19 May, 2007

Cracking Brokenness

I'm sure I'm the only one who notices, but these silences are odd for me. Anyway, today I have a migraine and probably won't be as understandable as I'd wish, but I'm going to type this one out anyway. It's off topic, but very important to me.

I was once in a movement that emphasized "brokenness." Now, I'm sure there are groups that live this doctrine harmlessly, but I was in one that lived it brutally. They actually worked on breaking anyone who looked like he might have a drip of ambition for serving the Lord. And in their spare time from that, they homed in on anyone who showed warmth. They called it the "cross working in our lives." I'm sure I could describe it more colorfully and more accurately, both.

I was talking yesterday with a brother whom I met once a decade ago, and who had spent time under the same teaching. It was a very refreshing conversation, and I'm glad it happened. Somewhere toward the end, though, brokeness came up and I waxed eloquent against it. I want to capture some of the things that were rolling around in my head during that chat, because it was once so key to me. And now it's not.

That kind of change should be noted.

The classic example of brokenness, in my background, was King David. The Lord had Samuel annoint David to be king of Israel as a mere boy, then allowed this new king to be put through years of misfortune and missed opportunities. There are so many high points in David's youth. He killed Goliath, and ended up being surrounded by singing groupies. Then there's the high of being the one who kept King Saul sane during the dark days. He won a wife through martial skill, and led the armies of Israel to greater victories than Saul. The people under Saul were text messaging David's number in to Israelite Idol night after night, and he was da' bomb. No one wanted to see David voted off the island.

Then God allowed everything to go pear-shaped.

Instead of praise, David heard the hiss of a razor sharp spear launched at him by a man who stood head and shoulders above all Israel. He hid in a field while his dear friend Jonathon ascertained whether it was safe for him to show his face, and it wasn't. He was hunted by all Israel, while his groupies morphed into harpies singing their disdain for him and willingly turning him over to Saul's informers any chance they had. He hid out in caves and was tempted to kill the Lord's own annointed king. He feigned madness at one point, and probably was not sure what was acting and what was just letting the wild things out that had been screaming in his mind night after night.

The proposal I reject is that it was these times that shattered David for God's use. God allowed these things to break him, and to make him into a king after His own heart. It was during these times that David wrote most of the Psalms attributed to him, and during these times that he learned to praise God by faith, instead of by sight. David entered his first cave a young nobleman of God, and exited his last one a broken servant of God.

It's a pretty story. And it's got a lot of truth to it. A lot.

But it narrowly misses the point.

A little lady named Bathsheeba shows something about David that this brokenness fable overlooks. He was not broken by all those sufferings. Oh, it's not the adultery or the murder to which I refer, but to the 9+ months David schemed to finally get Bathsheeba under his roof. During all that time, he never felt repentance. He kept "fixing" things, and "pulling things off", and working subtle plans until she and their son were in his stable.

David was a great man, and one whom I hope to emulate in some little way, but if he was broken, brokenness doesn't mean much. David was delivered by God through the furnace of untold sufferings, and was changed in many ways and all for the better. He might have even believed he was broken. But when he looked back over his years of rising to the call of God, he could say he had been upright in all his ways. He had suffered, but he had done so in righteousness, and he had waited on God at all times.

I have known such men, and they are the hardest, saddest, most to be pitied men on earth.

David profited from his exile experiences. David was transformed by them, and God did refine his character through them. But he was not what Watchman Nee would call broken. I say this is because such a thing does not exist.

Nee proposed that the servant of God must be broken to serve well. He illustrated his point with a communion wafer. He would break the wafer in half, and then press it back together again. Once put back together, it looked whole and entirely as good as new, but at the slightest touch it would fall back apart again. He said the man of God must be like this toward his God. His will must be broken such that at the slightest whisper from his Lord, he would collapse into the Lord's will.

Nee was an amazing man, but he was wrong on this one.

I cannot find any evidence in my current addled state that this brokenness is a scriptural term, nor that it is a scriptural concept.

In place of brokenness, I would like to offer two qualities:
Gentleness: David was softened by his early trials, not broken. Had he been broken, he would have been of no use to God nor man, but God preserved him. Upon rising to the throne, David was a man who could be moved with the trials of others, because he had endured hardship of his own. His heart was furrowed with pain, and could easily find compassion for those whom the Lord placed in his path.

