“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart…rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:12-13).
What came to your mind when you read the title? How do you define brokenness? What is sacred space to you? How can brokenness be sacred space?
Perhaps the term “brokenness” or “woundedness” can carry with it a negative connotation. Maybe it means “messiness” or “trouble” or “guilt.” No matter what your definition of “brokenness” may be, the reality is that we are all broken. I am a broken man. And, you too are a broken man or woman. However, my brokenness is different from your brokenness. One important thing we ought to remember is that we are not defined necessarily by our brokenness. For one person, their brokenness could be the constant feeling of loneliness and the fears and insecurities that plague him or her. For another it could be the gnawing pain of rejection. For the purpose of this article, brokenness will be that of a broken heart. Sometimes we can ignore and repress that brokenness, convincing ourselves that is does not really exist and that it is actually just a mental projection that will go away once we stop thinking about it. “It’s all in your head.” It’s not. Rather, it is an invitation given to us by God to return to Him. Acknowledging our brokenness is the hardest part, but it is also the most freeing part. We have to name it. We have to say it: “Yes, I am broken, and I am in pain, but I know I don’t have to stay here.”
Knowing that we are broken implies that we know that we need someone to fix us and heal us. Oftentimes we turn to other people for this healing. Other times we turn to objects for a “quick fix,” whether it be drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc. However, we soon find out that those things can only provide a temporary feeling of relief, and when that feeling wears off we find ourselves back to where we started, deeply aware of our emptiness and brokenness, and wishing that that void can be filled. Those are all false consolations. Only God can give us the true consolation that we so desperately desire. He sent to us the “Consolation of Israel.” Pope Benedict XVI puts it beautifully: “Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness, that in his passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he.” Where no human being or material object can reach us, Christ can.
It is precisely in this brokenness that Our Father comes to meet us. Yes, it is He who comes to us. It is He who is here first. It is He who asks us “Where are you?” It is when we realize and acknowledge that we are broken, sinful, unworthy, and feel ashamed, guilt-ridden, and desolate does our Father so intensely wants us to open our broken hearts to Him, to let Him in so that He can touch that brokenness and fill it with love, His love, the love that He gives to us, His Beloved. Hence, our brokenness is actually sacred space. When all we can see is shame and ugliness our Father can only see the beauty and goodness we possess and desires to affirm us in our belovedness. It is in our brokenness that we can allow the Father to heal us and to offer us that true consolation, the joy and the “fix” that will never wear off – His eternal love for us. We need to want it. We need to accept it. We need to let God in. We need to say “Yes, Father, I know I am broken, but more importantly, I know that I am loved by You.”
As we continue to journey through Lent, let us allow the Spirit to lead us into the desert with Our Lord, where yes, we will be tempted, but knowing that we are not there alone. It has been said that the devil knows our names, but he chooses to call us by our sins. But God knows well our sins, but He chooses to call us by name. The devil tempts us with our weaknesses, with false consolations, with what the world tells us our identity is – what we are able to do (pride), what others say that we are (fame), and what possessions we have (wealth). And once the devil successfully tempts us towards falling into this trap and we sin, he shifts to an accusatory position. Consider this dialogue:
Devil: “You are so talented! Look at all those people praising you. You must be very good at what you do. Too bad your boss doesn’t feel the same way.”
Johnny: “I try my best. Just doing what I can, you know. I do wish my boss can see it.”
Devil: “C’mon give yourself some credit. You worked hard. All those hours you put in. You deserve it. You are probably much better than your boss.”
Johnny: *not sure what to say* *begins to think about those words…*
“You know what, I do work hard. Nothing wrong with a little praise here and there. Maybe I do deserve it.”
Devil: “You most certainly do.”
Johnny: “I put all those hours in. He doesn’t even do a single thing. I do all the work. He should feel lucky I’m here working for him!
Devil: “Wow, how conceited and prideful. Didn’t you call yourself Christian? Shouldn’t you feel grateful that you have a job? Who do you think you are? You work for him. Weak and pathetic. You are just a weak man that craves only for praise and fame. Once those things go away you’re left with nothing. You are nothing. Your boss doesn’t appreciate you. No one does. No one cares.”
Johnny: “But I thought you agreed that I did deserve all the praise, and that my boss should value me.”
Devil: “You are pathetic. All you want is fame and glory. Weak. So weak. You are nothing.”
The devil entices us with what the world tells us our identity is rooted in. If and when we give in, he begins to feed it. Once we are in the thick of it, the devil immediately turns on us and accuses us of being a sinner and attacks our identity. “If you are the Son of God…” But the dialogue between the Father and His beloved is quite different:
The Father: “Johnny, where are you? What’s the matter?”
Johnny: “I fell for it. I got angry and jealous and flipped my boss off. I felt that he owed me for all that I did for him. I am so weak. I am nothing. I am unlovable. How can anyone love such a conceited, prideful, and weak man like me? I should be ashamed.”
The Father: “Johnny?”
The Father: “Are you finished?
The Father: “Johnny, I love you. You are my beloved son.”
Johnny: “But even after I – “
The Father: “I love you, Johnny.”
Johnny: “How about –”
The Father: “Yes, I love you.”
Johnny: “But, do you know about – “
The Father: “Oh yes, I do. I still love you. You are my beloved son, Johnny, and nothing you do can ever change that.”
This dialogue teaches us three things: (1) God loves us no matter what, (2) God knows well our sins and loves us despite them, and (3) God has the final word! The Father, knowing all our sins, calls us by name and asks that we return to Him. He loves us in our brokenness and woundedness and wants so desperately to touch it and fill it with love. God wants to heal our broken hearts. Unlike the devil, He calls us by name because He knows from where our true identity comes. It comes from Him. All we need to do is want to rest in Him and in His love.
This Lent let us cry out to God with the psalmist: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me” (Ps. 51). And there is no better time to do so then now, for “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
God loves you more than you can ever imagine. Let Him love you.