On Being Broken and Being Free

I’ve come to a conclusion.

Everything is broken.

In Christianeze we refer to this as “the fall” or “total depravity” or other sweepingly long words, but I think broken is a better word. Its understandable. And its true. To say that mankind is “fallen” gives the idea that we were at one point on a pedestal. And through our actions we were somehow “demoted” into the state that we are now. Mankind is not “fallen.” Not in the sense that we are not sinful or in need of redemption, but rather in the sense that we have not been booted from some high position of superiority. We speak of the “fall of man” in grandiose terminology, as if the ultimate goal of humanity is to return to the “perfection” we were created in.

In reality, we are not “fallen,” but rather broken. The reason we find ourselves in the predicament that we are in is because we have broken relationships. In the beginning, we betrayed a trust, not lost a position. And in betraying that one trust, that one relationship, the effect was to break all the uniting bonds which we held with God and the world around us.

You can see it all around you.

There are the obvious effects of brokenness. You know, the ones that conservatives are trying to legislate and stand up against, the symptoms of brokenness that the Moral Majority attempted to remedy in the 90s. Divorce, broken homes and broken marriages, abortion and drug use. But then there are the symptoms that we don’t often attribute to being broken (at least not by certain groups) : war (all war), racism, poverty, Darfur, the AIDS crisis, the obesity epidemic. All of these are symptoms that point to the problem. Too often we treat them as problems in their own right. Politicians try to remedy our moral problems through politics, when they are merely treating the symptoms. And treating the symptoms of brokenness with politics is like treating a gunshot wound with a Sesame Street styled band-aid.

The pursuit of all humanity – its actions, its thought, its culture – is to remedy this brokenness. Somehow, we all know that something isn’t right here. We can feel that this isn’t how it was supposed to be, but we don’t know why.

We try to remedy it with religion. Perhaps god would be fix it all if we act right and give him or her or them our prayers and thoughts and money. If we just go to church enough, if we just give enough money, if we just act the right way then maybe somehow it’ll be enough and god will come down to fix the brokenness that we aren’t quite sure we have. But regardless of how much time we spend in church, or how much money we give, or how many good thoughts we have or how many good deeds we do, it doesn’t seem to work. We have this idea that what god really wants is for us to act a certain way or do certain things, and if we do these certain things then he or she will be happy with us. We miss the point. We feel this brokenness, this emptiness, not because we are not doing the right things, but because we do not realize that the problem is that we have broken a relationship. When an adulterous wife leaves her husband for another lover, what the husband wants more than anything is for his wife to return to him. It would seem ridiculous if the wife, in an attempt to repair the relationship, sent a check with 10% of her weekly earnings to her husband, or if she wrote him endless love songs singing about her husband’s greatness, while still remaining in the arms of another lover. What the husband wants is not his wife’s money, or admiration through song. What he wants is for her to return to him.

We try to remedy it with money. We attribute this feeling of brokenness with a lack of happiness in life, so we search for happiness and find it in our plasma television sets and our cars and our high paying jobs, because people look up to us and admire us and envy us, so we must be doing something right if they want to be like us. If I just had a bigger house, if I could just send my kids to better schools, then we could really be happy and I wouldn’t have this unsettling feeling that something still isn’t right. The more I think about how much value we put into money, the more ridiculous it seems. We spend our entire lives held under the burden of collecting as many pieces of 6 x 2 inch cloth as possible, because for some reason we think that the more pieces of cloth we have, the more happy we will be. How ironic it is, that on the back of every piece of cloth are the words “In God We Trust.” What god are we really trusting in?

We try to remedy it with approval from others. Maybe if we have the right clothes, or the right appearance, we will feel whole again. One author I have read contended that the reason we wear clothes is because this relationship is broken:

“Man is wired so he gets his glory (his security, his understanding of value, his feeling of purpose, his feeling of rightness with his Maker, his security for eternity) from God, and this relationship is so strong, and God’s love is so pure, that Adam and Eve felt no insecurity at all, so much so that they walked around naked and didn’t even realize they were naked. But when that relationships was broken, they knew it instantly. All of their glory, the glory that came from God, was gone. It wouldn’t be unlike being in love and having somebody love you and then all of the sudden that person is gone, like a kid lost in the store. No insecurity was felt when the person who loved you was around, but in his absence, it instantly comes to the surface. In this way, Adam and Eve were naked and weren’t ashamed when God was around, but the second the relationship was broken, they realized it and were ashamed. And that is just the beginning.” -Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

When we were first created, there was no need for clothing. We were stark raving naked but we didn’t care. We had such an intimate connection with God and with each other that clothing was unnecessary. We had nothing to hide. When our relationship was broken, we now had shame, something to hide. In seeking to cover our shame, we covered our bodies, first with leaves and then with fur. I find it also interesting that when our relationship with God was broken, so was our relationship with creation. Creation suffered as a result of our sin. And it still does today.

