Walking Our Faith: Through brokenness to uncharted territory (column)
Walking Our Faith
I lay on the floor next to Kiki and put my arm around her shoulders and scratched her behind the ears. She stared straight ahead, her body tense, ready to bolt as soon as she sensed an opportunity.
Kiki’s history is sketchy. She’s an 8-year-old Newfoundland, tiny for her breed at a mere 80 pounds. She lived her entire life as a breeding dog, likely in an outdoor kennel. She’s comfortable with other dogs, but wary of humans.
I adopted her two months ago. I have to keep her on a leash whenever we leave the house, otherwise she will run away. When I call her name, she will come in my general direction, but when I reach for her, she scuttles away, always just out of reach.
Which is why I was lying on the floor with her on Tuesday evening. My hope is with time she will feel secure and understand she is loved. There are moments when I see Kiki is trying so hard to overcome her fear. When I sit up in bed first thing in the morning, she will come and ask for a cuddle. Yet, she keeps her shoulders hunched and her head down as if she’s afraid to expect too much.
When I feel discouraged that our progress is painstakingly slow, I visualize a day when Kiki will come running when I call her name and will curl up next to me on the couch.
Kiki’s story is also our story. Some of us will experience a lifetime of brokenness so profound it seems impossible to imagine our lives as anything else. Others of us will enjoy a life of blessings that lull us into a feeling of security, until the moment when we find ourselves facing an unexpected illness or death.
Whether brokenness is all we’ve ever known, or something new to us, both can feel like a place without borders. When we feel broken, we wonder how it will be possible for us to ever feel whole again.
I have written in this column about my life with depression several times. When I am in the midst of it, it feels as if it will never end. When it has been a while since it has visited, it feels as if it will never return. But like a report of an avalanche on a distant mountain, there are warnings to remind me it can come again any moment.
But here is what I’ve also learned. When we are broken, we are broken open. Our vulnerability contains a gift. To be broken open, like a seedling that only opens as a result of a forest fire, our broken-open hearts can create momentous energy for growth.
But what do we do until then? The promise of a brighter future rings hollow when we feel abandoned to pain. To be told that good can come from our suffering is cold comfort when we are in the midst of it. And frankly, the transformative journey of healing that runs parallel to suffering is exhausting. Isn’t this exactly the moment when we feel most alone and discarded by God?
Here is what God promises: “… our hope for you is steadfast because we know that as you are partakers of suffering, so also you will partake of consolation.” (2 Cor 1:5,7) God will strengthen our hearts, he will sustain us. The Lord upholds all who fall and raises up all those who are bowed down. (Ps 145:14)
These are only promises until we experience their relief. So here is what God will do: God will pour his love upon us with grace and tenderness. He will send people into our lives who will walk beside us and hold us up when we feel we can no longer stand.
In my deepest moments of loneliness and despair, I could not experience God’s presence. Yet, having reached the other side, I understand not only was God with me, but his love, his grace, transformed my grief. And while I was unable to experience his grace, he sent people into my life who sustained me.
Our broken hearts are broken open to discover new friendships, new loves, relationships we might never have considered if our brokenness had not brought us to this uncharted territory. Our part is to go out into the world so that we can be found.
But here’s the catch: There is no return to how things were before. Sometimes that is welcome, and sometimes that must be mourned. But if we have faith in God’s love, and patience with ourselves, we will see we have left behind one place to enter somewhere new. This stripping away reveals we are meant to be for ourselves, for others and for God’s plan for us in this world.
As Kiki and I lay on the floor together, my body wrapped around hers, she may have felt only misery at my proximity. I hope someday she will understand she was surrounded by my love. I believe God shares the same hope for us. As we release our brokenness to God, we will understand we were always surrounded by his love.
Suzanne Anderson writes a regular religion column for the Summit Daily News.
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