December 6, 2021

When we Feel Broken, What do we do With that Brokenness?


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We are all dealing with pain, or will deal with pain at some point in our lives.

We will all feel broken. We will need to decide how we are going to deal with our pain and brokenness. We will all make a choice—what will we do with our brokenness?

It is likely that most readers have heard or read the quote from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem:”

“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

There are many poems, articles, and songs written about how breaking can make us better—but what if it doesn’t? What if breaking makes us worse? What if it makes us mean? What if our broken pieces end up facing outward? What if we make the choice not to let the light in? What if we choose to turn the pain into a weapon?

My question to you is:

“What will you do with your own personal brokenness?”

I read an article this morning on the local news app on my phone about a small town north of my city. There have been no homicides there this year until this past weekend when four people were shot dead. It was ruled a murder-suicide. The killer was a 57-year-old man. He killed two women, one close in age to him, and another in her 20s, a young man, then himself.

In this current state of the world, I can picture it far too well. The man was broken. He was broken inside. Instead of allowing that brokenness to let light in, he turned his broken edges outward and shoved his pain onto others.

The situation described above is an extreme example. Usually, what occurs is much more subtle. Situations of control and bullying look to me like pain turned outward. Someone may use their power over another as a way to force their unhappiness outward. Narcissistic behavior has been described to me as someone unable to manage their own inner wounds, so they force them onto others.

When someone has turned their brokenness outward, they have turned away from what is inside them. Outwardly turned pain creates a deep shadow inside, so that those who do so are less and less able to reflect on their personal truth. These people become less able to take accountability. They find fault for their pain in those around them instead of reflecting on their own inner state.

Being in the world means there will be painful experiences, as well as wonderful ones. We will all get hurt. We will all feel pain, disappointment, and disillusionment. Some of us have or will suffer intense grief or agonizing heartbreak. Many people deal with horrible trauma or abuse. We all have a choice in how we deal with our pain.

A woman I know suffered horrible abuse as a young child. She suffered deep loss later in life. She walks in the world holding her pain, but holding her love more. She walks slowly in the woods, watches butterflies, and writes of the mountains. She lets the light in.

A man I know is living in constant physical pain throughout his body. He will live with this in various fluctuations for the rest of his life. He uses his time left on Earth as a healer. He sits with others in pain, listens and holds their pain, and helps them find comfort and space. He lets the light in.

At this moment, I’m sitting on a blue denim sofa, my face crusty with salt, and my insides empty and throbbing. There is a great trouble and a deep sorrow swimming through the middle of my life like a giant serpent. I hold it together and maneuver one step at a time while the serpent slides and skims, ever present. I ache.

I live with a certain amount of cortisol constantly present within my body. But I watch myself.

I work with children. I have children of my own. I am surrounded by colleagues. There are many opportunities in which I could vent—to make another hurt like I do. That is a choice, but it is not mine.

I could choose to lash out. I could choose to use my power as an adult among children to shove my pain out toward others. I could do that. I won’t. Instead, I choose to pause. I choose to go into the garden and close my eyes when I’m overwhelmed. I choose to slow my steps when I feel overpowered by cortisol. I make my movements purposeful, I lower my voice, and slow my breathing.

I will not turn my broken pieces outward. I will not take my pain and make it a weapon. I will let the light in.

What will you do with your own personal brokenness? Will you turn it outward? Or will you find the space between the fragments and let the light in?

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