Broken Brings Beautiful

I’ve been binge-thinking, about what it means to be broken.

Not all personalities binge-think, but mine certainly does. Especially when key aspects of life seem to be operating completely outside my control. When I have no idea what God is bringing next, or who, or where, or when, or how. That’s when I easily fall into this constant mental circle of trying to process options, plans, possibilities…

It’s when I most ought to bring my brain to a screeching halt and dive down onto my knees — but it’s also when resting in God comes hardest.

I chuckled to myself last week, how back in the years of being a pastor’s wife, I worried obsessively how to make ends meet on a slim salary. Back then, I never considered how great a blessing it was to know there would be a precise paycheck arriving the next month. Nothing quite prepares you for the transition to a single parent and carrying the weight on your shoulders alone.

One good thing about binge-thinking is the epiphanies it brings. Assuming you like epiphanies, I guess. (I do!) Processing through the friendships in my life, I’ve been struck with deep observations about people I know…

– some of them are uplifting and encouraging.
– others are judgmental and condemning.
– some consistently find the good.
– others wallow in angst.
– some are pleasant and patient even under stress.
– others are cactus prickles and defense no matter what.

Which leaves me wondering – what makes the difference? Is it all just personality? Is it circumstance? Or is it rooted in something else?

Once, when I was about 18 years old, I remember meeting an elderly speaker who impressed me profoundly. Despite obstacles and challenges and even antagonists, he was kind. Despite trials and frustrations, he was honest. Cheerful. Helpful. And I remember thinking “When I am older, I want to marry someone like that! What’s more, I want to be someone like that.”

As I learned more of his story, I realized this man hadn’t become that way by accident. Rather, he had survived excruciating hardship and had allowed life’s trials to carve and sculpt him into someone gentler, kinder, more honest, more caring, more devoted — as a result. It wasn’t an easy path that led to his endearing qualities, it was a deeply challenging one.

Which scared my youthful heart a bit…

If I want to be that kind of person when I’m older, what path will I have to survive before I become her? What trials will threaten to overwhelm me along the way?

Do I really want it that badly?

Pondering those moments from nearly 20 years ago, I’ve been hit hard this week with the realization that the difference between those around me who stay positive and those who lash out and cause pain, is simply answered by whether they are operating out of a surrendered heart. What place does Jesus hold in their life?

And I don’t mean overt displays of religiosity. Some of the most publicly “spiritual” people are toxic behind closed doors. I do mean there’s a tangible difference among people who are mutually, brokenly, humbly seeking God’s face.

The ones who keep running to Jesus…
Wanting to grow and change, even if the truth is hard to hear.
Longing for wholeness enough to wade through the painful communication and stick it through to the other side.
Willing to adapt and change and look at situations from the other person’s perspective.

When we have heart-growth as a life goal at any cost, our relationships take a very different tone. A tone of grace and gentleness. Of seeking reconciliation and extending an apology.

Because when you’re clearly seeing your own broken,
and your own growth curve,
and you realize that other people around you are bending down to lift you up from your muck,
and you’re doing that same thing for even more people…
you lose the bitter edge.

The angst softens.
The harshness drains away and the rigidity flexes.

You see yourself in them, and you see them in you. Somehow while you’re discovering these depths of understanding, you simultaneously discover a new backbone to stand your ground against things that cross your boundaries, or endanger the innocent, or devalue whatever calling God has placed on your heart.

You find that the spark of determination in your soul gradually roars into a fire that blazes to consume the nonsense and the mediocrity and the self-preservation. Somehow you’re softer than before, but oddly, you’re also more steel.

What people think of you matters both less, and more, than it did before.

Less, because you’re not doing it for them.
You’re not craving their applause.
You’re not driven by their attention.

More, because your representation of Jesus to others takes on a whole new meaning.
You’re doing life for a higher purpose.
You’re motivated by a deeper calling.

Suddenly it breaks your heart when you’ve broken someone else’s.
You’re crushed when you make mistakes that let your values down.

It also means you have this village, these people, those friends… the ones who love you enough to speak the truth even when it hurts in the telling. The ones who won’t abandon you no matter how dark your valley. The ones who walk alongside you and enter your pain and revel in your joys – regardless of their own suffering or success.

And what’s more?
They let you do the same for them.
They let you in.
They allow you to be present in their souls.
Even when it’s not pretty.
Even when it’s not put together.
Even when they’d rather hide behind a facade of perfection or at least a pretense of normalcy.

That, I believe, pretty much sums up why God wants us to be a church. To be a secondary family, brokenly traveling together as we seek to walk united in the footsteps of Jesus.

Tonight, a friend called me.

Asking how I was really doing.
And instead of laughing it off or deflecting with some funny story about my kids’ antics, I told the truth.

I shared my struggles.
I spilled out my fears.
Admitted there are days when I’m strong and full of faith and confident that “God’s got this!”

And then there are mornings when I startle awake from terrifying nightmares and the sheer weight of responsibility follows me like a cloud.

Days when I physically raise my arms, breathe deeply, and visually push the stress back down to a manageable level. Somewhere lower than the back of my throat.

My friend listened.
Shared ideas.
Asked questions.

And then said “I know you feel really alone right now, but you’re not. You have this entire village of friends who care so very much. Your problems are our problems. We aren’t going to let you walk through this alone. We aren’t going anywhere. You. Are. Not. Alone.”

I cried.

I mean, I know I’m not actually alone.
I have Jesus. I have family.
I have the planet’s most incredible and resilient children, who bring me profound joy and happiness daily.

But some days, there’s tremendous comfort in having members of this broken, blessed, God-seeking earthly family — reach out to each other and say it out loud.

We are in this together.
Us and Jesus.

The message becomes:
We do not abandon each other. All burdens are lighter when they are shared, and so, we are here to shoulder yours along the way.

This is the reality of brokenness.
This is the face of true soul-full beauty.
This is the family of God as we are meant to be.

Reprinted with permission from Sarah’s blog. You can purchase Sarah’s book here: ONE FACE: Shed the Mask, Own Your Values, and Lead Wisely.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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Sarah McDugal

Sarah McDugal is a branding strategist, leadership speaker and author. She's also a homeschooling single mom who never has enough time to do #allthethings, and sometimes leaves dirty dishes in the sink longer than she probably should.

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