I went to visit a man in the hospital yesterday whom I had never met. He fell off a ladder last week, breaking every bone in his face - as well as a few others for good measure. When I arrived, his wife quickly shooed me out of his room because they had just gotten him down to sleep. But I wouldn’t have been able to talk with him anyway because he had had a tracheotomy done.
His wife said something that I found interesting, though, as we visited in the hallway for a few minutes. Trying to impress me with the magnitude of his injuries, she said her husband was a completely broken man right now. But then she quickly clarified: “I mean, he’s broken physically, not spiritually.”
I thought it was a strange addendum. No doubt, she wanted to assure me of this latter part because, from what I can tell, her husband does not attend church anywhere.
And yet, it’s a refrain I hear somewhat frequently: people – including me – don’t want to give the impression that they are spiritually broken. We want others to think we are put together spiritually (and otherwise); that we have it all figured out; that we are strong.
But maybe, just maybe, the precise thing God wants of us is the precise thing we try to avoid: brokenness.
I remember thinking the same thing after reading the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the captivating true story of Louie Zamperini, whose plane crashed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during World War II. After being adrift at sea for 47 days, he was finally picked up by the Japanese and run through numerous POW camps, where he was treated worse than inhumanely. Without giving the book away (and the forthcoming movie), what I found interesting is how the title seemed to give the impression that Louie persevered because he refused to be broken. Yet the opposite was true: Louie was finally victorious only after he was broken.
This is, after all, what God desperately wants for us. He wants us to be broken – continuously. The reason for this is summed up beautifully by this Martin Luther quote – which a Twitter friend alerted me to today: “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” That quote, to me, is about as profound a quote as you can find. And yet Luther is merely echoing Paul when he recounted to the Corinthians:
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
This is, of course, counterintuitive to our natural human psyche. To be something, we have to be nothing? To be whole, we have to be broken?
So where are we? Do we try to avoid brokenness? Or do we embrace the thing that teaches us complete reliance on God?
Every day – and perhaps every moment – we need to be broken anew so that we can embrace the wholeness that comes only through Christ.