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Let Me Be Broken

Let Me Be Broken

I originally wrote this for Nearly Christian, after reading the challenging post Easy Like Sunday Morning. I’ve been sitting on it for a few months now, but as NC hasn’t updated recently I figured I would go ahead and share it here. 

On that cold fall night, I decided enough was enough. It was time to have it out with God.

I had just seen a Christian film that touched on grief and emphasized healing. The message (like most Christian media) was uplifting, but I left feeling deeply disturbed.

Have you ever noticed that in Christian fiction, everyone gets their answers by the time the credits roll? Everyone has received peace and healing and probably some minor miracle or other has happened by the end. Because what other arc of trauma is there?

Definitely not an arc that isn’t an arc at all, but more a never ending squiggle of ups and downs and kidnappings and abuse and diseases that don’t go away.

I drove to a field on my campus because fields were great places to pray at summer camp back in high school, so I thought, What the heck, let’s try that. The building lights bleached out the stars so I couldn’t see them.

I had it out.

I talked until I screamed until I sobbed until I gagged. I had it out.

And all the while, twenty years of Sunday School and Youth Group and sermons played a reel of judgment through my head. How dare I raise my voice to God? How dare I beat my hands against the wheel pretending it was His face? How dare I do ought but meekly bow my head, accept my lot, and await healing?

If I had more faith, this wouldn’t have happened. If I had more faith, it would go away. God doesn’t give diseases to the good. God doesn’t place the holy’s loved ones in war zones.

“I used to think my testimony was boring because nothing dramatic happened to me,” a youth leader once told my Bible study group. “Then I realized that God was protecting me all along!”

I was fifteen at the time and already held secret wounds in my heart. I remember the tear in me as I glanced across the room at one of the new girls. I knew that as a child, she had been raped. I knew because she had confided in me, her hands trembling and her face too old for a teenager’s. When the youth leader stopped talking, the girl met my eyes, hers red, and I could read her expression like a thought that was my own: “Why didn’t He protect me?”

In my car by the field, with my own wounds grown by five years, I dug my fingernails into my head and forced my mouth to keep working, to drown out the Sunday School answers. I forced myself to do something the church had never taught me to do.

I forced myself to grieve.

Not shush. Not comfort. Not quiet. To grieve like Job, with questions and rage and pain.

Over the years, a lot of people have tried to put me together. I’ve had my hands anointed. People have prayed for my healing. Some of them prayed with my permission. Some of them didn’t ask.

I’m not a natural cynic because I believe in the power of rawness. When people act, I often assume their actions are intended with honest feeling, and I try to accept their gestures even if I don’t understand them, or don’t want them. But the best intentions can still leave a scar, a message seared into your soul: It isn’t right for you to be (or feel) broken.

When you tell someone you’re broken, it’s often interpreted as a request to be fixed. It’s natural. I do it to other people. I let other people do it to me.

But brokenness is not a symptom of God’s absence, and sometimes (most of the time) even in the grief you know it. Sometimes that’s what makes the grief terrible.

So when I tell you terrorists tried to kill my sister, I don’t need you to put your arms around me and say, “Stop worrying! God will watch out for her.”

And when I tell you I have rheumatoid arthritis, I don’t need you to say, “I’ll pray you’re cured.”

I don’t want to measure God by the good and bad things that have happened (will happen) in my life. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to see how the scale falls. Maybe it’s my own unbelief.

But is it right to define His goodness by our health (when others are sick), or our safety (when others are in danger), or our so-called protection (when others are raped)?

Testimonies are always told after an arc (your so-called journey to Christ) reaches an artificial ending (speaking a prayer, getting baptized). That’s how they are framed, but it isn’t true of life. Or it isn’t true of my life, anyway.

After I left the field, I didn’t rise from my car cured of my rheumatoid arthritis. My loved ones were not restored to me. My innocence wasn’t repaired.

But my grief was out in the open. The last pretense of Okay, shrouded in Sunday School clichés and smothered by a culture that does not allow brokenness, had been ripped away. Now both He and I knew how it stood.

Some days (dare I say, some lives?), God does not choose to heal. At least, not in the normal way. I am the evidence.

I can live with my brokenness. Sometimes I think it’s the church that can’t handle it.

My testimony will have ups and downs, but no neat arc. I am permanently broken.

But I am not destroyed.

(And I’m okay with that type of healing. The type that does not protect or undo, but that carries on.)

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4 Comments

  1. This was excellent and moving. The Christian community has a huge disconnect around the issue of suffering and (presumably) unanswered prayers. Why aren’t children at least protected from suffering crippling, and sometimes fatal diseases? Surely God is not testing their faith or testing others by making the children suffer. We have no answers to questions like these and we aren’t being honest if we pretend that we do.

    As a nurse, I did pray for my patients, although I seldom told them about it. But what I learned is that sometimes the best I could do in the face of suffering was not turn away from it. Sometimes all I could do was offer my presence, bear witness to their suffering, and ask God for the strength to remain steadfast.

    I wonder what happened at “Nearly Christian.”

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I think you’re completely right – sometimes the hardest (and best) thing to do it just be there in the suffering.

      I hope that Nearly Christian gets up and running soon. I love the environment they were creating.

  2. Hi,
    I wish to complement you on your progress so far over your acceptance of your current situation. I too have had medical challenges so I know how slow the realisation and acceptance can be for a long-term condition.

    I want to confess right up front that I am an atheist, I do not believe in the existence of any gods. I am telling you this because my journey has been very different to yours because, and I apologise for the harshness of my wording, a religion hasn’t muddied the waters. So with all respect to personal beliefs, I want to share my experience and world views with you in the help it might stimulate further progress with your journey.

    Four years ago I developed a condition called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME). I am mostly bed-bound but I can do some low-energy activities once and a while. Medical knowledge of CFS is still limited and no known causes or cures are available. In fact there are no medical tests to even confirm CFS is a biological condition. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, I had medical insurance to cover my income. Sadly the insurance company took advantage of the fact that there are no medical test to confirm I had this condition so they labelled it as a psychological condition. They then hired dishonest specialists [sic] who lied on their reports and so my claim was cancelled. Consequently, I was left with no income. So I have been struggling financially for a while and I have been struggling with the resentment of a dishonest insurance system.

    As I didn’t have Sunday schools, church leaders, religious family and friends, or any other influences of a religious nature, I was able to focus immediately on the more tangible aspects of my situation. No one prayed for me, or told me it was Gods will, and I didn’t struggle with trying to understand what part a God played in my current situation. Unfortunately, my medical condition is one of those where I have no control over my recovery, just like your situation, but I’m glad I didn’t have pressures from a community to expect help from an external, and in my opinion non-existent, supernatural force.

    I have learnt the hard way that the community, friends and family, and even the internet, are poor sources for determining fact from fiction. The biggest lesson for me is learning that someone or some group I trust may not have the correct view of reality. I think we have all been sent down the wrong path from time to time because we assumed that information from someone we trust must be correct.

    One of the symptoms of my condition is lack of concentration and short-term memory problems, however, I am writing novels and I hope to be a published author some day soon. I wish you luck with you own journey. I hope you don’t mind me writing to you about my own experience but from a non-religious angle.

    Regards, Paul

    1. Thank you very much for your thoughts, Paul. I think it’s interesting how different people are able to face and cope with these sorts of long-term illnesses, and I appreciate hearing your story.

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