Dear domestic Church,
“The great secret of the spiritual life, the life of the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God, is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity.” Henri Nouwen, “Life of the Beloved”
We’ve looked at what it means to be taken or chosen as well as blessed because we are beloved sons and daughters of God. Claiming our place as taken and blessed can be positive experiences but as we live life, it can sometimes feel at odds with the brokenness we see in our world and ourselves. The tension we feel often stems from our hearts where we struggle with a sense of rejection, being ignored or questioning our worth and value in relationships and work.**
Part of why it was important to claim our identities as taken and blessed is that knowing this about ourselves helps us look at each other with the recognition that everyone else is also taken and blessed. The same rings true for our brokenness.
In “Life of the Beloved,” Henri Nouwen notes that we’re all broken. You. Me. Every single person. Brokenness can have many different sources, and even if we share the same type of brokenness with others, we each experience it differently. Think of a trauma a family may go through like a car accident. Each person’s perspective and reaction to it may differ even though it was the same experience. If we asked ten people to share their experiences of 2020, we’d likely get ten different answers. Perhaps if we were to look for a universal quality of everyone’s brokenness, it would be that we don’t really like talking about it. It’s hard to relive our wounds and face our flaws and we definitely don’t want anyone else knowing more about them than they already do. What if our brokenness, though, wasn’t something that we have to hide? What if God can speak to us through our brokenness and help us embrace it, living fully our beloved identity?
If we asked each of you what you’d like to change about yourselves or qualities you want to improve, we’d probably have a list for each of you that feels a mile long (and we’d have a list for each of us too!). From what we deem as physical deficiencies to character flaws to past hurts and current pains, we can often see what makes us broken and it can be hard to move beyond that. For some, it almost feels comfortable to stay there. It becomes an easy way to commiserate with or compare ourselves to others. We define ourselves by this brokenness instead of looking at it as a part of a larger picture.
How do we combat this? Nouwen gives two steps: befriend and bless our brokenness. You need to name what is broken within your heart, your person, your relationships, your world today and give it to God. This may be a one-time step or it may be an ongoing, day-in and day-out surrender.. Acknowledging our brokenness is part of what helps us fully claim who we are as beloved children of God, which allows us to bless the brokenness. It also helps us recognize that God is with us no matter where we are or what we’re going through. This is where “joy and sorrow are no longer each other’s opposites, but have become the two sides of the same desire to grow to the fullness of the Beloved.”
Easier said than done, right? We often live with our brokenness like it is our curse to bear or that it justifies the negative thoughts about ourselves. This brokenness feels like it needs to be erased instead of blessed. How easy is it to think that if we didn’t have to deal with some aspect of our brokenness then life would be easier, we’d be better people or that God and others would love us more. From an internal perspective, we might look at our brokenness as proof that the lies of our unworthiness are somehow true. We convince ourselves that our brokenness has somehow become part of who we are and that others see us that way too.
As Nouwen reminds us, “Befriending our brokenness and putting it under the blessing do not necessarily make our pain less painful. In fact, it often makes us more aware of how deep the wounds are and how unrealistic it is to expect them to vanish.” Think of someone grieving. We often encourage them to turn to God in their brokenness but we don’t tell them to forget that they are grieving. Turning to God in our grief, woundedness or hurting doesn’t mean we expect the pain to go away; it is asking God to be with us where we are. We need to do that no matter what brokenness we are experiencing.
What are some ways we can befriend and bless our brokenness? There are three ways to start:
Scripture—Scripture is full of examples of broken people who took their brokenness, befriended it and gave it to God to bless. We can also see how Jesus entered our broken world to befriend and bless our brokenness. Take time this week to reflect on Scripture and ask God to speak to you through it. Here are a few passages to consider starting with:
- The temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11): Following the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus was tempted by the devil when he was most vulnerable.
- The woman at the well (John 4:4-42): The Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus surrenders her brokenness to the Lord and goes on to witness to others, from within her brokenness.
- The poor widow’s contribution (Mark 12:41-44): The widow gives all she has and is a reminder to us to give God all that we are carrying – our joys, brokenness, and everything in between.
- The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11): These words that are part of the Sermon on the Mount remind us that God is with us in all experiences, including times of brokenness.
- The Rosary—We admit our brokenness whenever we pray the Hail Mary with “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” We can go deeper with this by reflecting on the mysteries, especially the Sorrowful mysteries.
- Small Groups or connecting with others—Deep trust is shown when people can share their pain. Families live this all the time in their day-to-day life. For example, it is a privileged moment when a child confides their struggles to you. As a parent though, it is important that you are not just the person that people come to when they are struggling. You need to have a community where you can share your pain as well as support others. This allows us to “help each other in making our brokenness into the gateway to joy.” It isn’t about having the answers or solutions to the brokenness but being able to share and acknowledge each others’ pain. If you have a group of friends you would like to go deeper with or if you are looking to join a small group, check out these small group resources.
Our brokenness can be both the easiest and most difficult thing to talk about—with others and in our personal prayer. Nouwen reminds us, “The deep truth is that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we so desire, but can become, instead, the means to it.” This vulnerability isn’t a weakness, but a strength in living as a beloved child of God. As we embrace being taken, blessed and broken in our lives, we can’t help but take the next step of being given.
**Disclaimer: While this article looks at ways we may feel broken and how God is there with us, we also understand that in many cases spiritual reflection is done in addition to other interventions (medical or otherwise) to help people function in certain situations. If you feel you need additional support to face a situation that is broken in your life, please reach out to your parish, healthcare provider or Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan.