Eggs. Glow sticks. Fire alarms. Sometimes things need to be broken to be more effective.
There are always things that stay with you long after they were ever said. About six years ago some one told me that one of the things she struggled with most was broken youth workers ministering to broken kids. At the time I saw what she meant, if people responsible for working with hurting young people were too preoccupied with their own hurt, then they weren’t going to be much use. Aside from anything, she argued that it could be selfish, hurting broken people can sometimes only see their own pain, making the young person’s hurt second priority. It makes sense, a youth worker charged with ministering to broken, bereaved, depressed, fearful and abused young people isn’t going to be able to fully do that if they themselves are near nervous breakdown.
But in the six years since this was said to me, I’ve had time to reflect on this idea. And I’m not going to go as far as saying that I think you can’t be a good youth worker (or minister of any sort) if you’ve not had something traumatic happen that has broken you, but I would say that I wonder if there is an element of “breaking” to make someone ready for ministry and I definitely don’t believe that being broken means that you can’t be useful.
While studying youth work at uni there were a few modules and lectures that proved to be a struggle for me personally. Learning about childhood and adolescent trauma and their effect on development was difficult because I questioned whether everything I was learning was true for my own case of adolescent trauma. But the thing that was so much more painful for me was certain class mates discussing themes that were so prevalent in reality for me, in detached, theoretical and almost cold ways. I struggled with the idea of them talking about trauma and its effect almost as if it were an equation; if X happens then this young person will be Y and Z. Sure they were sympathetic and many could empathise, but it hurt to hear them talk about it because I knew what it felt like to be broken in some of the ways we were learning about.
This strong and somewhat unexpected reaction was what first made me question this idea of brokenness being bad in ministry. If people discussing trauma without being broken in that way themselves felt so wrong for me, I questioned if young people similarly struggled with seemingly sorted, together and whole youth workers analysing their pain.
Was being broken really that bad?
With this thought in mind, I began work on writing and publishing what became my book. Material born of pain, disappointment and ultimately brokenness. My voice, sewn through those pages, attempting to disagree with what I’d heard six years previously. If there is one review of that work that matters most to me, it is a friend who once said: “There are things in there that I’d never think about, but you know because you’ve been through it.”
Sometimes things get broken and there is no purpose. There is only pointless destruction, devastation and demolishing. But sometimes there can be a purpose, we can make a point, and in our brokenness we can reach out and hold the hand of another broken person and simply say “Me too.”
What if its not just reaching out of brokenness that’s the point, what about being broken in preparation for other things? I am just coming out of a prolonged time of brokenness. A time when I was professionally smashed apart and personally couldn’t put the pieces back together. But now I realise that perhaps I couldn’t put the pieces back together because I wanted to put them back in the same way, when the reason I was broken was to get rid of some bits and create something even better out of the leftovers. I believe I was broken “for such a time as this”, to be here holding all the broken bits of my career, vocation, spirituality, faith and confidence, and have them crafted into something new. This couldn’t have happened if I was the same whole person I was two years ago.
I hear what some of you might be thinking, “Sure Lex, brokenness is a really useful tool in ministry. Sure you’re not just using it as an excuse for not being fully healed from your junk?” I’m sure there is an element of that in there for me, an element of relief that I don’t need to be perfectly restored to healing to carry on in ministry. But I suggest that working out of and because of brokenness is in fact a biblical, theological principle.
What did Jesus say to his disciples during the last supper, telling them to remember each time they shared that meal, that we repeat each time we recite the liturgy of the Eucharist? This is my body, broken for you. In the utter and complete brokenness of our sin we couldn’t be reached. Only Jesus becoming broken himself made a way for us.
From Jesus’ brokenness came our justification, redemption and salvation. Sometimes broken works best.
So let me try to make a point and sum everything up. Like I said at the start, I’m not trying to say that effective ministers need to have been through trauma, I’m not saying that you have to be broken to connect with hurting people, and I’m really, really not saying that we shouldn’t strive for healing and wholeness; but I am arguing that it’s not one or the other. As with so many things in spirituality it’s a ‘both and’ kinda thing; you can be both broken and ministering to other people. And why? Because out of the ultimate act of brokenness, out of death, came our source of healing. Because of Jesus brokenness, we can be whole.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of kintsukuroi (and if you’re on Pinterest or Tumblr you probably will have done!), the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer. This technique coming with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. Broken is not a synonym for weak and useless. Sometimes broken works best.
I wonder if you feel broken, I wonder if you’re sitting amongst some rubble worrying that you will never be whole again and because of your brokenness feel useless to other people. Today, I pray for the broken people, the utterly destroyed people who’ve lost pieces of themselves for ever, that we would know healing in our broken places. That we would relate to Jesus’ ultimate act of brokenness and see that through it we can be whole. That we would see other broken people ministering to us, reaching out a hand to say “Me too”. That we might come to understand that we may have been broken in preparation for a specific time or reason. And that above all, we would be comforted that sometimes broken really does work best.