Coming face-to-face with our brokenness is definitely not a fun experience. It’s hard to be honest about the ways that we are limited and fall short of our ideal selves, or the selves we think God has created us to be. How many times does society reinforce that we should be something we’re not – perfect, glamorous, strong, attractive, confident, put-together. How may times do we find ourselves thinking how the person down the hall is better, smarter, kinder, funnier than we are? No matter what, we can often be left feeling inadequate.
There are lots of ways we can feel broken. Sometimes it is a result of our choices to turn away from God and the result of that sin. But, it also can be other dimensions of our lives, like grieving the loss of someone we care about, or being afraid that we will never find someone to love us.
Ultimately, brokenness is that deep part of ourselves that we are afraid to expose, that part of me where we feel ashamed of who we are or so deeply vulnerable that we put up walls to keep others out. It is the completion of the sentence, “if you really knew me, you would know that…” It is the part of us that we are afraid will be rejected if we let others in – and sometimes we’re afraid to even let God in. Our brokenness is that which holds us back – either by choice or by the reality of our limited nature – from fully being who we aspire to be.
Faced with the deep and insatiable longing we have for God, we try to heal and fill our brokenness with things other than God – maybe eating, shopping, drinking, or criticizing others. This leaves us continually wanting and wounded, though perhaps temporarily soothed or content. The wounds and emptiness we suffer as a result of the brokenness of others are also excruciating. Can we consider that the pain and heartbreak they have caused us comes from the wounded places within them? Perhaps this perspective may alter our interactions with and responses to the brokenness in others around us and in the world.
In preparation for this meeting, you may wish to read and reflect on the passage from Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen (below). You may consider making copies for your group or sharing it with your group by way of introduction to this meeting.
Supplies: Old magazines, colored paper, scissors, and glue
We ask for the become more aware of the wounded and broken places in our heart and to be able to honestly explore those places in confidence and trust in God’s love. May this be especially present in the way that we accept and receive each of the other people in this community.
Where did you see someone hurting or suffering this week? This can even be a character on a TV show or in a novel, a person in a news article, a friend, or any other encounter where you saw brokenness.
Introduce the idea of brokenness by reading this passage by Henri Nouwen to the group:
“…When people come together they easily focus on their brokenness. The most-celebrated musical composition, the most-noted painting and sculpture, and the most-read books are often direct expressions of the human awareness of brokenness. This awareness is never far beneath the surface of our existence because we all know that none of us will escape death—the most radical manifestation of brokenness.
The leaders and prophets of Israel, who were clearly chosen and blessed, all lived very broken lives. And we, the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God, cannot escape our brokenness either. There are many things I would like to say to you about our brokenness. But where to begin?
Perhaps the simplest beginning would be to say that our brokenness reveals something about who we are. Our sufferings and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives; rather, they touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality. The way I am broken tells you something unique about me. The way you are broken tells me something unique about you. That is the reason for my feeling very privileged when you freely share some of your deep pain with me, and that is why it is an expression of my trust in you when I disclose to you something of my vulnerable side. Our brokenness is always lived and experienced as highly personal, intimate and unique. I am deeply convinced that each human being suffers in a way no other human being suffers. No doubt, we can make comparisons; we can talk about more or less suffering, but, in the final analysis, your pain and my pain are so deeply personal that comparing them can bring scarcely any consolation or comfort. In fact, I am more grateful for a person who can acknowledge that I am very alone in my pain than for someone who tries to tell me that there are many others who have a similar or a worse pain.
Our brokenness is truly ours. Nobody else’s. Our brokenness is as unique as our chosenness and our blessedness. The way we are broken is as much an expression of our individuality as the way we are taken and blessed. Yes, fearsome as it may sound, as the Beloved ones, we are called to claim our unique brokenness, just as we have to claim our unique chosenness and our unique blessedness.”
Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
Read the following passage prayerfully to the group.
“Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” Luke 15:11-32
Offer these questions for reflection
- What sticks out to you in this passage?
- How does this passage apply to your life right now?
- How does this passage apply to you as a broken child of God?
- What is God calling you to through these words?
Spend a few minutes in silence. Invite members to share anything that stands out to them from the Scripture passage including any way that the passage applies to their own lives.
After you have shared reflections on the Scripture, invite the group to spend some time reflecting on the dimensions of their brokenness that they are becoming aware of and that they want to invite God to be part of. Encourage people to cut out some images or shapes from the magazine that represent some of the brokenness in their lives. For example, they may cut out a picture of a family if they feel pain about their own family upbringing. Or, they may cut out the shape of a heart if the feel broken in their love relationships. Once everyone has several pieces, ask them to consider an image that represents the way God sees and loves them. Invite them to create that image out of their magazine pieces and glue. Guide them to share with the group if they feel comfortable.
- How is God being revealed to you in your brokenness?
- Have you dared to show these broken places to anyone: a trusted friend, God, or even yourself?
- How might you be turning away from the wounded and broken places in the lives of others around you and in the world at large?
- What has struck you as you have been listening to others share? Do you notice any patterns or commonalities?
- How did it feel to share these things with one another?
- Is there anything you want to tell your community members now that you’ve heard them share?
- How have you been feeling throughout the meeting? Comfortable? Anxious? Curious?
Keep this image somewhere visible in your room this week to continue to pay attention to what we’ve shared today.
Offer your own prayer that draws upon the graces of the meeting. You may consider incorporating the following quotation or the song Flower in the Rain by Jaci Velasquez.
“I am learning more and more that, each and every day, God is breaking my heart to make it more like His. And while it hurts, it’s all I want. Because without a living, breathing, broken heart, I am not alive. A most whole heart is a broken heart.” Unknown
“The Three Divine Persons, contemplating the whole of humanity in so many sinful divisions decide to give themselves completely to all men Love and women and liberate them from all their chains.” (CLC-USA General Principles #1)
“First, it is well to remark two things: the first is that love ought to be put more in deeds than in words. The second, love consists in interchange between the two parties; that is to say in the lover’s giving and communicating to the beloved what he has or out of what he has or can; and so, on the contrary, the beloved to the lover. So that if the one has knowledge, he give to the one who has it not. The same of honors, of riches; and so the one to the other.” (Spiritual Exercises )
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.” Psalm 34:19
“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways… Search me, O God, and know my heart.” Psalm 139