Brokenness. It is the necessary, daily starting point for soul restoration. But take note - there are two kinds of brokenness. One kind is natural, common and inadequate as a trigger for the spiritual transformations our souls need. This kind of 'broken' refers to various things like how easy it is for us to sin, our relational dysfunctions, our wounded-ness, our emotional messiness, our ineptness at loving God and one another well. Yes, we are all fundamentally 'broken' in many of these ways but this is the unhealthy natural brokenness which God desires to remedy.
The Best Brokenness. The supernatural, sacred version of brokenness is a healthy spiritual heart condition. It is a virtue (Christ-like character trait). Having this kind of 'broken' heart and spirit attracts God to us and ushers in the next step of our soul restoration. Scriptural examples follow:
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17 NRSV)
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
Being Broken. It's our experience of many crucifixion-resurrection episodes working out in our lives. The Bible depicts it in compelling ways. Remember the agricultural pictures: "Break up your fallow ground: plow up the hard soil of your heart" (Jeremiah 4:3) - an indication of our participation in the process. Then Jesus adds to the depiction: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). In other words, our outer layers of self-centeredness, self-direction and self-dependence must be broken so that our deepest level of being - the heart - can be accessed and the life-of-Christ within can be manifested (2 Cor. 4:11).
Life's Circumstances. The Holy Spirit uses our life situations and circumstances as tools for His work of breaking. Our failures, disappointments, struggles and suffering are especially effective in drawing us to the end of ourselves and to the sufficiency of Christ. Our human nature and our affinity for unrighteousness - Paul calls it the flesh - distracts and enslaves us with old patterns of being and doing; distorted ways of seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking, believing, behaving. We are invited to abandon every faulty pattern and allow Christ, who is our life (Colossians 3:4), to manifest His Way of brokenness, including ...
- humbling ourselves in surrender to God, preferring His will over our own
- abandoning our dependence on human resources
- embracing the means by which Christ reveals Himself to be the treasure within our hearts
- trusting and expecting hope to grow in our hearts despite the harshest conditions of our lives
Freedom. That's what true brokenness feels like - freedom of the soul. But perhaps our best approach is to describe what brokenness does not necessarily feel like. J.K. Dean helps us in this regard:
"Brokenness does not [necessarily] mean great sorrow. A person can be sorrowful without being broken. Brokenness does not [necessarily] mean humiliation. A person can be humiliated and not be broken. Brokenness does not [necessarily] mean discouragement. A person can be discouraged and still not be broken. It means a soul whose self-life has been exposed and its hold broken by the Spirit's power. Brokenness! What a beautiful word."
One of my most memorable breaking experiences occurred with the apparent failure of a small business I had been struggling to launch. I had fully invested five years of graduate-degree training and indebted myself financially to an enterprise which was floundering. The business break-through I thought I needed continued to elude and exhaust me. Finally I realized my efforts were heavily flesh-driven. With no solution in sight, I surrendered myself, my purposes and my dreams to the Lord, opening my heart to whatever He might do with my mess. Unexpectedly over the next few days some kind of shift occurred deep within my soul, a substantial sense of release and rest, a refreshing freedom arose within. The surrender, the brokenness resulted in what I have learned to call 'newnesss.' The felt-presence of the Lord was engaging and energizing. I would later learn this was a true experience of crucifixion-resurrection and it encouraged me to open my heart for additional ones which followed. This was a proving ground for me as well as holy ground! Less importantly, the business eventually flourished.
Jesus lived in brokenness, always preferring His Father's will over His own, even surrendering to the breaking of His body in crucifixion. Mysteriously, He does this same breaking work in us: "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him" (Luke 24:30-31). Eugene H. Peterson helps us see this mystery:
"Jesus takes what we bring him. ...us, our sins and virtues, everything we are, even when it's not much. He refuses nothing of who we are, what we have done. He takes what we offer him and uses it as stuff for salvation.
What we offer to Jesus, Jesus offers to God with thanksgiving. He doesn't examine it for flaws, doesn't evaluate and appraise it, criticize or reject our offerings. He prays these offerings and the lives that back them up, ...to the Father.
Our gifts don't remain what we bring. We are all surface, all role, polished and poised performers in the game of life. But Jesus... needs access to what is within us and so exposes our insides, our inadequacies, our 'cover-ups.' The breaking of our pride and self-approval is not a bad thing; it opens us to new life, to saving action. ...God is working deep within us, beneath our surface lies and poses, to bring new life.
Jesus gives back what we bring him, who we are. But it is no longer what we brought. It has been changed...."
From Brokenness to Wholeness. Do not fear brokenness. Its product is wholeness. Submit the patterns of your flesh for breaking - in other words, surrender yourself - and rejoice with Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
Next we will examine in greater depth the spiritual practice of 'surrender.'