Each of us, in our own way, lives in brokenness. Some people display it much more than others. But as I walk through my own season of pain, I am realizing more and more just how beautifully important brokenness can be.
All of our bodies are broken. Some are extremely broken; some are mostly healthy. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve been hugely blessed. I do not live with a debilitating disease, or a life-altering injury. And yet my body is imperfect. I have had depression; I have had eczema. And the older I get, the more I realize that my body is irreparably wrong.
The catalyst for these recent thoughts has been my problem with OCD tendencies. I do not have OCD--it takes quite a lot to be diagnosed as OCD, and to have it affect your lifestyle. But lots of people have tendencies, which manifest in various ways. Some people obsessively check outlets before leaving their house. Some people hum or clear their throats. I often find myself with ticks--feeling the need to take deep breaths, or touch the door handle on my way out of a room. These have always been things that I can control. Recently, I have been compelled to constantly twitch my back. This is annoying. This is wrong. This is out of my control. This is broken.
This is not uncommon, as I said. These tendencies come and go, and I’m not worried about my health. But what I have been realizing, as I struggle daily to turn off the part of my mind that’s telling me to twitch, is that I do not control my body. I do not have the ability to clamp down and force myself to be “normal.” Deep inside, there is something in me that’s broken. If I’m honest with myself, that thought is terrifying. And I’m sure that everyone else, if they’re honest, is terrified as well. At some point, we realize that we do not control our own selves. We realize that there is something within each of us that is broken and bent. Something we can’t fix. Paul speaks to this rather ugly truth quite eloquently in Romans chapter 8, when he says:
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (22-23)
And yet, this is where beauty comes. When I struggled with depression, I had to come to the world-grinding realization that I do not control my own mind. There are things I cannot fix. Through this process of facing my OCD tendencies, I have come to the same realization about my body. It, too, is wrong. It, too, is broken. And yet one step beyond that devastating realization is life. Because once I realized, in my depression, that I did not control my mind, I found myself resting on the promise that there is one who does. Likewise, though I cannot control my body, I know that it is under control. Broken and painful, it is not abandoned.
God uses many means to teach us about himself, but for me, the most consistent and effective way has always been to reveal my weakness to me. Just as I was called back by the pain of depression in my mind, I am called back by the pain of this (granted, pretty light) physical problem. As C.S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It may take months, or years, but I am continually surprised at the beauty that comes through our broken and wasted bodies and minds. And, like the state of my soul, the state of my body actually gives me hope. Right now, my soul is filled with bitterness and anger and pride and many other sins. But one day, my journey of sanctification will be over, and my soul will be free. Likewise, one day this broken, aching body will be new, and will be strong, and will be so beautiful. (And, because I’m not a gnostic, I know that the process is somehow interwoven and mingled together. And that makes this broken body even more essential.)
It’s important for us to know that we’re not alone. First, in the sense that we are not the only ones with strange ticks and problems and afflictions, or whatever your brand of brokenness may be. Humanity as a whole is dealing with a world full of crushed souls and bodies all wrapped up together and slowly dying. It is wrong to think that we are alone in the terror of living in bodies and minds that we don’t understand. And it is also important that we understand how truly understood we are. Not by ourselves, or by other humans. But by the God who created us, and feels our pain, and our ticks, and our addictions and compulsions. By the God who provides peace enough to bring us to the point of total fear and helplessness, and then remind us that he does not leave, or abandon. He knows every broken bit of us, more than we know ourselves, and he is faithful to preserve us, and promises to make us whole. Paul, continuing in Romans 8, provides us with a powerful assurance and beautiful promise:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (26-27)
If there is a more powerful hope than that, I have never encountered it. We are held in the palm of God, prayed for by the Spirit, and rest in the advocation of Jesus. Even in the power of our awful broken minds and bodies and souls, we are known thoroughly and loved completely. Right now, I am thankful for a body that reminds me of my weakness, if only so that it can continually bring me back to reliance on Jesus, and I eagerly await a body that is strong and perfect.
How blessed we are.
~ Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, ND Wilson
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
~ On the Incarnation, Athanasius of Alexandria