk through a towering inferno with a smile on my face and a song of praise in my heart. But somewhere along the journey of loss I began to consider that if God was good, he was not out to break me; his heart was out to break my confidence in all the ways I was trying to make my life work apart from him. Loss was simply the vehicle he used to get my attention. It was then that I began to see suffering and pain in a new light. I could accept this process of brokenness as a gift from my heavenly Father, much like mature adults who grow to appreciate the discipline they received from their parents when they were children. This discipline is not pleasant at the time it’s received, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, but it is necessary in the molding and shaping of character, producing righteousness in all who are trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).
If you and I want to recover from the losses of life, we must catch a vision for a greater role that we were designed to play, and a bigger purpose beyond ourselves and our losses. In other words, we must slowly begin to see with eternal eyes that which is so difficult to see when brokenness knocks on the door of our hearts—the story isn’t finished yet.
Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in Northern Virginia. She is the host of Heartling Podcast and Consider This, both airing on 90.5 Life FM radio in North Carolina and her website. This article is taken from her book, Sifted As Wheat, finding hope and healing through the losses of life, currently in the publishing process. You can find her at http://www.siftedaswheat.com , at Facebook and on Twitter at heartlinepod.