We are all broken. We think of this as our biggest liability, but the reality is that the beauty in our brokenness is overwhelming.
Cancer. Addiction. Chronic pain. Anxiety. Poor physical fitness. Depression. Job burnout. No one I know wants experiences like these, but everyone I know has some. Does that mean we are somehow diminished?
We come into the world as a small bundle of needs, completely dependent on our parents, unable to control even the movements of our limbs. We are not angels – our will is frail and flawed. Yet, as we grow, we are told to seize the day, hold the fort, take charge of our future. We are fed with illusions of control and individuality, and we begin believe that sanity consists of the ability to shape our world to our own desires. Our entertainments feature actors and athletes who are strong, beautiful, powerful. Our cultural narratives promote constant self-improvement, rising above our humble beginnings, and eliminating our flaws. We learn to fear our weaknesses as cracks in the armor that protects us from harm.
That’s all backwards.
It is our brokenness that connects us to others. We tend to feel like we won’t have the relationships we want until we are better. But in reality all of us are incomplete, we all need each other to function, and it is this giving and receiving that ties us all together. We have been given an opportunity to share in the healing love of God not only by loving others with their flaws, but also by allowing others to love us in our brokenness. Accepting our own dependency is essential to participating in this beautiful reciprocal gift that is human life. Yet ever since Eve reached out for the apple, we have been neglecting the blessedness of our own contingency for the illusion of strength, control and god-likeness.
Why? We are afraid. That was the first reaction of the first man and woman to the first bite of apple. Fear. The more we reach and grasp for control, certainty, security, and invulnerability, the more our limitations threaten us. Like quicksand, the harder we struggle and fight to rid ourselves of weakness, the more we are trapped in fear.
“Be not afraid.” To follow this advice means embracing our brokenness rather than battling it. We lean into it and allow it to touch us. And like a man in quicksand, the more we contact our need, our dependence, the less it sucks us down and the more of our weight it will bear for us.
It is beautiful to know someone who embraces their humanity in all its imperfection. A friend of mine recently died after a long battle with cancer. As he fought the cancer, he and his wife shared their struggles, disappointments and triumphs, asking and allowing others to support them. His physical weakness prompted an outpouring of love from those who knew him. This couple’s suffering invited others to more fully enter into their humanity, brought others together in supporting them, and prompted a beautiful sharing of love. The community quite literally came alive around them.
Another friend has a more private struggle – he faces a powerful addiction. When he shared this with me, it allowed me to see a different aspect of his humanity, to know him more in his brokenness. This in itself is beautiful, seeing him more as he is, with less pretense. Being asked to support him has also forced me to confront my own failings, my impatience, my selfishness. His vulnerable request for help has not only brought us into a deeper relationship, but also brought me into closer contact with my humanity and neediness while gifting me with an opportunity to love despite my faults.
Moments of vulnerable, human beauty are what makes therapy rewarding for me. Those I encounter there are often much closer to their own brokenness. They have felt it, struggled with it and know that they have been unable to “overcome” or “fix” it. They know they have needs. They take risks. They allow themselves to peel back the layers of masks which have sheltered them from the world, and allow me to know them. We may be talking about depression, isolation, loneliness; the moment may be shrouded in tears; breaking out of a shell is often painful. But the moment is also marked by intense vitality. In the revealing and responding, knowing and being known, we are also amazingly and unmistakably alive. It is at moments like this that I understand why St. Irenaeus said “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
This year I have been seeing Lent as a call to “come alive” by embracing our humanity. Which is to say, our need for redemption. The scriptures are littered with people who became our models when they accepted their brokenness and thereby entered relationship with God. Moses killed a man, concealed his identity and hid for years before he allowed God to use him to save a nation. The most renowned king of his nation and an extraordinary poet, even David succumbed to adultery and had to face his brokenness before God. Peter denied Jesus three times, but owned his weakness and became the head of the new Church. We are shown over and over again that God’s beauty shines boldest through those who realize they need him most. As we realize that we NEED, that we are broken, that on our own we will not do what we want, we open ourselves to that relationship with the one who manifests His glory through our brokenness.
This Lent, I hope to remember what I have written here, and make space to notice and embrace my brokenness. To be aware of my fear, to allow others to know me, to realize how much I need love and to accept redemption. And especially to notice the beauty of all of you broken saints around me.