Broken by Nouwen

To continue my review of Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved, Spiritual Living in a Secular World I want to look today at the concepts of Broken. Ann Voskamp has also written a terrific book about Brokenness entitled The Broken Way.

I learned from Nouwen to tell others that we are all broken, (with my addendum), some just hide it better than others. Nouwen writes: “You are a broken man. I am a broken man, and all the people we know or know about are broken. I am more grateful for a person who can acknowledge that I am very alone in my pain than for someone who tries to tell me that there are many others who have a similar or a worse pain. Our brokenness is truly ours. Nobody else’s. Our brokenness is an unique as our chosenness and our blessedness.”

She is so right!

Nouwen worked for years in a community with severely handicapped men and women. He learned “It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk, or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person. We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life.” This concept was also addressed by Viktor E. Frankl in his work Man’s Search For Meaning. Whether severely handicapped or newly diagnosed with a limiting physical problem, we need to realize that God’s ability to use us in His work never ends. Nouwen continues, “Instinctively we know that the joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well.”

He posits two responses to brokenness: “first, befriending it and, second, putting it under the blessing. My own experience with anguish has been that facing it and living it through, is the way to healing. The deep truth is that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we so desire, but can become, instead, the means to it. The great secret of the spiritual life, the life of the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God, is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity.” Wow! Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to? The full realization of our humanity and His indwelling power? I am amazed every single time I review the material in this book.

The second response is “the great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing.” This can make it “an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us. Physical, mental or emotional pain lived under the blessing is experienced in ways radically different from physical, mental or emotional pain lived under the curse.” To understand his teaching more fully, please read his book.) “What seemed intolerable becomes a challenge.And so the great task becomes that of allowing the blessing to touch us in our brokenness.”

He also points out that different twelve-step programs are all ways of putting our brokenness under the blessing and thereby making it a new way of life. “All addictions make us slaves, but each time we confess openly our dependencies and express our trust that God can truly set us free, the source of our suffering becomes the source of our hope.” Below are the first 7 steps…

  • Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our dependencies – that our lives had become unmanageable
  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  • Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Step 5 – Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Step 6 – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Step 7 – Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Next entry I will address the concept of Given.

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