Beautifully broken.

My journals are filled with pain. The very act of writing has often been a respite for me, a time for soul-searching therapy and then, a necessary emotional purging. Committing my disconsolate feelings to the written word both acknowledges and organizes the brokenness. And so, when I’ve found myself in the trenches of some sort of emotional turmoil, or later just trying to make sense of it all, I’ve found myself writing. For whatever reason, I allow the pain and hurt to infiltrate the written word in a way that I would struggle to find acceptable or “safe” in spoken conversation.

I write about the “good times” — joy, laughter, and love — far less. I assume it’s because those thoughts and feelings don’t require the same mental gymnastics or organization that comes from writing them down. Those thoughts and feelings also don’t require the cover of silence offered by text on a page in order for them to be acceptable or shared.

The scary thing about this blog is a feeling of permanence that I’ve never allowed in my private journals. It’s routinely been my practice to delete my old writings and journals, sometimes immediately, which is a benefit of writing on the computer instead of in a Moleskine. Deleting them doesn’t eradicate the pain of those moments, obviously, but it’s been a step toward some sort of closure for me, a way to close the book on an experience.

As part of my wife’s 12-Step process of recovery, she has made a lot of amends. Amends, if you’re familiar with the lingo, are about more than simply making apologies. Amends seek to take responsibility and make restorations, wherever possible. Much brokenness came from that time in our lives when we were traveling to hell and back with her addiction. As much as I appreciate (and frankly, at times, need) her willingness to take responsibility for so much of the destruction of that time, I also know that some of my brokenness can never been repaired or restored. I know this is a source of guilt for my wife, in no small part because of the times I expressed my grief and despair as feeling as though I was “losing pieces of myself.”

The simple truth is that we never really can completely close the book on our those experiences or gain back all of those lost pieces. While the pain of those moments dissipates with work and time (more with work than time, for the record), the brokenness left behind is something that shapes who we are and who we will be. For a long time, this fact seemed like a negative, a lingering inescapable punishment. What I’m beginning to discover now is that the process of living through and then moving beyond the brokenness is where I’ve learned the most about myself… and, hopefully, about the world around me.

Out of the brokenness, beauty.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
-Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

I find myself gravitating toward people who have lived with and through their own brokenness, only to come out on the other side of it as a better person. Those are the people who I find myself wanting to spend time with and that’s the kind of person that I hope to someday become.

One of my favorite songs on the newest Over the Rhine album, The Long Surrender, is “All My Favorite People Are Broken.” It’s the moving album finale, a tune filled with love, recognition, and the perfect melting instrumental goodbye. The song walks the delicate balance between warmth and sadness, which is, for me, one of the more endearing hallmarks of Over the Rhine’s music.

All my favorite people are broken. Beautifully broken. My heart should know.

9 thoughts on “Beautifully broken.

  1. Yes, broken and beautiful we are. I also find broken people to be so much more gracious and accepting – even embracing. When one is broken, touching another brokenness isn’t scary. and of course I love that song. I think I told you I covered it recently.


    1. Yeah, you told me about your cover. Would love to have been there to hear it. And you’re right about the embracing element, too. Very good observation. You know (and I will say this to you since you’re a pastor), I think part of my struggle with this whole thing has come from my religious background, the thinking that brokenness was something that must be healed or something that separates us from “God.” Thoughts?


  2. Well, there’s a great theological question for me to think about for days. I think if the gospel/good news is limited to the specific paragraph that includes “God loves me/ Jesus died for me/ I believe in said Jesus as savior/ I go to heaven” then we’re trying to leave this life for the next. We want to get rid of this life, fix it, heal it, forgive it, forget it.

    Didn’t Jesus show himself to Thomas by his scars. What if the gospel is actually living with scars – and somehow in that we mirror Jesus? Still thinking.


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