Broken, . . . but not Shattered, Part 2: Vulnerability and Community

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we are ourselves are consoled by God.

                                                                (II Corinthians 1:3-4)

Last week, I wrote about my battle with the depression that followed the sudden and unexpected end of a twenty-four year marriage.  I shared my story with the hope of being help, in some way, to others who might be in a similar struggle.  Within a few hours of the article’s posting I was receiving Facebook messages and comments from people who had dealt with or were presently dealing with depression expressing gratitude for the honesty and sense of vulnerability the article contained.  The comment that touched me most deeply and summed up so many others was from the woman who simply wrote, “Now I know I am not alone.”

I believe that the heart of true community is a willingness for us to live as honestly as possible in relation to each other.  We can indeed celebrate one another’s strengths and successes, but it is in our willingness to share our brokenness and our weaknesses, indeed our very humanness, that loving and supportive community is formed.  In his book, "The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace," psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote;

[We need] . . . a soft individualism . . . an understanding of individualism which teaches that we cannot be truly ourselves until we are able to share freely with others the things we have in common; our weakness, our incompleteness, our imperfection, our inadequacy, our sins, our lack of wholeness and self-sufficiency.

My goal in sharing was not to look for pity, nor to try and tell anyone’s story but my own (including my former spouse who has her own story to tell), my goal was to share my brokenness with the hope of giving the opportunity for others to share as they needed to.

Our human brokenness, especially depression, can often push us into feelings of isolation.  We can believe that the only way to present ourselves to others is “happy, completely put-together and finished” (Rachel Evans, "Finding Sunday").  So, if we can’t go out into the world with a smile on our face, we stay in, cutting ourselves off from the sense of community that is vital for a full life.  The problem is life does not always allow all of us to be happy, put together and finished all the time.  Life is sometimes difficult. Life is sometimes full of pain.  Life can have losses that are virtually unbearable. 

Earlier this year, I wrote my college roommate a letter explaining to him what had happened in my life.  He called me as soon as he got the letter and in the midst of our conversation he said, “Mark, sometimes life is just so hard.”  And when life is hard we need one another’s help to make it through.  We are called to share one another’s burdens.  But for us to be able to help bear each other’s burdens we have to be willing to admit we have burdens that are weighing us down.  Rachel Evans writes, “.  .  .  to be fully engaged with the world we must be vulnerable.”

I’m not advocating that every relationship be a place that we share every detail about the brokenness of our lives. I am advocating that the church be a safe place for us with relationships to share the brokenness that truly makes us a people who follow Jesus.  In her book, "Jesus Freak," Sara Miles writes:

Jesus calls his disciples, giving us authority to heal and sending us out.  He doesn’t show us how to reliably cure a molar pregnancy.  He doesn’t show us how to make a blind man see, dry every tear, or even drive out all kinds of demons.  But he shows us how to enter into a way of life, in which the broken and sick pieces are held in love and given meaning.  In which strangers literally touch each other, and in doing so make a community spacious enough for everyone.

In the church we are not called to live in the false world where everything is alright, even when it is not.  We are called instead to live honestly.  The reason we believe in grace is because there is brokenness. The reason we speak of forgiveness is because something has happened to cause hurt.  The reason we speak of healing is because there is grief and pain and sorrow.  Our practice in the church is not to try to silence and isolate those who are experiencing difficult days but to journey through those days with them.  In that journey together we become the beloved community of Christ.  In that journey, despite the difficulties, there shall be joy found.

I am glad my sharing helped someone to realize they are not alone.  May she find the courage to share her journey with others so that someone else may find out they are not alone.  In doing that, may we step together into the beloved realm of God.