Explore the Spiritual Classics: Life of the Beloved (part 4)

ImageAnd now we come to brokenness. 

Perhaps it is audacious for Nouwen to assert that brokenness is a part of being beloved, but it is so.  Why this is the case, I don’t know.  Yet it is true. 

Innocence is shattered by experience. 

At some point, we discover the darkness within us for what it is, and we shudder.  At some time we cross a Rubicon in which we realize that we have lost something that once we had, a freedom, a sense of connectedness, an acceptance.  We realize that we are broken.  And much of our life from that point is spent in the search for healing.

Nouwen sees grace in the brokenness. 

First, he reminds us that brokenness is individual.  No one is broken in quite the same way, because our brokenness and pain and suffering are rooted in the deepest parts of ourselves.  In a sense, your personal brokenness reveals, albeit in shadowy form, the unique way in which God shaped you to bear His image:

“Our brokenness is truly ours.  Nobody else’s.  Our brokenness is as unique as our chosenness and our blessedness.  The way we are broken is as much an expression of our individuality as the way we are taken and blessed.  Yes, fearsome as it may sound, as the Beloved ones, we are called to claim our unique brokenness, just as we have to claim our unique chosenness and our unique blessedness.”

Suddenly, all the words of judgment in the prophets make sense.  God, in those hard decrees, unmasks the hidden brokenness of His people.  The rod of discipline is really a searchlight that brings into unavoidable clarity the many ways we self-inflict brokenness upon ourselves: the willful disobedience, the petulant refusals to forgive, the selfish demands, the hard headed blindness to others.  These behaviors do nothing but harm us, and yet we are addicted to them.  The pain of judgement is in actuality a healing balm that rescues us from our own self-harming behavior.   Now, that passage in Hebrews makes more sense: “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  (Hebrews 12:11)

Nouwen says we must first face the brokenness and befriend it.  Rather than seeking to medicate it away, ignore it through distraction, or hide it behind playacting, we are called to freely cry out about our brokenness.   This is what the Psalms teach us, isn’t it?  Didn’t David cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1).  Didn’t Jesus echo these same words from the cross?    “Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off?,” says another Psalm, “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). 

When we befriend our pain, we learn a deep and powerful truth.

Pain doesn’t last.

There may be weeping for the night, but joy comes in the morning.  There is a time and season for pain, but when the season passes, the pain passes. 

And this brings us to Nouwen’s second recommendation: put the pain under the blessing. 

Our temptation is to say that the pain is a confirmation of our cursedness – we deserve the pain and we deserve for it continue.  However, when we accept our pain and share it with Jesus Christ, He redeems it.  He exchanges beauty for the ashes.  He leads us to rebuild the ruins of our lives.    It is a miraculous exchange.  What once was punishing flames becomes a refining fire; what once was curse becomes the blessing of redemption.  The judgment becomes grace. 

For me, that is the beauty of the atonement – it is not just the one time event of Christ bearing our sins on the cross.  The atonement is also the ongoing work that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is working in our hearts (we call this sanctification). 

And yet there is more to being the beloved.  Salvation is more than rescue, it is also sending.   More on that in the next post.

Soli Deo Gloria


One thought on “Explore the Spiritual Classics: Life of the Beloved (part 4)

  1. Thank you, Russell, for filling my heart with wonder as I contemplate redeemed pain, and beauty for ashes. There are no words to acclaim the grace of our God who lovingly achieves such miracles!

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