For a couple of years, "finding beauty in brokenness" has been my tagline, my motto. The problem with brokenness is that some people identify with it while others find it offensive.
Much of my writing is about disability, and I can understand how someone unfamiliar with my writing would mistakenly think I am referring to people with disabilities. So let me make something very clear: I am not talking about people with disabilities. I am actually talking about myself. So in order to be more clear, I have now made the sentiment say "finding beauty in my brokenness."
I do not think people with disabilities are broken. To say that would imply I think they need healing. If you have read enough of my posts, you know I do not believe that people with disabilities need healing, and one of my greatest passions is to help the church embrace disability and move past the idea of healing.
So why, exactly, do I talk about brokenness? More than a wife, a mother, a disability advocate, a friend and a daughter, I am first of all a child of God. I belong to Him completely. This is my faith, the foundation of my beliefs, of my being, of my actions, of my life. All of it revolves around a personal God that loves me despite the fact that, yes, I am broken. A God who pours out His grace and mercy even when I do not deserve it. A God who saved me from my sins, from a heart that is capable of so much selfishness, jealousy, anger, bitterness and meanness. I am not just imperfect or flawed—I am broken! And I offer all of it to God to use, to mend, to transform. "Take these broken pieces, Lord. They are Yours. Use me any way You want."
"God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever." —Vance Havner
Life is messy. In the middle of the joy, celebration and goodness of life, there are strokes of pain, loss, heartache, foolish choices, unrealized dreams and wrecked relationships. I call this brokenness. And this is life. Broken is real, and there is beauty in brokenness!
"It is the pain we walk through that defines the women we are. ... It hones the difference we make. It isn't something that we achieve by strength and character and virtue and strength and savvy. It is something we receive with open hands by God's grace. And that happens most when we feel broken and humbled and empty and totally inadequate—and we make that choice to trust that God will make His difference in us and through us, right in the midst of our brokenness." —Leslie Parrott, You Matter More Than You Think: What a Woman Needs to Know about the Difference She Makes
I find it incredibly encouraging to know that despite my brokenness, God can work in me and through me. And I hope you find encouragement in that too—that God is the God of the weak, of the weary, of the lost, of the broken.
"God seems to prefer to minister through me more out of my brokenness than through my giftedness. My humanity, as distasteful as it can sometimes be, allows Him room to work in me and show that 'we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us' (2 Cor. 4:7, NIV)." —Dan Gilliam
So what, exactly, do I think about brokenness? Well, from a spiritual perspective, as I have just shared, I do believe we are all broken: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
I know talking about brokenness and sin are not popular things to talk about. Believe me, I have been criticized over this more than anything else. But this is the foundation of my faith. I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and Jesus offered the ultimate sacrifice to pay for my sin. This is a gift from God, and thanks to that loving sacrifice, I can have a personal relationship with God.
But there is more to my story of brokenness. You see, when I was 26 years old, I believed I lived a pretty good life. I was a good person; I was a pastor's wife. Sure, I knew I needed God in my life, and I had already given my life to Him. But ultimately, I believed I was "good," and I thought I had life figured out.
"The worst kind of brokenness is the kind that you don't know you have." —Amy Neftzger, The Orphanage of Miracles
Then, when my second daughter was born with Down syndrome, she challenged what I viewed as perfect, worthy, important and valuable in life. I had received her as a broken baby, only to quickly recognize that I was the broken one. The treasures I have discovered along the way are not found in strength, performance, eloquence, character or confidence. They are found in brokenness, where beauty is found unexpectedly as a result of God's love and compassion transforming my life. Until this time in my life, I had not see my own brokenness. I had not come face to face with it.
"Finally, I accepted my brokenness. I had never come to terms with that. Let me explain. I knew I was broken. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I continually disappointed God, but I could never accept that part of me. It was a part of me that embarrassed me. I continually felt the need to apologize, to run from my weaknesses, to deny who I was and concentrate on what I should be. I was broken, yes, but I was continually trying never to be broken again—or at least to get to the place where I was seldom broken" —Mike Yaconelli
I am a work in progress. I still fail. I yell at my kids. I am unloving to my husband. I lose sight of what really matters. I feel jealousy and fight selfishness.
"Brokenness is an ongoing, lifelong reality. It isn't something you get past. ...True brokenness depends on seeing not only our visible selfishness, but also our disguised self-centeredness. The bottom layer of ice is melted only by the heat of brokenness ... when we see our self-centeredness and hate it." —Larry Crabb, Soul Talk: Speaking With Power Into the Lives of Others
I know for some people, it is not easy to embrace the idea of brokenness. It feels so personal, so broken! And thinking of ourselves as broken might seem like a terrible thing to do. But when I look at my reality before God, I find great beauty in my brokenness, because this amazingly loving God sees me as beautiful, and He finds joy in me, and He cherishes me, and He still uses me, despite it all. This is indeed the great beauty that surrounds my life!
Brennan Manning, in his book Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, talks about brokenness and what might keep us from embracing it: "Our fear of God, our self-absorption and self sufficiency keeps us from embracing brokenness.
"This [brokenness] is what needs to be accepted. Unfortunately, this is what we tend to reject. This painful vulnerability is the characteristic feature of our humanity that most needs to be embraced in order to restore our human condition in a healed state.
"I came to see that it was in my brokenness, in my powerlessness, in my weakness that Jesus was made strong. It was in the acceptance of my lack of faith that God could give me faith. It was in the embracing of my brokenness that I could identify with others' pain, not relieve it.
"The self-acceptance that flows from embracing my core identity as Abba's child enables me to encounter my utter brokenness with uncompromising honesty and complete abandon to the mercy of God. As my friend Sister Barbara Fiand said, 'Wholeness is brokenness owned and thereby healed.'"
It is about being vulnerable, about being authentic. This is why I write. My message is the message about a loving and amazing God that loves us passionately, a God that is ever present, ever moving in our lives—a God who sacrificed His Son so that we can do life with Him on this earth and so that we can have eternal life. This is it. This is my story!
Life is messy and it's beautiful, and I want to share honestly and authentically with you. I want to be vulnerable because we need each other. None of us are meant to do life alone. God is a God of relationship, and He created us to be relational too. We need each other. We need to create a healing community, where it is OK to be as you are—where it is OK to be broken.
"A central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough for each of us to own and reveal our brokenness. Why is spiritual community so rare? I suspect it has to do with the requirement of brokenness. We'd much rather be impressively intact than broken." —Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth: Where People Connect and Are Forever Changed
So, friends, if you ever found my "finding beauty in brokenness" offensive, I apologize. But I cannot apologize for being broken, and I cannot apologize for the incredible work that God has done in my life because of it. I journey in this life with Christ by my side. In my brokenness, God reminds me He is present, He is near, He's got my back, He loves me unconditionally, and He can handle life for me when I can't.
Adapted from Ellen Stumbo's blog at ellenstumbo.com. Ellen is a pastor's wife, and she writes about finding beauty in brokenness with gritty honesty and openness. She is passionate about sharing the real—sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly—aspects of faith, parenting, special needs, and adoption. She has been published in Focus on the Family, LifeWay, MomSense, Not Alone, and Mamapedia among others.
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