in Failure

On Brokenness

The other day, while reading Holy Fools: Following Jesus with Reckless Abandon by Matthew Woodley (a surprisingly delightful little book.. but more on that when I get to my August book reviews), I came to a realisation regarding how I have been approaching brokenness.
You see, I have been approaching brokenness as if it were something I was called to enter into.  You know, journeying into places of exile, trying to enter into solidarity with the poor and oppressed, that sort of thing.  Essentially, I was approaching Christianity as though it were something that leads us to enter into the brokenness that we find outside of ourselves.
Now this is all well and good — Christianity does call us to this — but the picture painted thus far is incomplete. I have been so focused on extrinsic elements of brokenness that I have neglected the intrinsic element.  I have forgotten to account for the brokenness that is inside of me.  This, then, is why I have been so rocked by my own failures and by the limitations that I have discovered within myself (most recently expressed here but also here).  I had accounted for cruciformity — wherein we begin to break with the brokenness we take on from those around us — but I had failed too account for the fallen state of my own humanity (which also groans, along with the cosmos and the Spirit, as it awaits the new creation of all thing).  Furthermore, by failing to account for this brokenness I have made the mistake of attempting to operate on my own strength; I am constantly pushing myself to do more, and am regularly on the brink of burn-out and total exhaustion.  (An amusing story to illustrate this point: I was talking with some of my co-workers and they were emphasising how all of the studies on social work talk about the significance of having a healthy social life outside of work.  In response, I stated that I do have a healthy social life… it’s just that all my friends happen to be street-involved and are constantly going through crises!).  The result of this is that I’m not always able to be there for friends in need, I get more grumpy with my wife, I lose touch with family members for long periods of time, as well as all the other failures I’ve listed in the posts to which I have linked.
Now here’s the quote from Woodley’s book that got me rethinking all of this:

I finally grasped a central principle of holy folly: strength in weakness.  God’s power flows into and then gushes out of human vulnerability.  It’s the principle of engaging our brokenness, running into it rather than fleeing it our denying it, but then finding true strength–God’s strength–smack in the middle of our brokenness.

That’s when the the light-bulb went off in my head (even though this point should be blatantly obvious to anybody who has any sort of familiarity with, oh, say the letters of Paul).  I’ve been spending so much time engaging the brokenness of others that I have been totally suppressing my own brokenness.  My exhaustion from work, my inability to always be there for others, my grumpiness with my wife, these are all elements of the brokenness I need to run into (and not run from).  It is precisely these areas wherein I need to discover God’s strength in my weakness.
Now, I don’t know what that means, or what exactly that will end up looking like, but I sure as hell am excited to find out.

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  1. Some good thoughts… I’ll be curious to hear about what this ends up looking like in practice, as you ‘run into’ rather than ‘away from’ these areas of inner brokenness…

  2. I’m also curious. Right now I’m at the place where I’m actually allowing myself to recognise my limitations, and now I’m (finally) bringing them all to God in prayer. Basically, I’m saying, “Look God, I’m too done in to continue to try and carry all the people I’ve been trying to carry… so it’s up to you to do something about this.” I can imagine a few different possible results:
    (1) Nothing changes;
    (2) God raises up other people to help;
    (3) God teaches me new joy and new disciplines so that I can do more than I’m doing now;
    (4) God performs a few miracles and suddenly nobody is homeless, addicted, or struggling with mental health problems;
    (5) Any combination of the above;
    (6) Who knows?
    Whatever happens, I’ll keep you posted.

  3. As one who grew up in a missionary family and lived in poverty in a war-torn country the first part of my life, then spending the second half of my life working with the poor in inner-city ministry, I am constantly reminded that Jesus knew we would always have the poor with us…the broken, the weak, but even Jesus knew when to retreat and take time with his family, friends, and Father.
    Being broken is knowing that you or me or anyone else cannot save the world. Only Jesus can. We are human and until we are changed into His image…we must learn that it’s not what we can do or what we do that changes anything. Should we ignore our family and friends to save the world…we will be broken. But not the kind of brokenness that drives us to the cross.


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