I’ve been thinking a lot lately about brokenness.
There was a pop song awhile back (by Pink & Nate Ruess) that contained the lyric “we’re not broken, just bent…” I found that idea so intriguing, but wasn’t quite sure what the Lord was saying to me through it until just recently.
Sometimes Christianese terms like “brokenness” start to feel trite after a while and it’s good to step back and reexamine. Typically, we tend to equate brokenness with being a mess of some sort – steeped in sin, beaten down by life, etc.
There are even some who have built churches around this theme… “Come, be broken with us.” This doesn’t sit quite right with me. Not that we can’t admit that we’re needful sinners… I agree with healthy recognition of both our need and our sin. But it seems that we too often get stuck there.
Perhaps our idea of brokenness is bent.
Brokenness is a biblical concept, so there’s that. But I wondered if there was a better way to look at it than the traditional view. At first I thought… doesn’t “bent” sound nicer, more hopeful? Like the song… not broken, just bent. Easier to fix. Not quite as far gone.
But is bent really better?
In C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, he refers to the enemy as “the bent one,” and says “[The Bent One] has left you this way because a bent [creature] can do more evil than a broken one.”
At the fall, humankind chose “knowledge of good and evil” over “life.” We essentially chose self-sufficiency over trusting God. And our minds became bent – warped by that knowing, that intimacy with both good and evil (sin).
So if we view our sin-state, our independence from God, as bent… does that make it easier to fix?
Banging out dents usually just creates more dents.
What if, instead we look at brokenness as the solution – a necessary precursor to complete restoration? Is it semantics, or does that change things?
While I don’t profess to understand all that was accomplished by Jesus’ brokenness on the cross, I do believe that our identification with His suffering (for us) is where our true restoration begins (and ends). Between those bookends of beginning and ending is a journey of our surrendering to the transformation in the physical world that is already complete in the spiritual world.
You might disagree, but I think it’s possible to believe in Jesus and still live bent lives. I think we can experience a tremendous amount of pain because we’re not fully broken in spirit (and able to receive healing) and we’re stuck there until we’re ready to truly turn the reins over to Him… whether that’s all at once, or piece by piece.
We’re afraid of brokenness because it assaults our pride. Because it’s vulnerable. Because we like to feel in control – even of our out-of-controlness.
But because we’re bent, we need to be broken. Like a wild pony at the hands of a loving master.
Brokenness may hurt, but it’s necessary.
About the time I was putting all of this together, I came across a message by Frank Viola called “Reimagining God’s Eternal Purpose.” In it, he provides an illustration of a man who creates a vase for his wife. Before the man is able to give her the vase, a thief attempts to steal it but drops it while leaving the scene.
In my exploration of the “broken/bent” distinction, I was inspired to finish Frank’s story with a slightly different twist…
The fall left the vase dirty, bent, a little cracked… but still functional. Maybe even beautiful, albeit flawed.
A neighboring boy finds the vase, having no understanding of what its intended purpose (or previous beauty) had been. He cleans the outside and it looks pretty good to him – cracks, dents, and all. He uses it to store his marbles.
One day, the husband notices the boy playing with his marbles and asks if he could please have the vase back. He pays handsomely for it.
The husband empties the marbles, cleans the inside, and fills in the cracks. He heats and straightens the dented golden rim, then hides a tiny seed inside. The husband presents the gift to his bride.
The wife is excited to put the vase to good use right away. She wants to use it to serve guests, but since it was once cracked, she’s afraid it might leak or not pour quite right. She ends up putting her cooking utensils in it instead. She never notices the seed. Every once and awhile, the vase starts to look dirty again, so she gives the outside a good scrub.
The husband loves the vase and it brings him great joy to see his wife using it, but he knows it’s still short of its former glory. He longs to see it fully restored and used as he intended.
Years later, while the wife is cleaning the vase it slips out of her hand and crashes to the floor, shattering into tiny pieces… the seed lies among the dust, sparkling in the sunlight.
The husband smiles and tenderly gathers it all up, dust and all. His bride stands by his side as he adds water to the dust, and creates new, pliable clay. Slowly, he molds and shapes it according to his vision. Piece-by-piece, he uses the broken shards to create a beautiful mosaic, then melts the gold to adorn the top as a crown.
He steps back and admires his work (it’s even more beautiful than the original). His handiwork is finally complete, ready to realize the glorious purpose he intended from the very beginning. He puts rich soil inside and lovingly plants the tiny seed… a seed that will flourish under his care. The wife is overcome with joy.
And one day, when the tree outgrows the vase, the husband will transplant it in a special place that he prepared long ago…
I know there are places where the analogy falls short, but it helps me process our ongoing (yet spiritually complete) transformation, and the disappointment I’ve personally felt in being a bent (but repaired) vase full of utensils – useful, perhaps… but not fulfilled.
But now… I’m ready to live broken, as clay in the Potter’s hands. It feels scary, but good too.
Trusting Him, I can view difficult circumstances as necessary for the completion of my transformation and that outlook makes a huge difference.
I want to live as fully His to fully transform in the fullness of time.
In Psalm 51 (after Bathsheba), David writes:
“Create – shape, fashion, form – in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me… My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
And in one of my favorite scenes in Scripture, Isaiah sees the Lord and cries, “Woe is me, I am undone – ruined, destroyed!”
To me, this is a completely different sort of brokenness than merely admitting we’re messed up. With David and Isaiah, the perspective begins and ends with the Lord. We recognize our need for Him, but we don’t wallow in sadness and declare our lives worthless. Now we’re in a humble state that God can work with. Not long after Isaiah realizes he’s “undone,” he says, “here I am, send me!” In the Potter’s hands, we can live in the hope of glory, knowing that we’re being transformed – lovingly put back together according to Christ’s image.
May we be undone.
May we stop living bent, independent lives… and instead allow our creator full access to our hearts.
May we offer our broken spirit to the One who binds up the brokenhearted and makes all things new.