what true brokenness is

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Broken I run to You

These past few weeks I’ve had quite a few talks with people about what brokenness really is. What does it mean to be broken? And is it a positive thing to be broken?

I am well aware that in regular English something that’s broken isn’t a positive thing. Right now our beloved car is in a body and paint shop, because it’s broken. It needs to be fixed to function properly again. Also, when we talk about people, ‘a broken person’ often means somebody where something devastating has happened to them, and they barely know how to get up in the morning. Maybe their spouse or child died, and they just don’t seem to be able to find many reasons to live, and have in most ways lost hope.

Obviously, I think of something and somebody very different when I think, talk and teach about brokenness and what it means…

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BROKENNESS AND ARGUMENTS

Sometimes I listen to NPR. Not often.

Recently I heard the re-run of an old episode of Radio Lab which talks about what happens in our autonomic nervous system when husbands and wives argue. You can listen to the episode here starting at 10:30 and ending at 14:30. It contains a re-creation of an argument attributed to Robert Sapolksy and his wife, and illustrates how a man will ramp up and then shut down fairly quickly, but his wife continues to be agitated much longer and starts to bring up past offenses. Sapolsky calls it the “half-life of the autonomic nervous system”.

The main reason I find this episode interesting is that I shared it with my wife, and she agreed with what Sapolsky describes. She carried it further, however, and applied it to brokenness and humility in our relationship.

She said that when we argue, and she starts to spiral into the past hurts I have caused in our relationship, if I acknowledge and take responsibility for those hurts it defuses her anger much more quickly – mainly because she sees that I have heard her heart, and I am not defending myself. As it says in Proverbs:

A gentle answer turns away anger,  but a harsh word stirs up wrath. Proverbs 15:1

I have talked to several men recently who have asked questions along the lines of: “What does brokenness look like when my wife accuses me of something and I haven’t really done it?”

My answer is two-fold:

First, I encourage taking a deep look at the accusation; many times it is at least partially true. In that case, take responsibility, ask forgiveness, and make sure there is not something more underlying the accusation. Don’t rear up and throw back an accusation in return – that will not help!

Second, I encourage looking at the big picture. Let’s say that my wife is upset, and tells me that I never do the preventive maintenance needed around the house. (for the record – I don’t keep things up like I should) Let’s pretend that I think I do a good job of maintaining the house – how should I respond? As some men have asked, “Do I grovel and ask her forgiveness for something I haven’t done? Is that what you mean by brokenness?” No, that’s not brokenness – that’s false humility which is just seeking to get my wife off my back. Instead, I need to look beyond the surface accusation and see the deep hurt that my wife feels from years of my failing to maintain a good relationship in our marriage. I can honestly look her in the eye, take her hand, and say something like, “Marla Rei, I know that I’ve hurt you deeply by failing to listen to your heart over the years, and not doing everything possible to build up our marriage. It’s my fault that you have this fear of things falling apart, whether it is the house or the car or whatever. What can I do to ease your fear, and to heal our relationship?”

Maybe it sounds corny, but I assure you it has probably the main thing which has helped my wife to trust me again, and brought healing to our marriage. I guess my main message is, when your wife is hurting you need to find the best way to take responsibility for her hurt, shoulder the burden, give a gentle answer, and keep working your way toward having a marriage which glorifies God.

The grace and peace of God and our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

George

WHY OPENNESS AND BROKENNESS?

So, what is the point of being completely open and honest with your wife, and walking in brokenness before God in your marriage? Why can’t my sin be just between God and me? Won’t my marriage be much more peaceful if I just deal quietly with God over my sin, rather than upsetting my wife with it?

The answers begins with the purpose of marriage:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32

Thus, the goal of my marriage is to present to the world a picture of Jesus Christ and his relationship to the church. One aspect of that relationship is that he died for the church, setting us free from bondage to sin and taking the punishment for our sin. He also died and rose again to restore our relationship with God, which, for Adam, was daily fellowship, just as Jesus Christ has fellowship with his father:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1John 1:7

If I wish to have fellowship, I must walk in the light. Not just fellowship with God, but fellowship with my wife.

In the broader context of 1 John:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1John 1:5-10

In short, if I am hiding my sin from my wife, claiming that I am not ____________ (fill in the blank…”looking at pornography” “committing adultery” “cheating on the finances”), then I am walking in darkness. If I am walking in darkness, I cannot have fellowship with my wife. If I am not in fellowship with my wife, we are not a picture of Christ and the church. If we are not a picture of Christ and the church…we have missed the whole point of marriage.

Get it?

Peace,

George