Rail flower

Lately I’ve been thinking and writing quite a bit about brokenness. While this is a subject that will always be relevant this side of eternity, there are particular reasons why I’ve been focusing on it recently. But I’ll come to that.

As I wrote in one recent post, it seems to be the case that we often need to be brought to a place of brokenness before we are ready to begin to receive the healing light of God’s loving grace. However, as I wrote in another post, we often carry a deep sense of shame that acts as a powerful pull away from the light: because we are broken, we feel shameful and unworthy, and the last thing we want is anyone else seeing what we’re really like.

So we find ourselves caught in a deadly trap: in desperate need of healing, but kept away from the healing light we so need by shame and the fear of exposure. And this often happens at a level that is below our conscious awareness. We do not know why we are hiding, or even that we are hiding; all we know is that we feel trapped, lonely and desperately unhappy.

It seems clear to me that our fear of exposure is largely driven by the deep-seated belief that our brokenness is a source of difference, and therefore something to be ashamed of. If you know about the particular ways in which I am broken, you will see that I am different from you, and you will judge me and find me wanting. And, given that our brokenness is often bound up with a deep need for approval and acceptance (and a corresponding dread of rejection), the idea of being judged less than enough is simply too devastating a risk for many of us to willingly take.

Yet there is a great paradox here. Through my own experience of brokenness, and through some beautiful friendships I’ve been blessed with, I’ve come to realise that, far from being a source of difference and separation, our brokenness is, in fact, the very thing that makes us the same.

The truth is, there are none of us who are not broken in some way. The particular details of your brokenness may differ from mine, and the extent and depth of the fractures in our souls may not be the same, but the fact remains that we are all wounded and in need of healing. And even those whose wounds have mostly healed still carry the marks of brokenness in the form of scars that become part of their stories.

What has become powerfully apparent to me in recent days, then, is that an important – not to say vital – step on the path toward healing is to own our brokenness. I do not mean this in the sense of holding tightly onto our brokenness so that our identity becomes fused with it; that road leads only to perpetual victimhood. What I mean is that, if we are to be healed, we must recognise that our brokenness is not something to be hidden; rather, it is a sign of our common humanity that is to be acknowledged and shared. Only in this way can we find the healing and wholeness our souls long for; and only in this way can our brokenness eventually be transformed from a crippling weight of shame and fear into a source of light and healing for others.

Your understanding of all that I have written above will depend largely on your own experience. If you have not yet known the sorrow of brokenness, it may make sense to you at a purely intellectual level. That’s certainly the level at which I used to understand it: it all made perfect sense, in the abstract way a mathematical theory makes sense.

Then life happened; or rather, I ran into the brick wall of my own brokenness. Some time in the past year or so, I developed a secret drinking habit. A single, harmless drink one weekday afternoon led to a semi-regular habit, and in time to a much more regular one. Like all addictions, what began with the seductive promise of comfort and freedom soon morphed into a deadly form of enslavement. The gory details are not important here; suffice to say that things eventually reached the point where my family, oblivious to the truth of my well-concealed habit, began to have serious concerns about my health.

Everything came to a head a couple of months ago. When the burden became too great to keep on carrying and the pretence of normality could no longer be maintained, I finally confessed to my wife and family. In spite of the pain I had caused her, my wife was firm but forgiving. It’s not the first time she has been the tangible, enfleshed expression of God’s grace toward me, and for that I am thankful beyond words.

Since then, I’ve been working with a therapist who has helped me begin to understand, for the first time in my life, the nature and origins of some of my brokenness. I don’t mind saying that this process has been at once liberating and painful. This, I suppose, is not at all surprising: the end goal of surgery may be wholeness, but some painful cuts need to be made first, and even once everything has been stitched up again, the actual healing is rarely without pain.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to write this post. Even a few weeks ago, the idea of owning this part of my life publicly seemed very scary. The risk of disapproval and rejection – What will people think? – felt overwhelming. But today, I can’t escape the sense that I’ve been led to this place, so that my sharing here is done not in fear and trepidation, but in the quiet assurance that it is just another small step on the path to healing and wholeness.

I’m learning that I cannot escape my brokenness by hiding from it, nor by striving to keep it hidden from the world. To do that only keeps me separate and isolated. In choosing to bring my brokenness into the light, I am embracing the humanity that is found not in our difference but in our essential sameness. In a very real sense, I need you if I am to find healing; the path to wholeness is not one I can walk alone.

Last week I had the privilege of attending a conference near Chicago, USA, broadly on the topic of what it means to be peacemakers in this violent world. The subject matter was fascinating in itself, but it’s not why I mention this now.

On the final evening of the conference, my friend Tim led the assembled attendees in a beautiful and deeply moving communion service. As part of what he shared with us, he spoke of the southern African philosophy of ubuntu, which has to do with the connectedness of humanity. I cannot think of a better way to wrap up this post than by quoting the words he used to explain what ubuntu means: “I am, because we are. I am human, because we are human together.”

[ Image: Aftab Uzzaman ]