I like the idea of brokenness. I like thinking and talking about the fact that the church is a place for broken people, where broken people can be accepted and loved. I like Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and all that.
I say that I like the idea of brokenness, because the idea is much better than the reality.
I spent quite a bit of time yesterday mopping up a leaky pipe at church. I also found myself grumbling. Grumbling that I didn’t go to seminary to mop up a leaky pipe, grumbling that our old building has so many troubles, grumbling because when I would picture where I would be at my first charge, this was not it. I was grumbling because our building is broken, and I have neither the patience nor the skill to put it back together.
Our building is only the beginning of the brokenness in our community. Some folks have alcohol problems and still smell from last night’s bender. Other folks had a misfortune early in their life, and this has had negative effects for the rest of their lives. Some folks only have a ninth grade education, while others are transient — here at times and suddenly gone for a while. There is certainly a good deal of visible brokenness in our community.
Sometimes people speak to me about how noble I am for serving a church in such a troubled community with so many broken people. I often chuckle. It is something which is easy to admire from afar, but difficult to admire when one is in the midst of brokenness. At times I find myself frustrated, even cynical.
Blessed are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I come from a subculture in which we hide our brokenness. We put on “church-faces,” the false facade that we plaster on our faces when we go to church to give the impression that everything is fine even when it is not. We all ask everyone some variation of “how are you?” The appropriate answer is some variation of “good.” Deviations from this appropriate answer, particular if the answer is “bad,” immediately receives negative informal sanctions. We are not prepared to deal with brokenness.
With this desire to hide our brokenness, I think that we like to believe that we are not broken, and “those people” are the broken ones. We have jobs, and refinement, and adequate places to live. We have morals and values, and we are very much unlike “the broken” whom we generally see as projects.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
There are places which are centers of brokenness. Hospitals, nursing homes, and inner cities are places where brokenness is visible, on the surface, and prevalent. Generally, I have typically attempted to avoid these centers of brokenness as much as possible. If I visited someone in the hospital I would walk straight to the person I was to visit, and when finished I would leave immediately. All the while attempting to avoid as many people as possible. Similarly with nursing homes. Inner cities have been a locus of mission. I would drive in, serve in a soup kitchen for a few hours, say “hi” to a few folks, and then leave feeling as though I was able to help “the broken” while still maintaining a certain level of distance, seeing them as people to perform outreach to, but always keeping them at arm’s length.
I think in a lot of ways, I tend to be uncomfortable around people who are visibly broken because they remind me of my own brokenness. They remind me that my church-face is fake, that despite of all my attempts, I still do not have my life together. When I am in centers of brokenness and surrounded by people who are visibly broken, I am reminded that I, too, am broken.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
We are all broken, just in different ways. For some of us our brokenness is very visible on the surface, for others of us, our brokenness lies a bit deeper. I need to come to terms with my own brokenness because brokenness is at the core of the Christian life. Without brokenness there is no need or desire for restoration or redemption, and in this case there is no hope. Our understanding of the kingdom/queendom of God is predicated upon the fact that we are broken, and that we must come to terms with our brokenness.
So I continue to pray, that I will not only recognize my brokenness but come to love my brokenness; that I will not only be able to tolerate the brokenness in others, but love the brokenness in others; that I will not only like the idea of brokenness, but also the reality. When I can learn to love my own brokenness and the brokenness of others, I can dwell with and walk with others as we all look forward to redemption and restoration. Brokenness is not the goal, to be sure, however, it is the road toward the goal of true wholeness. Brokenness is not to be sought after, but rather acknowledged and accepted as a part of the human condition, always seeking the wholeness that God offers. It is only when I can do this that I can learn to live in community with broken people, not just seeing them as objects of outreach or mission projects but as people created in the image of God.
At the end of the day, it is important that I recognize and remember this: there is only a place for me in the body of Christ because there is a place for the most broken.