What is brokenness?
Broken: Emotionally and Spiritually
Emotional and Spiritual brokenness can mean a lot of things. It may imply a messy life full of imperfection. It may mean being heartbroken from a past relationship. It may mean emotional scarring from the deep wounds of the past. Sometimes, brokenness makes us a victim; for others, it motivates us to be strong. With some, their life seems so incongruent due to the brokenness that they don’t know how to stay “true to themselves.” It has even become a trendy word that gives some people a sense of identity. There are a lot of different ways that we could define the meaning of brokenness. But when I talk about brokenness, I want to specifically talk about being broken before the Lord.
"He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds." Psalm 147:3
Brokenness, in God’s eyes, is being so crushed by the sin and darkness of the world that we recognize there is no place to turn but to God.
David’s life and brokenness is a perfect example.
In 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51 we see it: the beauty of brokenness.
“Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife [to be] thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon..”
David, a man after God’s own heart. David, a warrior with his band of mighty men. David, the greatest king to ever reign over Israel.
Perhaps panic arose in David’s heart as he realized that Nathan was here to talk about his “secret” sin. Maybe it was hard for him to breathe when Nathan’s blunt honesty vocalized his guilt. I can picture the blood draining from his face, his heart pumping wildly; I can imagine it being hard for him to swallow and his palms becoming slick with nervous sweat as shame washed over him. Maybe he grew stiff, maybe fidgety, maybe even tearful.
I don’t know exactly what David’s initial response was to Nathan’s confrontation of his sin.
All I do know is that he came to a point of confession and acceptance of his wrong-doing.
After Nathan’s lengthy speech (See 2 Sam. 12:1-12 for more detail), David’s only recorded response in this passage is found in a simple phrase:
“I have sinned against the Lord.”
And here we find him, his larger-than-life status diminished; his great attributes out of the lime- light, his sin highlighted. David, the man we rightfully respect and look to as an example in our Christian lives, is a sinner. David, in this moment, has been reduced to a liar, an adulterer, and a murderer.
When God said in Proverbs 13:15, “The way of the transgressor is hard,” no one was excluded from that principle – not even David, one of the greatest men to ever live. And in Psalm 51 we get a peek into that. We see a man truly broken by his transgression.
We see it in a man who cries out to the Lord for mercy, who knows that he has no hope outside of Who God is (51:1-2).
We see it in a man whose sin looms largely in his mind, reminding him again and again of his humanity and failure (51:3-6).
We see it in a man whose greatest desire in this moment is just to be clean again, just to have his ugliness erased, just to be pure, just to be forgiven and restored to his precious friendship with the Lord, and is asking the only One capable to accomplish it. (51:7-15).
We see it in a man who would do anything to get back to unhindered relationship with the Lord again, except that he knows he cannot do anything. It is not within his power to right this wrong (51:16-19).
We see it in a man who says this: “The sacrifices of God [are] a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (51:17).
What the Lord Desires
Let me point out that David did not go about trying to “pick himself up by the bootstraps” and go about his own life. God does not want us to feed our pride by “making things right”, nor does he simply want sadness and sorrow over the consequences and pain our sin brings to us. God’s design is to bring about spiritual brokenness, the kind of brokenness He uses for His glory and for our good. He calls us to have godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10).
As a counselor, I have watched men and women struggle deeply with sin in their lives. I too have experienced the depth of darkness due to sin driving a wedge between me and God. Yet, with God, out of the midst of that darkness, out of the desperation our sin drives us to, there is hope. That desperation can drive you to brokenness, so desperate that all you want is God.
Out of a fractured heart over sin, over grief, over pain, over shame and guilt, God’s purpose is to produce humility in us. It is humility that allows us to recognize, as David did, who God is and who we are in comparison with him. It is humility that sets us up to come to grips with our sin.
The reason brokenness is beautiful is because of how God can use it in our lives. It is something that can draw us near to Him. Brokenness makes room for a contrite heart and repentance to bring us back into fellowship with Him when we have miserably failed. It is not lovely in and of itself, it is not the end of the journey, it is not a title to be used for identity, it’s not a word to use when you want to feel “authentic.” Emotional and Spiritual brokenness itself is messy and sad. BUT, as our eyes are opened to TRUTH in the midst of that brokenness and we begin to see the hand of God “binding up that which was broken,” we once again have hope.
True brokenness is a tool by which God brings His wandering sheep back into His loving arms.