A few years ago, I attended a conference for individuals involved with sexual integrity ministries. We were asked to sit quietly for 5 minutes and pray about what God was calling us to share over the weekend. For five minutes I prayed, and, no matter how many times I questioned it, only one phrase came to mind.
All you have to offer is your brokenness.
The thought of being open with others about our shortcomings, failures and sins is frightening. We look around and see smiling, happy people everywhere. How could I, we think, bring my darkness into the sunny lives of those around me? So, we learn to hide this darkness deep in our hearts and construct elaborate life systems to mask our true selves. We think this will protect us from the pain of being vulnerable with others. In fact, our pain increases when we isolate ourselves from others.
As it turned out, my time to share didn’t come until the last night of the conference. All official functions were finished and I was sitting with a friend by the pool. “Did I ever tell you about the time…?”
For the first time in many years, I opened up a dark and formative part of my past with someone. It involved an incident that I had handled, for which I had sought and received forgiveness, for which I had made amends. Then I packed it up gently and put it on the top shelf of an unused closet in a back bedroom of my life. I thought there was no need for me to ever mention it again.
But, when I shared the story with my friend that night, I was amazed to experience a freedom I didn’t know I needed. I was so struck by the feeling that I decided to share my story of failure with my men’s group. It was even more liberating. This freedom came from simply allowing the truth of my life to align with my public persona.
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that the final obstacle to true Christian fellowship is the inability to be sinners together.
“The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.”
A funny thing happened in my men’s group. Others began to share some of their deep struggles, too. And, as each one shared he was met with support, encouragement, prayer, love and acceptance. The isolation, shame and fear was gone. We had discovered the freedom to be sinners together and to offer encouragement and support to one another. True Christian fellowship!
However, there is more to the story. Learning to open up and be honest about our shortcomings doesn’t just free us to live in freedom. It also frees others to become more of whom God created them to be.
Some months after the conference, the friend who sat with me at the pool shared a thought he encountered in The Cure by John S. Lynch. He said, “Your brokenness is designed to bring out the identity, calling and thriving of another person. You are not being selfish when you allow yourself to be ministered to.”
How many of us have ever thought that our brokenness could actually be a gift to another? We are trained to think of weakness or illness as a burden to others, never as a blessing. How could this be?
The Bible teaches that Jesus set aside the glory of God in order to take human form and become one of us. Although he had access to the power of God throughout his life, he very often chose not to use it, especially when it would have made a big impact. Weakened by a 40-day fast, Jesus defeated the devil with faith and words rather than signs and wonders. Beaten, cursed and left to die on the cross, Jesus did not react to the taunts of the crowd to “save yourself.” Rather, he chose the path of suffering and bought our freedom with his frailty.
For us to not embrace weakness and suffering, then—in ourselves and in others—is to refuse the cross of Christ. The brokenness of the dying God on the cross became the most unbelievable blessing the world could ever hope to have. Is it possible that there is real power in our brokenness as well?
Jesus told us to take up our crosses, too. For some, this means allowing our brokenness to gurgle up to the surface with a few trusted friends. For others it means finding the courage to stop pretending we have it all together and being honest with others about our struggles. All of us are called to open ourselves up to the freedom for which Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1).
You have a gift to offer the world. This gift is yourself with all your unique stories, dreams, and even failures. Take courage and let God call you into greater integrity and freedom. And, understand that all of us are on that journey together.