Pslam 51:17 – The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and willing spirit, O God, you will not despise.
The first four months of my YAV year have provided time to retrace, reflect, unearth, and ponder. Time in a new place has forced me to think back to experiences that have been deeply formative in my life, to re-live them in a sense, and to reflect on how they are still forming my life and my future now.
In this process of introspection and meditation, many of those deeply formative moments that have continued to show up and be present on my mind have been experiences towards which I continue to feel a gnawing pain and hurt. Some of the wounds that I have ignored and that have scarred over have peeked their way out of the shadows and are saying hello again.
So, as I went back home and thought about what to say to my family and to my church, I felt a nudge to speak a harsh, but necessary truth. A truth that we are all wounded and broken people. A truth that I have discovered about healing. And I’d like to share my thoughts with you, too. As you read my reflections, I ask that you open yourself to what God might be unearthing and placing in your heart and your mind.
Breathe in. (Let God in). Breathe out. (Release your expectations and control).
As I talk about a particular feelings today, I invite you to take the time and space to transport back to a moment when you had this same feelings. And let that memory or that space sit next to you. Don’t let the feelings overwhelm or consume you, but recognize that there is space for this feelings here and invite God in so God can start healing. Listen to what these feelings have to say.
The feeling I’m talking about is the feeling you experience when you recognize that something is unexpectedly, but powerfully broken. The feeling when there is a lump in the back of your throat, and you’re holding down a scream, but instead of screaming, all you can do it let your anger, frustration, and devastation out through tears. And perhaps all you can do is weep, uncontrollably, and you can’t will yourself to stop.
Take a few moments now to remember a time when you had this feeling too… and invite God in.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
When I re-live this feeling, I think about the church. Church has been a place of both deep joy and deep pain in my life. My experience with the church has taught me more than perhaps any other position or job I’ve had. But it also left a scar. And it continues to surprise me how when I try to explain how the church has both fortified and wounded me, how I more often than not end my explanation in tears.
We all have been wounded, whether by the church, or by people we love, or by society, or by our own failures – or most likely, by all of the above. Some of those wounds may have scarred over, and some may still be bleeding. Nonetheless, if we want to heal our physical, emotional, spiritual scares, we can’t cover them up and ignore them.
The psalmist reminds us of this – there is no sacrifice or offering we could ever make that will please God. All God wants us to bring is a broken and willing spirit. And this realization feels freeing to me because often, a broken and willing spirit sounds like the only thing I have that’s worth offering. God reminds us, we don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be our vulnerable, hot-mess, needy selves.
Therefore, we can’t keep hoping and waiting for a cure – because there isn’t one. And so we have to uncover our wounds, clean them up, and start the slow and difficult work of healing as we put on a clean bandage.
Author Rachel Held Evans speaks to the distinction between curing and healing much better than I can. Although it took me almost a whole year to finish her book (Searching for Sunday… I highly recommend it), it has helped me to arrive in a place where I know I am broken and flawed, I can own and accept it, and I can begin to work towards healing my own wounds and those I have inflicted on others.
“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.
The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, it that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone though grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.
As Brené Brown puts it, “I went to church thinking it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away… But church isn’t like an epidural; it’s like a midwife… I thought faith would say ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort’, but what faith ended up saying was ‘I’ll sit with you in it’”.
God sits with us in it. We need to be there to sit with each other in it.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Look back into experiences that you have pushed into the shadows. Identify places that need healing. Go through the process of imagining what it would like to undress the wound, clean it, and re-bandage it – ready to not hide it anymore. Ready to recognize that we all come to church, work, and life bearing wounds. Ready to invite God to sit with us in these places. Not one of us is unscathed. We are broken people and we need to be vulnerable enough to share in deep pain with one another, because we can’t heal on our own.
As we go into a new year and revisit experiences that have formed us – experiences of brokenness and of joy – my prayer is that we would be vulnerable, true, broken, and willing.
I pray that we would find communities that would be for us perhaps what the church looks like at its best: a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people can sit together and speak difficult truths to one another in love.
May it be so.