Twenty-three years ago our dishes looked great. We opened a piece here and there at wedding showers, excited about starting a home and drinking coffee out of our new everyday cups that came with matching saucers and everything. They were whole, shiny, and perfect.
There aren’t many cups left now, and of those, one is missing a handle and is on the “to-be-glued” shelf. The rest are chipped, cracked, and scuffed after years of use and dishwasher cycles and a few moves. In real life, fragile things do not stay whole, shiny, and perfect, not if they are taken off the shelf to join the living.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” (Ernest Hemmingway, A Farewell to Arms)
Why did I say that?
How could I have done such a thing?
Why can’t I be healthy enough to serve the way I want?
But there is good news in brokenness, too. In this post, I will talk about the way brokenness is universal and binds us together. In the next, I will discuss the way that God fixes broken things – it’s why He came – and our brokenness actually makes us more useful to Him.
Brokenness is universal
Brokenness is lonely. We want to hide it. Sometimes we are ashamed of our condition.
“I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.” ~Psalm 31:12, ESV
Are you living with illness? Not everyone is chronically ill, and not everyone has the same illness, but we all live in fallible bodies that don’t always work the way we want them to. And none of our bodies will last forever.
Have you been hurt by someone you love? Not everyone is betrayed in the same way, but our families are made up of human beings (yes, even yours). That means they are imperfect and will sometimes act like they shouldn’t. We’ve all been crushed by others, to some extent.
Are you heartbroken by your own sin? You’ve no idea the company you have. “We all stumble in many ways.” (James 3:2). The “best” of Christians find themselves unable to do the good things they want to do, and constantly doing the bad things they don’t want to do. (Rom. 7:14-25)
The fact that other people hurt too doesn’t take away our own pain, and it doesn’t mean that we should ignore personal brokenness or pretend that it isn’t real. Here is what it means to me:
1. We do not have to be ashamed of being broken. You don’t have to be perfect. No one else is either, and they shouldn’t expect it of you. Brokenness is not the time to hide; it is when we need other people the most. “Pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Eccl. 4:10)
2. We do have to be patient with different kinds of brokenness. Someone else may not be broken in the same way you are. Their struggle may be with addiction, while yours is pride. Be as understanding with them as you want them to be with you. “Make allowance for each other’s faults.” (Col. 3:13 NLT)
3. Other people need to see our brokenness. That other broken person is just as ashamed of her own brokenness as you have been of yours. She needs to know you struggle too, so that her pain will not lead her to withdraw. We do the world little good if we pretend that life is perfect; people need to see that we hurt too, and that we love God in spite of the pain.
4. Through our own pain, we know how other people hurt and can serve them better. The grace that God gives us when we are broken is not meant to be stored up. It is meant to be passed on to others. (2 Cor. 1:3-5). And when we find people who are broken in the same way we are, or were, we know how they feel and what they need. Our own brokenness trains us for service.
I’m sorry for your brokenness. I know it hurts, even if I could not possibly know the depth of your pain. But don’t think that you have to stay on the shelf if you have a broken handle. All the rest of us are chipped and cracked, too, and we need each other. Let our mutual brokenness mold us more into a single Body of Christ, for his glory and service.
And by the way, brokenness may be universal, but it doesn’t have to be eternal. That’s what we will talk about in the next post. Jesus came to seek out the broken, and He never leaves things as He finds them.
“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” ~ Eugene O'Neill