Obstacles to Intimacy: Fear of Brokenness

“I am barely holding it together as it is.  I don’t know how I can live with myself if I take an unobstructed look at this horror that is my life.”

Sometimes it’s not fear of pain that holds us back from taking an honest look at ourselves in the quest for intimacy with God.  Maybe you have an advanced degree in pain already.  Maybe there is something much greater at stake than feeling a little more pain.  Sometimes what is at stake is our very existence—an ability to get through this day, let alone tomorrow or the day after.  Maybe I have negotiated an uneasy peace with myself, and taking an honest look inward sounds a lot like opening Pandora’s Box.  Facts and feelings will fly out and there will be no way to stuff them safely back inside.  Or worse, maybe I strongly suspect I can’t live with the person I find under any terms whatsoever.

It’s a great paradox, seemingly nonsensical on its surface, but several traditions recognize a spark of blessing lurking in brokenness.  Twelve Step addiction recovery seekers talk about “rock bottom” as being the only ground on which an addict can take the first step to recovery—admitting powerlessness over certain things.  Jews have an expression, “There is no vessel as whole as a broken heart.”  Christian scripture offers verse after verse on the theme of dying to self and being raised to new life in Christ.

To be clear, I am not saying brokenness or rock bottom is a good thing.  No one wants to see it come to that for ourselves or for a friend.  There’s no good in glorifying or overdramatizing feeling this low.  I am not advocating that you press the pedal to the metal and hurl yourself towards it like Thelma and Louise.

What I am saying is that a lot of people have found themselves in a place of brokenness, and they have hope to offer those whose journey takes them through that place.  Sometimes it is the most effective way to break free from stubborn attachments or “bondage to self.”  Sometimes it gives us an impetus to take ourselves out of life’s center and to put God there instead.  Sometimes we need that spark of blessing more than we need to avoid brokenness.  Although all our survival instincts rebel against it, the truth remains:  brokenness saves us from ourselves.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

Inhale: healing
Exhale: brokenness

Join the conversation and give courage to your fellow travelers.  What spark of blessing did you find in your journey through brokenness?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Pain: Fuel for the Journey

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves offers a sobering choice:  a broken heart or an irredeemable one.  Fortunately for those inclined towards the former, a broken heart’s byproduct, pain, is extraordinarily useful.  The pain we encounter is not some kind of punishment for wrongdoing.  Pain is not something that God exacts or something from which God could choose to spare us.  Rather, it is an extraordinarily useful gift that arrives amid suffering.   How is pain useful?

First, it can serve as a warning.  Martin Smith in Reconciliation offers, “God refuses to soften or neutralize the painful effects of sin because we need the pain to warn us the acts are destructive of life.”

Second, it can serve as a teacher.  Painful consequences can steer us towards better choices.  Toddlers learn disobedience has consequences.  Though it pains parents to see children suffer the consequences of their bad choices, good parents don’t deprive their children of this learning essential to survival.  Where is God in our pain?  Like the parent, teaching, hoping, loving, infinitely sensitive and compassionate.

Third, it can serve as an impetus.  Few people seek radical life-changing transformation when they are in a comfortable rut.  It’s when the fruitless rut becomes uncomfortable that we open ourselves to another way.  The pain encountered when we look inward for where we have veered off course is the seed of the new way.  If tended to, the seed can grow into a magnificently fruitful tree.

Most compelling to me, pain is fuel.  Japanese poet, author and social activist Kenji Miyazawa (1896 –1933) famously said we must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.  Picking something specific to visualize is going to help in the heat of painful moments.  It could be coal that powers a locomotive you ride to another place or liquid hydrogen in a rocket that blasts you the heck out of here.  Be creative and be visceral.  What does jet fuel feel like? Does it give you a metallic taste in your mouth? Do you smell it?  Evoke all your senses when pain arises, and level your eyes with determination on the destination.

Destination is the key.  At first it may suffice simply to cry, “Beam me up, Scotty,” and evacuate.  Many times I have cried, “My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.”  (Psalm 25:15)  Eventually, though, what we’re propelled from only gets us so far.  We have to give vision to what we’re propelled towards.

Join the conversation.  How has having a clear vision of your destination helped you work through painful but necessary life changes?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.