The symptoms of brokenness are all around us.

The problem that too many churches and politicians and non-profit organizations have is that we are trying to treat the symptoms of cancer rather than seeking out the cure. We treat each area as its own problem, with its own cure and its own symptoms, when in reality it is all related. The problem is not that we try to find answers in religion and money and fashion and politics. The problem is that we don’t understand the problem. The problem is we are broken, in every sense of the word.

But what, then, is the remedy?

Embrace your brokenness.

Embrace the fact that you and the world around you is broken. You don’t need to put up a front, to act as if you’ve got it all together, or to live up to someone else’s standards. The fact is that you cannot fix your brokenness. There is nothing within my power that I could do to repair the way I interact with God or people or the world. Thats how it is, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.

Now, do not write me off as being pessimistically fatalistic. I have found that, quite to the opposite of how it might appear, there is amazing freedom in this thought.

By accepting the fact that I don’t have it all together, I have found freedom. Not political freedom or physical freedom, but true spiritual freedom. Freedom in the sense that, I believe, Paul meant when he wrote about the freedom of the believer in Corinthians. It is a freedom that Paul experienced in Christ, having come out of a sect of religious thought that focused so much on having it all together. What Paul found was that the remedy to our brokenness is not in trying to put the pieces back together; the remedy is to bring the pieces to God, broken and disheveled though they may be, and allow Him to do the fixing.

This is true freedom. To be able to live in the knowledge that God understands that I am broken. After all, He was there when it all happened. He understands that I don’t understand. He understands that I still have these desires and impulses that I’m not quite sure what to do with. He understands that I struggle with questions that I can’t find the answers to. He understands that I can’t put these pieces back together myself. And He loves me all the same.

In embracing this brokenness, in accepting that I don’t have it all together, there is remarkable freedom in how I live and interact in this world. I do not have to fear what others think. I have my faults, I have my oddities, but I know I am broken, just as everyone else is, so I have nothing to fear. I can be open with people, I don’t have to hide my sins behind a mask, because I know that I am broken, but its going to be okay because I have given the pieces to Someone who can fix it. And I do not have to judge others for their sins or their oddities, because they are equally as broken as I am. There is a deeper understanding of others – after all, they are dealing with the same brokenness I am. They may manifest their struggles differently, but deep down inside we’re both just looking for someone to tell us how to put the pieces back together.

Brennan Manning put it this way:

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said that I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’

“The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many America churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned – our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep – all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. we have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift. ‘If we but turn to God,’ said St. Augustine, ‘that itself is a gift of God.’ My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” -Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

There is infinite freedom in this thought. To think that I can live free of worrying about whether or not I am doing it all right, whether I have fulfilled my check list of good deeds to do, making sure I don’t appear to be uncertain at all. The fact is that I am uncertain, I am disheveled, I am broken. But I don’t have to act as if everything is ok. I don’t have to be afraid of people finding out my faults. After all, we all have faults, we are all trying to put the pieces back together. Everyone has their ways of keeping it together – the religious tape, the money glue stick, the approval staples. But I do not have to put my pieces back together. I am broken. And there is nothing I can do about it except to accept it and turn it over into the hands of Someone who can fix it.

I am broken. But I am free.

3 thoughts on “On Being Broken and Being Free”

  1. I see that you have also get in touch of Brennan Manning books, I have being talking about brokenness for the last 4 years and I still believe I am broken person, but like you said, broken and free

  2. This point was clearly stated with the adulterous wife and her husband. We need to come back to Jesus and not pay our way with works or with monetary value. Brennan Manning bluntly stated a fact that we all take for granted as well, that even the act of turning to God for help and prayer is a gift in itself and we take that for granted. God doesn’t owe us anything, we owe Him everything.

    Good post Jon.

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