Raw, pungent brokenness

Books | A challenge to share and give away broken hearts, as Christ gave His
by Ann Voskamp
Posted 5/20/17, 08:12 am

With her typical writing style of wonder, vulnerability, and beauty, Ann Voskamp strips one question bare strand by strand: “How do you live with your broken heart?” Though a tad tortured, Voskamp’s introspection in The Broken Way—a runner-up for WORLD’s 2016 Book of the Year in the Accessible Theology category—penetrates soul and senses as she invites Christ and her readers into her raw, pungent brokenness—because “there isn’t one of us not bearing the wounds from our own bloody battles.” Her writing is a slow-cooked stew of theology, poetry, and memoirs, meant to be stirred and savored with long pauses and deep sighs, as Voskamp challenges readers to share and give away their broken hearts, as Christ gave His. We present the epilogue from her book, courtesy of Zondervan. Sophia Lee


O Spirit, beautiful and dread!
My heart is fit to break

With love of all Thy tenderness
For us poor sinners’ sake.

—Frederick Faber

It took more than a coon’s age, but the results came back today that there’s finally enough iron in my blood. Like something had, finally, bled down into the veins, got into the chambers, and made me live.

Malakai has needled himself almost a thousand times now, injecting insulin into his body to stay alive. This is how we keep learning to live: stay weak and dependent to stay strong.

I’d sat today in the waiting room beside a woman who told me she had just buried her husband. Lou Gehrig’s disease and a protracted death wrestle. I watched her grip the armrests until her knuckles turned white and I tried to hear all the things she didn’t find words for. Her open face turned to me. “I cared for him right till the end …” Her eyes drifted off like she’d seen behind the veil.

“This is all I know now about living: Every moment is a gift with each other—and every moment we get to be a gift to each other.” This is all there is. I nodded, holding her gaze, gave forward the gift of presence—because I knew a broken story kind of like that, of one broken woman reaching out to touch the intimate communion of the cross, and finding in it the form of a life—cruciform. Love comes down, a gift, and grateful eucharisteo rises back to Him. And then koinonia love, broken and given as the gift, reaches out to an aching world—even, especially, with bits of our broken self. Cruciform.

Eucharisteo had led me to koinonia—was it so surprising? When you feel a radical gratitude for what you have, you end up wanting to go to radical lengths to share it. When you are radically grateful for being blessed, you want to be radically generous to the oppressed. Because you know that is the way to radical abundance—there’s always more for more to share the grace.

We are where we are to risk everything for those outside the gate, because we are one with the broken—all gates that divide us are mirage. Comfort and affluence can make you blind. Blind to the hungry Christ, the thirsty, suffering, broken Christ. Isn’t this why it’s hard for the comfortable to experience authentic abundance—because they’re blinded to Christ?

I’d reached out my hand to hold the grieving widow’s. Willing to be broken into. Broken and given. This is all there is. Those who claim Christ aren’t only saved by a crucified Savior; their lives are shaped by Him.

The cross isn’t some cheap symbol of faith; it’s the exact shape we embody as the life of Christ. When we won’t see the suffering—who are all of us—we never form our lives like our Savior’s.

A Christ-shaped life is not a comfortably shaped life, but a cross-shaped life.

I’d come home from the doctor’s office, laid my bag there on the dining room buffet by my busted Lord’s Supper sculpture. He’s right there, kneeling, hands cut off, ever beckoning. Had my own hands had to be broken free of performance, of idols, of convenience, of perfectionism, to stop being afraid to be cut or wounded, to stop fearing the suffering of broken things? Had I had to feel the depths of my own insufficient and brokenness to allow a deeper abundance to come?

The sun dips toward the golden hour and I wander out toward the wheat because I need … I need to stretch out my arms and feel the whole expanse of the flung sky, the ocean of rolling wheat breaking free, feel how fear is executed with one line: there is enough. Run through the gilded stalks and feel how all fear shrivels when you serenade your heart with one refrain: there is abundance. There is always more because God is always enough, and He makes all brokenness into abundance and never be afraid of broken things because Christ is redeeming everything. Run and feel the bowed heads open the way: “The Lord is indeed going before you—he will be with you; he will not fail you or abandon you. Do not be afraid.” Run, and the sky and a thousand cups of light break overhead: You can abandon all your cares because Christ will never, ever abandon you. You can abandon your fears and abide in the safe expanse of Your Father.

The fading dome of blue sky over the gold stretches over me, over everything, His shielding roof, stego, protected in His unending love, and the evening breeze exhales the secret to relief: the soul is broken free when we’re freed of self and abandoned to the will of God.

Hope’s coming across the fields to me, her hair falling long across her shoulders, the color of wheat. The woods fall away behind us. When she reaches me, she reaches for my hand, smiles, and we hold on to each other and run, laughing, lifted into the rustle of all this willing surrender making abundance. Can I memorize her here with me, our with-ness breaking brokenness? Oh, this long way we’d come through brokenness is the essence of humanness, and fragility is the beating heart of humanity, and accepting that without shame is the beginning of freedom. Brokenness doesn’t need shame or guilt—brokenness needs to be shared and given. Broken and given and shared with Jesus, and with a world that needs to embrace weakness to embrace abundance. She doesn’t let go of my hand.

This deeper communion with God I’d been after, the question of how to live with brokenness, it’s remade me, reformed me, reshaped me—again. I am found to the extent I keep koinonia with the broken because He loves best those who need Him most. It’s whispering through wheat and ringing loud in my soul. What do you do with your brokenness? Give your one broken heart away. What’s the answer to suffering in this world? Destroy it with co-suffering, with compassion, with givenness. Bad brokenness is always broken by good brokenness. Your life turns around when you refuse to turn away from brokenness.

Hope keeps turning, finding my eyes, smiling, and I hold her hand tighter, her a blazing Esther, giving herself and risking loving me, even me. Sun’s broken into the wheat, indwells all the wheat, and we’re running straight into all the light, the heads of wheat brushing the scars on my wrist, the cross on my wrist, her hand in mine, a blur of scars, thousands upon thousands of bowed heads ready to yield breathing it: Givenness. Givenness. This is communion. This is freedom. Union with Him, with His Beloved. And there is no stopping the breaking free. I could trust enough to give, give Him forward, give even my own brokenness, and not be afraid it would break anyone—because brokenness makes communion. Brokenness makes abundance. The aloneness and disconnect and abandonment felt from the beginning, it is counteracted in communion, a way of giving and sharing that requires the intimacy of brokenness. It’s happening all around us and I can almost see it: once you dare to take the broken way, stay with the broken, daily give forward even your brokenness, your broken heart is enlightened, it becomes light. Your heart learns a new way of being—a paradoxical abundant broken way. It can only be learned in koinonia, with Christ and with His body. Communion is our course to abundance. Communion is the way Jesus ultimately came to show us, because ultimately, the givenness of communion is the essence of really living. Koinonia is always, always the miracle and there is no other way to enter abundance.

Hope and I are about out of breath, but filled, wheat humming in the rush of our running, hearts pounding alive in our ears. I was born in the middle of a wheat harvest and all this gold will be harvested tomorrow and its kernels will run through our open hands. There isn’t one stalk in this field that’s afraid to be cut.

It’s the broken hearts that find the haunting loveliness of a new beat—it’s the broken hearts that live a song that echoes God’s.

Beat, beloved heart, beat on in the world.
You will be broken and you will be loved.
You don’t ever have to be afraid.

The way keeps opening up before us. And we’ll let it come.

Taken from The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. Copyright © 2016 by Ann Voskamp. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.