Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for
Brokenness is what I need
Brokenness, brokenness is what you want for me.
– Micah Stampley, “Take My Life”
That praise and worship song was usually played with the lights of the sanctuary low, the guitar soft, eyes closed, and hands raised. It was often accompanied by tears – salty drops catching in the corner of my mouth, tears of either pain, longing, or shame. Either I was broken as I sang or I wasn’t broken and I wanted to be. To be broken meant the Lord could work in me, change me, “take my heart and mold it, take my mind and transform it, take my will and conform it” to his. This was my desire.
This is the desire of so many evangelical Christians, and this was my desire my whole life, most specifically through my 20s. Certainly from college to 30, I set my mind hard on Christ, set my heart steadily on loving and serving him, and set my will solidly to do whatever he asked of me. I did not always succeed though, so in those times of selfishness and sinfulness, I longed and pleaded for brokenness.
And I usually found it. As it turns out, I spent at least a decade, a good third of my life, being broken. This was something I believed was good and right and pure. This is something the church, nay, the Bible, taught me.
Glory in Weakness
A Sunday morning in brokenness meant I was truly finding God. I left those services for a Sunday afternoon of renewal, leaving those lowered sanctuary lights and stepping into the sunshine with clarity and a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit powering through me to give me strength needed for the rest of the week. If I could live in a state of brokenness before the Lord, I would be living in the light, becoming more like Jesus, the most broken of us all.
I spent most of my life in brokenness, wearing it meekly as holy and lowly robes. I lived most of my life seeking weakness, for it is in our weakness that he is strong. When I did not feel weak or broken, I was ashamed and cried out to God to restore it. I could only feel strength if it was Christ’s strength in me, not my own. Nothing good could come of me, a depraved human being undeserving of Christ’s love and sacrifice. I had nothing of myself to be proud of or to find strength in. Only the strength given to me by God could count as strength I could depend on. These principles were clear in Scripture, and I took them deeply to heart.
And I was happy. I truly felt happy. I was not a sad, pathetic, depressed woman moping around, feeling broken and weak. No, I was clothed in the robes of righteousness, I was empowered by the Holy Spirit, I was made whole by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross! When I did find myself in bouts of depression, I cried out for deliverance, begged for the Holy Spirit to make me whole again.
I never believed Marilla’s line in Anne of Green Gables that to be in the “depths of despair is to turn your back on God.” Rather it was an opportunity to rely on his strength and accept my weakness and turn something bad into something that would make me grow. Growth is painful. The growing pains of becoming more like Christ and shedding my earthly flesh is uncomfortable, I told myself, but will be eternally worth it when I approach those pearly gates at the end of my time on this earth.
All of this was the mysterious paradox of Christianity. In our weakness we are made strong. When we empty ourselves, he fills us up. There is no condemnation, even though we are evil in our innermost being and deserve eternal damnation. In our brokenness, we will be made whole. If we submit ourselves to Christ, we will be free.
The Word of Healing
I’ve been separated from Christianity for about four years now. As the scales fall from my eyes and I dig deeper into who I am, I am finding that a lifetime of brokenness has, well, broken me.
A lifetime of trying to be weak has made me now despise any sign of weakness. The way I made my faith the sole focus and purpose of my life with all other things bowing down to it was not, as I had always believed, a healthy way to live. It was damaging.Striving so hard for brokenness did not lead to health; it led to illness. Believing so strongly that I was worthless and that my only worth was found in a spiritual being was not salvation; it was destruction.
I am only just beginning to discover my own worth and my own strength. I am only just starting my journey towards healing and wholeness out of brokenness.
And when my prayers to God were met with indifference
I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance.
– Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hurricane” from Hamilton
I only know how to take this journey through writing. My words may hurt, sting, offend, break hearts. They may stir the longing in many to correct my understanding, to tell me I went about my faith all wrong, but I didn’t.
If in your church you sing that brokenness is what you long for, then you know all of this is true. If you have read Scripture, you know that we are considered unworthy, sinful, evil in our hearts, and the only way to find salvation is to submit everything we are and have to God. We are to completely discard our flesh and live in the spirit. We are not of us this world; we are just living in it. Following the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength is what is required of us.
It has taken me years to realize just how much this required of me. It required too much. For too long I surrendered “all of my ambitions, hopes and plans…all I am and ever hope to be” (Robin Mark, “All For Jesus”) to a belief system. So I write my way out.
Running on empty, there was nothing left in me but doubt
I picked up a pen
And I wrote my way out.
– Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Aloe Blacc, “Wrote My Way Out” from The Hamilton Mixtape
I still have a lot of psychological, emotional, and mental unpacking to do. For the first time in my life, I am looking at myself and my own needs and desires to figure out the right way to handle them. I am discovering that having my own ambitions, hopes and plans, finding strength in myself, sometimes putting my needs first, and trusting that I am good in my innermost being demonstrates a healthier way of seeing myself.
And the only way I know how to uncover these truths is through the written word. So as the next few years of my life unfold, I plan to continue writing my way out of a broken and damaged spirit. And this way I can reach out now to anyone else struggling with the same issues, because even after a life of brokenness, I believe we can be made whole.
[Image Source: Pixabay]
Lori Arnold is a writer, overachiever, and Oxford Comma enthusiast living in Arkansas with her three children and vindictive cat. She writes about the struggles she once faced as an evangelical Christian and those she faces now as an openly atheist, divorced young professional living in the Bible Belt. You can visit her blog here and order her memoir, The Last Petal Falling, here.