Sheila was one of my first patients after completing my residency in family medicine. A young, attractive woman, Sheila had a history of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after suffering abuse as a teenager. She now regularly saw a therapist and had come to me to manage her two medications, one of which was a controlled substance.
Sheila never smiled. She was anxious, lacked self-confidence, and couldn’t hold a job. Over time I realized that Sheila was misusing her anxiety medicine and getting medications from other doctors. When confronted with her behavior, she denied her actions.
Sheila is one example of someone who is broken in heart and spirit. While her condition might be more striking and dysfunctional than most, I would argue that if we were honest about it, we all are broken in some way. Perhaps it’s a physical disorder. Or maybe it’s an experience of hurt, rejection, humiliation, or hatred. Can we say we don’t do the same to others? While we may experience it to different degrees, no one escapes the wounds of sin.
There are three common ways people try to deal with their brokenness.
The first is denial. Make the problem go away by redefining normal and loading yourself up with positive thinking. But life is relentless. We get sick; relationships break down; we lose our job; others try to manipulate and use us. We come to learn that we don’t have the kind of control we think we do.
The second approach is to escape. People are unhappy or become bored with life. They run from who they are and try to avoid pain and emptiness by substituting something else. Escape is the birthplace of addictions and attachments to people and things that can’t satisfy our real need.
When the denial and escape options fail, we can then fall to defeat. Faced with pain and seeing no clear way of escape, we become apathetic, discouraged, depressed, and fall into despair.
But how do we know what is good and what isn’t; what’s broken and what’s whole? Do we judge only by our feelings or by the opinions of others? Can we really look to politicians, Hollywood celebrities, scientific experts, or population surveys for answers? If nothing else, we should at least be able to trust ourselves and the pain we feel, right?
Pain — whether physical, emotional, or spiritual — is a good indicator that something is wrong. But we also know that while its presence indicates a problem of some kind, its absence doesn’t necessarily mean we’re problem-free. How else could you explain the Nazis’ genocidal extermination of Jews, the brutality of ISIS, the killing of the unborn, and the other atrocities man commits against himself? Our conscience does not always speak true, especially if the prevailing culture wants us to silence it.
But God gives us the truth. He made us. He created all the laws of nature and morality. He is the one standard by which we can judge ourselves and our world accurately.
It’s not just that God speaks the truth, but He IS the Truth. He is perfect.
We, on the other hand, are not.
What, then, are we to do? I see that we have one of three choices:
- We can try to avoid the truth through denial or escapism.
- We can quit in defeat.
- We face it.
We’ve already spoken of the first two, so what is this third option?
Face and acknowledge your brokenness.
Stop running from yourself. Be honest about who you are and your weaknesses. But to do this, there are some cautions.
Sometimes the areas we avoid are very dark places. We should not go there alone. Satan knows our weaknesses, and he will try to exploit them and use them to hurt us further. First turn to Jesus and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit.
God works through others as well. Find someone to be tender support when you are weak and hurting, a sharp sword when tempted to go astray, and a fortress when coming under attack. This person could be a therapist, a pastor, one or more friends, or brothers and sisters in Christ. I would seek a person of prayer and maturity who themselves will not stumble when the going gets tough.
Embrace the parts of you that have been wounded.
Once upon a time, there was a king who was both powerful and feared. But he had a secret. He had a son who had been born with a deformed spine and was crippled. Ashamed of his son’s appearance, the king kept the boy hidden away so no one else would see him.
One day the king became ill, and as he lay dying, he thought over his life and anguished over his many transgressions. For all his regrets, none were greater than what he felt about how he had treated his son. He called the boy to his side and begged his forgiveness. The son, who for years had longed for his father’s love, forgave his father and the two embraced. As it turned out, the king began to improve the very next day. Soon he was on his feet again, but now he was a changed man, and he took his son with him wherever he went.
That’s how we should treat the parts of us that have been wounded. Not as dirty, deformed monsters, but as wounded children longing to be loved.
In Luke, we hear Jesus telling his disciples:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. Luke 9:23-24 RSVCE
Now hold on. Didn’t I just tell you to embrace the wounded parts? Am I now saying the opposite?
Any good parent will tell you that while they love their children unconditionally, it’s because of that love they also will discipline them. Loving parents don’t allow their children to act irresponsibly or hurt others. This is not easy, and sometimes it’s even painful for parents. They deny their child’s selfish wants with the hope that one day they will become caring, godly, and independent adults.
That’s also what we must do. We must learn to let go of selfishness, pride, and complacency and all manner of sin.
Take up your cross.
Jesus carried the Cross to Calvary. While he was innocent and did not deserve beating, humiliation, torture, and death, he willingly took on all of these out of love for us. To follow Christ means to come up against the forces of evil, both from inside and outside of us. To live a life as a disciple of Christ is one of both heroic courage and humiliation; of fortitude and relinquishment. Our wounded natures will not yield to these readily. We will encounter resistance and evil of all sorts. To carry our cross is to crucify in the flesh what would keep us from a holy life that glorifies God.
Once, after many walked away from Jesus because his words were too hard to accept, he turned to his disciples and asked them: “Will you also go away?”
To this, Simon Peter answered:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68 RSVCE
That’s how it is with following Jesus. Once you know him and the love, peace, and joy that he places in your heart, nothing can keep you away. You’ll follow him wherever he leads.
A final word. This list is not a step-by-step process. You have to practice all of them all the time. You will be tempted to work on (1) & (2) first and “fix” yourself before you move on. That’s a trap. Change and conversion won’t happen all at once. It’s a lifelong process.