I finished Ann Voskamp’s book, The Broken Way, the other night. I think I read most of the last few pages – I may have missed a few words because my eyes were full of tears and sobs kept causing me to cover my face with my hands. Let me rewind a bit…
It took me awhile to get into her book. I’ve never read anything of hers before, outside of Instagram posts, so I was not familiar with her writing style. It’s hard to explain. I know I have a more conversational-style of writing – somewhat like Sarah Bessey or Glennon Doyle Melton (not that I’m comparing myself to them, but maybe a little??). When I started this book, I felt like maybe I was in her mind – I could follow her train of thought and then out of the blue I was lost. Once I got into the groove of her writing, I liked it, but it took me several tries to stick with her.
Her theme is countercultural – just like anything that has to do with Jesus. He turned the whole thing upside down – the rich are poor, the poor are rich; the weak are strong, the strong are weak. Ann’s thesis is brokenness is the only way to abundant life. We must break before we can grow. This isn’t anything new – we all know this, but may not have paid close attention. Cells have to break apart to create new ones. Soil has to break for seeds to be planted. Seeds have to break open for plants to emerge. Shells have to break before the chick has a full life. Breaking is going on all around us.
However, our culture teaches us that we must be strong! Breaking is a sign of weakness. We don’t reveal our brokenness for fear of shame and ridicule. We hide behind closed doors to cry. We cover our faces when we sob, even if no one else is in the room… Brokenness isn’t something we advertise or brag about. We hide it. We create masks to keep our brokenness hidden.
I struggle with my brokenness. I don’t want to burden others. I don’t want to say over and over again, “I’m sad” and hear over and over again, “I’m sorry.” Because saying it and hearing it doesn’t seem to help. So, I don’t. I hide it – from others, and sometimes even, from myself. “Sometimes – it seems easier to bury our hurt than break anyone’s heart” (248). I know what she means. When I share my hurt with those who are compassionate, with those who are willing to suffer with me, that means my broken heart breaks theirs too. I don’t want to be responsible for breaking another person’s heart and yet… “Love isn’t about feeling good about others; love is ultimately being willing to suffer for others” (137). Or to put it another way: “You only have compassion where you are willing to co-suffer” (231).
The only way to let another person love me, be compassionate toward me, is to let them see my brokenness. I can’t be fully loved if I’m not fully present – if I don’t let myself be fully known to another. I had never considered that before. By sharing my brokenness, I’m giving someone else an opportunity to be compassionate and loving toward me. However, when I put on the mask or hide it away, I’m keeping those opportunities away from my friends and family.
So, I was sitting in my chair finishing up the last chapter of the book when I came across these words: “It’s okay to not be okay” (249). Something let loose. A dam broke, the mask fell off. Something happened and I couldn’t stop the tears. Then the sobs. I thought I was okay. I go to work, I exercise, I read, I sew, I pray, I have dinner with friends, I laugh with Brad, I play with my nieces and nephews. I’m okay. But, apparently, I’m not okay because seeing those words on the paper was too much for my soul to take.
As I was sitting there trying to read in between the sobs, I read this:
Suffering is a call for presence; it’s a call for us to be present – not only to the brokenness in the world, but to the brokenness in our own soul, and to risk trusting others with our wounds (255).
I was very present to my own suffering. But, was I willing to risk trusting others with that brokenness? It’s like I was in my own personal classroom – reading, learning, and then practicing. I read the words, I took them to heart and then I took the risky step of texting two different friends. I shared my brokenness. I opened myself to them in order to give them the opportunity to show me compassion – to co-suffer with me in this moment.
And, they did. They entered into the moment with me. They comforted me. They were present. Of course, they offered different words and ideas, but the compassion was the same. I offered them my broken heart and instead of being afraid of my suffering, they joined me in it.
The tears have since dried up and the sobs are silenced. For now. I know they will return. I know my heart isn’t healed – will it ever be? I also know that God is present in the suffering – the cross is evidence of that. God is the Ultimate when it comes to compassion – our co-sufferer. There’s no way to live and not experience brokenness. It’s not possible. Our lives begin in brokenness. But, “sometimes – things have to break all apart so better things can be built” (216). This doesn’t mean God caused my infertility. This doesn’t mean God is teaching me something with a cruel life lesson. But, I do know beauty can come from brokenness. I’ve seen it in my life. I’ve seen it in the lives of so many around me.
You’ve never stood in the majesty of an oak that didn’t come from a busted seed (160).
We’re all busted seeds, broken and suffering. When we accept it, when we stop fighting it, we begin down the path of abundance, of new life, of grace.