Can Brokenness be Thought of as a Gift?
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the saying goes. This advice applies to things, not to people. All of us share some degree of brokenness and how we deal with it makes all the difference in our lives, and the lives of those we touch. Ernest Hemingway said “The world breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places.”
Many, including myself, consider brokenness as being synonymous with suffering. Types of brokenness include brokenness of the spirit, which can lead to, among other things, depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior. Then there is the brokenness that comes from broken relationships, causing much pain and suffering. Dr. Richard Swenson says, broken relationships are a razor across the artery of the spirit. (On the physical level, doctors report that when a broken bone heals properly it is actually stronger at the place of the break than it was before.)
Strong at the Broken Places by Linda T. Sanford is a classic in the literature about survivors of childhood traumas, sexual assault, physical abuse and neglect, and witnessing domestic violence. She puts a spotlight on the severe, sometimes life-long effects these experiences can have on children and adults, leaving them scarred, broken, and vulnerable.
Sanford argues against the conventional wisdom that these children are forever doomed to being damaged goods. She writes about those who have learned, through various paths, how to turn their hurts into assets. Think of John McCain, a prisoner of war who was tortured while in a Vietnamese prison, who came home broken and disfigured, and went on to become one of the U.S. Senate’s most effective leaders and spokespersons as well as a presidential candidate. He is not alone in the pain and suffering he has endured. So many of our military men and women are returning from battle with unimaginable scars of mind, body, and spirit. These people are often diagnosed with PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), a serious condition requiring immediate medical and psychological attention as well as a supportive community. Not all get the help they need and deserve. For those who do receive good care and loving support, healing and growth beyond the brokenness can occur and the survivors can become strong at the broken places.
Bryan Stevenson says that our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Stevenson, an attorney and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, suggests we are all broken by something. We have hurt others and we have been hurt by others. Stevenson’s book is beautifully written, articulating the connection between brokenness, humanity, and compassion. According to Stevenson, even when we are caught up in a web of brokenness we are also caught in a web of healing and mercy.
One of the gifts of brokenness is the joy of coming to know a higher Self and the happiness that can come from working to heal this wound. (Think of the Prodigal son and the joy he experienced when he finally “came to himself,” returned home and was welcomed by a loving, forgiving father.) Many, if not all, of us have had experiences of brokenness. Some argue that it is a necessary part of our journey.
It is through these cracks and holes at the site of our brokenness that the light shines through. Leonard Cohen says it best in his song, Anthem: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
What kind of light? The light of knowledge; the light of love and compassion; the light of sharing and being part of a community; the light of joy and happiness; the light of forgiveness; and the light that shines on us to help us recognize our unity, our oneness with the rest of the world. Suffering and brokenness have much to teach us and are invaluable tools for our healing if we reach out and embrace what they offer us.
We can experience this healing light and become strong in our broken places by making ourselves consciously aware that we are broken and accepting that this is part of who we are; by understanding the causes insofar as possible; by seeking help from family, friends, and sometimes a professional to gain knowledge and insight, helping to sort everything out; and through prayer, contemplation, and meditation.
There is no quick fix for healing brokenness. It can take a long time (perhaps a lifetime) to get to the place you want to be, to live the life of freedom, joy, and serenity you want to live. But it’s worth the effort we put in because this journey leads us to a place of unimaginably rich, life-changing happiness.