I have been pondering what it is to be broken, to carry around the dirt and messiness we all seem to pick up along the way. Thoughts of brokenness have surfaced as I have encountered it in myself and feel the ripples of it through the lives of others. It comes as no surprise to me that parenting brings my own weakness into sharp and uncomfortable focus. There are few more humbling experiences in this life than trying to raise up little human beings. Sometimes I feel I am in a constant state of holding my breath and praying I haven’t messed up too much so far. In a conversation I had the other day with my husband about how we parent in our own individual styles, I just looked at him and said “You know, I am just parenting out of my own brokenness.” And as I spoke the words, the truth of it penetrated me to the core. I am. I am parenting out of brokenness. I am also working out of brokenness, serving out of brokenness. and living out of brokenness. I am broken. What does this mean? It means so much of what I do is tinged with so much of the me I would rather keep hidden. The parts of me that are wounded, and seem to either recoil or lash out at others. The secret insecurities and soft spots that I work so hard to mask. The ubiquitous pride that sticks like the dickens to almost all my wrong choices. The need to be right (even when I am so clearly not). They are all in there, in the dirt that can quickly soil the whitest intentions. Dust one off, there is another. Blot out a blood stain, and it resurfaces. “Out out damn spot!” It felt good, in a way, to say it out loud. It is freeing to come clean and confess, to lay it all bare at the altar. It is a release to speak out the truth and to feel the heaviness lift, even just a little, whether in whispered prayers or moments of intimate transparency. But the release is short lived and the freedom elusive. Unkind thoughts, the sharp edges of pride and envy, a tongue quick to criticize and ears quick to take offense are just a few breaths away at any moment. It’s so hard to stay clean. “It’s hard to keep things white. Dirt loves it, blood loves it, sin loves it.” So, stained, broken, and somehow not only existing but actively participating in this life. Here I am. And there she is, and there he is. Here we all are. Broken and covered in dirt. And the hurts that we simultaneously despise and desperately protect pull us somehow toward injuring one another. The wounded becomes the wounder. The broken become the breakers. The stained, they are sometimes the first to throw a dirty mess at someone else. No one walks away from this crisp and clean. No one. We all have been hurt. We all hurt. We carry in us the brokenness that it is to be human. And we break. I know this because I have been convicted of wounding others. And because I have felt the sting of someone else’s brokenness seeping out and into my own. I have received the unkind words and actions that I know come from another’s own personal well of hurt. What I have come to understand through time is that I cannot absorb this pain. That is not for me to do. The weight of what breaks them is not for me to carry. The dirt is not for me to examine. For all of us, it would seem, that under the first layer of dirt is a deeper layer, and another, and that the deepest layers cannot be seen and cannot be cleansed by anything less than the Divine. So what do I do with my own stains? How do I function as I should, how can I parent, work, serve, in this broken state? I cringe as I inwardly review words I have said, things I have done, and I want to know that somehow, in all of this mess, God is still moving. In my quiet moments of reflection with Him, I hang my head and tears slide down my cheeks. It is painful, facing the mess, and it is lonely, wondering how He can use His daughter in these soiled garments.
Then, if I stay around long enough to listen, in the stillness, He breathes His assurances and words of comfort into my heart. “It is not for you to worry over each stain,” He says, “and if you could, you would see what I see, that even the traces are gone. I am renewing you. When I promised ‘whiter than snow’ it was no exaggeration, no fool’s hope. It is truth. And do not waste so much time reviewing each place you are cracked and broken, allowing yourself to become mired in discouragement and self-pity. Where you are cracked, My light shines through, if you allow it to. Remember, it is in your brokenness that I use you. I am always making beautiful things out of dust and I am forever creating beauty out of the ashes.” And so it is. I come to the place where I can say yes, I am broken, I am weak and sometimes I am just plain foolish. And in this “mortal coil” I will continue to trip up and yes, live and act out of a state of brokenness. But I have come to see it not as a chain holding me back, and not an excuse to behave badly, but as a constant reminder to go back to the place of cleansing, back to the wells of living water, and then up and out and into my world. And when I go up and out into the world, I can be filled with a deeper grace for all those who walk with me, and a trust that some will be offered to me in return.