When Life Shakes You and Leaves You Broken

“We are made in the image of God. And wasn’t God’s heart made to be broken too? Wounds can be openings to the beauty in us. And our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory.” – Ann Voskamp from The Broken Way

When life begins to crumble around me, or doubts and fears flood my mind, I tend to tense and close up. My hands snap shut to grace. They form determined fists, ready to fight for a way out. Instead of opening myself up to walk through the trial ahead, I dig in. I retreat. I pull the shades tight against the light or the covers up over my head. I refuse to deal. Closed up, I cling to my burden. I shut out the gifts of love and grace.

I foolishly think grit and tenacity can preserve what I feel is threatened. But how often am I resisting the flow of God’s will in my life–his Spirit’s longing to transform and refine me?

This question as long pressed into my mind amidst times of challenge. I’ve explored it through embracing vulnerability. My heart has longed to find refuge with God’s people where I can share my brokenness. And this past year God has really opened unexpected doors to friendships that hold space for just that. A gift I try to remember every day. And now I am reading and walking The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp. (affiliate link) Her words and actions vividly illustrate for me the power of a Spirit-filled life. She holds her brokenness out as an offering, reminding readers that it is Jesus’ wounds that heal. That he is close to the brokenhearted and the downtrodden.

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The Spirit of God moves and breathes and works in ways we do not always expect or understand. Sometimes I find his Spirit nearest when life feels turbulent and uncertain.

Few people are brave enough to attempt canoeing the Missouri River. The river’s reputation is unpredictable, dangerous, and deadly. In his book, Canoeing the Great Plains, Patrick Dobson steps out on a personal journey that takes him–a novice at canoeing–onto the Missouri River. Despite warnings, he chooses to launch his canoe and his life into the mysterious, turbulent waters. Surprisingly, he finds peace and safety when he stops constantly fighting for survival and surrenders to the will of the river.

Surrender. Loosing our life to find it. Leaving everything to follow. Trusting when we don’t know the way ahead. God calls us to leave the shore and embark on the journey of a lifetime.

When I think of surrender, my mind goes to childbirth. The pains that move a child into the world are best embraced. When fought against, or when a body tenses up in an attempt to avoid the pain, one merely prolongs the inevitable and increases the suffering. Letting go and allowing each contraction to deliver that baby into the world is a choice to surrender to the will of one’s body to birth a baby. When we work with the pain it yields wondrous things.

Oftentimes we fight God’s will too. At least I do. I think it is human nature in many ways to resist change or difficult circumstances. And when we can no longer evade them, we brace ourselves against them, letting the waves crash over us, but never truly submitting or surrendering. We keep waiting for Jesus to calm the storm, but maybe he wants us to be the calm within the storm.

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Jesus himself faced great trials and challenges, to say the least. Love may characterize Jesus’ ministry, but so does pain and suffering. Crowds flocked to him for healing, and for a brief period people even hailed him as Hosanna. Yet, religious leaders challenged his authority at every turn. Many rejected him and did not believe. His own hometown scoffed at him. One of his twelve closest friends and followers betrayed him. And it was not unusual for him to encounter angry mobs, like the one shouting out before Pilate.

He was not the Messiah the Jews expected or wanted. Though what he offered was so much more lasting and real. They still sought a brazen leader to overthrow the Romans and lead them to earthly prosperity.

Jesus puzzled people by turning his compassionate heart not towards the religious, but toward the lost, the hurting, the broken. Jesus spent time with those most of the Jews actively avoided and scorned. To confuse people further, he chose many humble fishermen to follow him and learn at his feet and through his example.

God came as man to insert himself most directly into our story to save us; and yet, he was misunderstood, rejected, and killed by those he came to save. Jesus even laments over the Jews in Matthew 23:37: “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.'”

Jesus was scorned and abused by those he sought to save. Rejected by the people God chose because they did not know him. But he knew that was his mission. What heart, what love he had to step into a story, not only with so many cards stacked against him, but knowing the road he must walk. Fortunately, the story does not conclude at his death. It doesn’t even conclude at his resurrection where he brings the hope of salvation to all. We are still a part of the story. It continues with us. 

We are still called to be broken and given out to a hurting world, just as Jesus broke the bread for his disciples before his body was broken for all. God calls us to face not only our broken places in life, but to come alongside others in their brokenness. And to bless a hurting world by looking beyond ourselves, by sharing a kind word or taking time out of our busy day to bless somebody.

But living broken is not comfortable. We are told time and again that our road will not be easy or safe. Choosing to follow Jesus enlists us for the greatest hope of a future, but also for trials and rejections that we must walk through:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:3-7

Heartache and pain will come. Those trials akin to life: grief, heartbreak, and physical pain. But there will also be trials in our spiritual life, both pressed in on us from the outside world, and stirred up within our hearts and minds when we explore and confront doubts.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you . . . . Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” – 1 Peter 4:12-14, 19

Though encouraging, I wrestle a bit with these verses. Suffering according to God’s will? Yet he is our faithful Creator? I don’t know that I have the ability to explain these tensions. However, as a parent of a toddler, I understand on a basic level that I can not protect my daughter from every possible pain she could encounter. And I even if I could, I shouldn’t. As much as I detest it, there are things she must overcome with God alone.

I remember the first time my daughter Rebekah shed an actual tear–not her first time to cry–but the first tear. I wanted to wipe it away, to erase her pain, to promise her that nothing would ever hurt her. But I remember just watching it roll down her cheek, a wet streak marking its existence. I knew it would only be the first of many to come. Nothing in my power could prevent that reality.

Maybe that is why Jesus, God himself, came to us as God’s son. Their father/son relationship helps our earthly minds grasp a little bit more of God’s plan and the love and pain that went into it. God not only allowed his son to die for us, but he sent him to die for us, to make us right with him. It was God’s will. And Jesus willingly obeyed. Even in those emotional moments of pleading in the garden, Jesus would not turn away from the path God had for him. Through his love and mission, he gave us access to God and to salvation.

So maybe not turning away from life when it seems to be unraveling is the loving and obedient thing to do. To engage the pain and the path and trust that through it God will bless others. I can’t explain why bad things happen, and I am not going to attempt to justify them. But maybe, just maybe, some our answers are found in facing them rather than turning away.

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