On the World Race, there is a stop on the journey where no one wants to go. We don’t advertise it in our brochures, yet almost everyone seems to go there. It’s the place of brokenness. It’s a place where your old life no longer works and you feel empty. And what makes this emptiness especially hard is when you realize that what’s really broken is not something in another person, but something inside of you.
Though it’s not a happy place to be, I look for those who are getting there and when they do, I want to celebrate. Why? Because often they’ve been limited by the things they’re hanging onto. They’ve built their lives around stuff that won’t last. Maybe it’s an identity based on approval or performance or lifestyle. Their lives would be so much richer if they’d let go.
But the process of letting go can sometimes feel as severe as an amputation. What you believed may have seemed so real. When it’s no longer in your life and there’s nothing left to take its place, all that’s left is the pain of a phantom limb.
One of the saddest things I see in life is broken people who don’t see their own brokenness. I’m not talking about typical brokenness. I’m talking about the kind of broken behavior that makes everyone around them as miserable as they are. A lot of people live this way. Sometimes as a function of self-deception, and sometimes because they are just clueless. Helping them get to brokenness may be a great gift.
The irony is that if they ever do see what the many others may be aware of, then they may consider themselves to have entered a state of brokenness.
The brokenness was already there – it was just hidden away where others (and they themselves) didn’t see it. Maybe it’s just a small part of their life that is a mess. If it were a room in a house, the room would be a shambles, like it had been ransacked by someone looking for something. The furniture is overturned and papers are scattered across the floor.
But with door closed and the light turned off, no one knows.
A few days ago, a professor who taught about children’s
spirituality at my college was arrested for having child pornography on
his computer. The discovery thrust him into the public eye and into a
place of deep brokenness and shame. But the reality is, he was already
Getting to brokenness is nothing more than opening closed doors and turning on the lights. It can be shocking and embarrassing. It doesn’t fit the image that we peddle of a person who has it all together. Suddenly, we are exposed for the impostor that we are. We feel shame at the mess and shame at the lie – all the efforts we’ve made to hide it.
Brennan Manning confessed to this in his recent book All is Grace
. He’d written about the issue of brokenness in his books, while keeping the depth of his own brokenness, principally his struggle with alcoholism, hidden from his friends. Now in his 70’s at a time when he should be allowed to bask in a life well-lived, his raw confession opened the door for the world to look in and the see the mess.
You can’t help asking why would a man of Manning’s stature expose his brokenness? The answer is that the pain of living with his lie was greater than the pain of exposing it. He is free now. If anything, his stature is increased. You can’t help but feel that his memoir is a great gift – an act of courage and grace. If he can share his brokenness, then maybe I can find the courage to share mine.
How about you – are you able to share yours? Do you see it for the gift that it could be?