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Getting to brokenness is good

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 ha…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
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
broken.
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?

Comments (11)

  • Seth,
    What a true, beautiful and necessary post. The time since my dad’s death has been a series of cracks that have revealed quite a bit of brokenness that quite frankly, I had been content to ignore and excercise, eat, drink, shop or any other number of things away. Write, even. But I have come to the place, actually catalyzed by the classes I am taking at George Fox to enter the eye of the storm with Jesus as my guide. He is holding my hand when in the process of litigation I have stomped my feet screaming, “No, this isn’t fair…” ignoring the beauty of the truth that was buried beneath the rubble of toxic emotions.
    While at GF a couple of weeks ago (that coincided, not coincidentally with the three year anniversary of my dad’s death) I spent a lot of time in tears, Gethsemane like tears and am emerging shedding light on what has been broken inside of me, and will now no longer take such hold. I am praying for settlement in litigation, which will require strength I don’t possibly have on my own, but it has also exposed attitudes and allegiances that simply do not have a place in an intimate relationship with Jesus.
    Thanks for your post which simply served as further confirmation that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
    Shalom.

  • Ahh, the freedom of brokenness … Can you hear it? FREEDOM!!! Praying for you, Seth and all those who sign up for the journey of brokenness with AIM.

  • Thanks for the reminder Seth. Brokenness isn’t an event as much as a state of being. There may be precipitating events but true brokenness requires the cane of faith to help with the limps of life. They don’t go away…

  • Thanks for your comments. I love the way you all enrich my life. Whatever insight God gives me just starts a conversation that you, Jeremy, Kathy, Butch, Melinda, Kenny, and Lanny have advanced much further.

    I’m broken, but in the body of Christ, I’m complete. I’m re-membered.

  • “If he can share his brokenness, then maybe I can find the courage to share mine.”

    The greatest part about shedding light on our brokenness is that it creates a safer environment for those around us to do the same. Then the doors just swing wide open to freedom and rebirth. It’s crazy that it’s never really about us anymore, even our own “stuff” is really someone elses freedom waiting to be released.

    Thanks Mr. Barnes!

  • You reveal “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.” I appreciate your insight into the value of brokenness and also how God can work so mightily during our pain.

  • this is a great read. i’ve recently been willing to share my struggles/brokenness with my team. finally. and it was freeing. my stature did increase; i think you’re right about that. still learning to really lie things at the foot of the cross and LEAVE them there, covered in the Blood.

    this also reminds me of a quote i recently read from Charles Spurgeon:

    “You will never know the sympathy of Christ’s heart and the love of his soul so well as when you have heaved a very mountain of trouble from yourself to his shoulders, and have found that he does not stagger under the weight. Are your troubles like huge mountains of snow upon your spirit? Bid them rumble like an avalanche upon the shoulders of the Almighty Christ. He can bear them all away, and carry them into the depths of the sea.”

    thanks for writing. keep doing it!

  • We often medicate ourselves trying to ease the pain from our underlying brokenness. Work, sports, television, family, church, all can be done as a way to hide from what we feel inside. Thanks for showing the value of feeling this brokenness. Thanks for the reminder that we can be freed from it.

  • “Brokenness isn’t an event as much as a state of being.” Profound addition to the discussion Butch. Thank you for adding it. It was a reminder I needed to hear.

    Also, I think too many of us want to keep brokenness hidden. Actually, Brennan Manning’s ongoing struggle with alcoholism seemed visible/evident to me all along, and I think he gave clues to those who had eyes to see, but the point being, many of us don’t want to see the ‘ugliness’ in others lives, so we look the other way.

    I know a well-known Christian leader who ‘shocked’ people when his failings became public. One of my friends who had traveled with him and at times ministered alongside him had notified/warned the people ‘sponsoring’ him about these problems. Unfortunately, they chose to ignore it because it was of more value to them to reap the benefits of his ministry, than take the time and trouble it would require to really care for this individual and his brokenness.

    It’s not that I pray the church would be a place that promotes or revels in our messiness, but until it becomes a safe place to admit one’s brokenness, it will continue to contribute to the problem. That’s because unless the darkness that lives inside us is encouraged to be exposed to the Light, it will grow like an unseen cancer causing much more damage in the end.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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