Humility: Had David been inhuman, he would have been humble from birth, but he learned humility just like the rest of us. He learned from the times he succeeded and he knew it was God Who was working through him. He learned from the times he succeeded, and his success was far less than it should have been. But mostly, David was humbled by his many failures. He learned from them that he was only a man, and that he needed to wait on the Lord. He learned not to trust in himself. He learned that he could steal a poor man's only ewe lamb and serve it to a stranger without remorse. And that only the Spirit could move repentance in his heart.

As a young man, I was told that David's usefulness to God ended with Bathsheeba. He never conquered mightily for the Lord again after that sin, and that is a powerful observation. I have often wondered over the years when my Bathsheeba moment would come, or whether it already has. I don't know. But as I look back at David, I wonder if maybe he grew more useful to the invisible kingdom, to the glory of God Himself, after he fell and rose again.

I would not be surprised to learn that David wrote his most arresting psalms after the death of that son by Bathsheeba.

It's no accident that God entrusted David with another baby, Solomon, only after he rose up again from his repentance. It was only to a humble man and a gentle one that God dared trust the child who would build His house. Apart from the labors of gentleness and humility the great works of the kingdom go unworked, but brokenness is an empty cloud that brings no rain.

May the Lord soften the hearts of his sheep.


Milly said...

Sorry about the head banger I’ve had a few lately myself.

Good stuff. Thanks for teaching me something today. We aren't broken. good stuff.

As for the silence I’ve been hearing crickets at my place myself, just a season in time right now. Soon I’ll be tapping the keys.

Lynne said...

I really believe you're saying something important here. Thankfully I've never been on the receiving end of that particular "brokenness" teaching, what I've heard of it always sounded dangerous, because the flipside is that someone will come along who thinks they have the right to "break" you for God! Abusive people in churches is a subject I do know something about.And getting "broken" can simply be destructive, leading to stuff like bitterness, false guilt, self-consciousness that stops us from having the freedom to reach out to others, and massive discouragement. Yes, pain can teach us wonderful things in God's providence, but so long as our sufferings are read through the paradigm of self-righteousness, we simply see ourselves as martyrs, and may even think we're owed a bit of slack because of what we went through back there. Now if pain teaches us humility and compassion and deeper depnedency on God, we're learningthe important stuff. But then I was never a parent who thought it was all about breaking my child's will either. I wanted them to choose good because it was the better choice (if only on pragmatic grounds) rather than becausethey weren't allowed to think for themselves ..

I'm raving .. probably clear as mud ..

codepoke said...

Hehehe, Milly.

No, I did not say we weren't broken. I said brokenness is not something for which we should strive. Especially not in each other.

codepoke said...

Hear, hear, Lynne. And I agree with you about child rearing, too.

I've been there, done that on the people who feel the right to break others. It's not pretty. The question for me was whether they were wrong in principle or in practice. Should brokenness be a goal, or is the whole idea a red herring. I don't think there's even a theoretical point at which striving for brokenness is profitable.

Milly said...

This got me thinking today. When I found myself face down on the floor asking God for help it wasn’t because I was broken it was because I was rid of the stuff that kept me from hearing Him. If I had been broken then I wouldn’t have gotten up and started moving. I wouldn’t have told the doctors to drop all egos at the door. Actually I said there will be no egos in this the three of you will work together. I wouldn’t have used my anger at Dr. T. Berry Braazelton for what he said to me on the phone to find a better and more compassionate group of people. I wouldn’t have been able to keep my child out of the hospital. I wouldn’t have been able to put shorts and t-shirts on my child and take him places as people looked appalled and rudely asked me what was wrong with him. I wouldn’t have been able to look them in the eyes and say “He has atopic dermatitis your child is a bigger threat to mine” as I walked away with a smile. It took my husband and my mom so much longer to be able to put up with those looks and whispers.

Now he does well and looks pretty good most of the time. Sure he’ll always fight this but he’ll have God to lean on.

So no we aren’t broken we are emptied of the human junk that keeps us from Him.

codepoke said...

That's a tough story, Milly, and a great point. Thank you.

Milly said...

ummm Milly was a bit wound up for a moment there wasn't she. ;-}

Patchouli said...

I could never get my head (or heart) around the concept of a loving God wanting to break me in half...