When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will become. -Henri Nouwen
Life never unfolds as we plan it. Somehow those girlish dreams of our childhood vanish as reality sets in. We don’t imagine our lives to include loss, suffering, or loneliness. But the truth is that we cannot fully embrace the human experience without these trials. Inevitably, suffering happens–whether it’s raising a child with a rare disease (as in my case), or caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, or repairing your broken heart after a divorce.
Shortly after my daughter, Sarah, was born with Apert syndrome, God presented me with a choice: victimhood or victory. I saw myself on the convergence of two distinct paths, and I knew that whichever path I chose would lead to either destruction or joy. Before making my choice, however, the Lord said with the tenderness only He can give: “Victory cannot come without the Cross.”
In a world with so much brokenness, including our own, how do we possibly navigate the landscape of tragedy and discover the triumph of healing? There is a way. It is actually through our brokenness, not instead of it or in spite of it–but through it and because of it.
Finding Yourself Again After a Trauma or Tragedy
First, we have to remember that nothing is wasted on God. If you are anything like I am, you probably look in retrospect on your younger years with a lot of guilt and shame, wishing you’d never faltered the way you did. You might have some regrets and wish those mistakes had never happened or that you could redo certain parts of your past.
But the reality is that God can and does redeem our mistakes. Every sin we commit, no matter how heinous, can transform us in a way that life without any sin would not. As we grow in holiness, we become remorseful for our sins. And when that happens, God invites us to hand every shameful, horrid thing into His hands. When it passes through His hands, it is redeemed.
The key is that we have to make this an intentional act, sometimes multiple times a day. It must become a habit, which means we have to practice this “handing over” time and time again.
It’s no small feat to discover your authentic identity as a beloved daughter of God when you have been battered and broken, sometimes as a victim of trauma or abuse. Even the sins of others against you can be redeemed when you pass them into God’s hands and heart. Pray to forgive yourself and those who have hurt you. Then you will, gradually without noticing it, become the woman you always knew you were.
Healing Cannot Occur Without Entering the Pain
The world will tell you (in so many words) that you should avoid your suffering at all costs. We might adopt the societal worldview that suffering is a form of punishment. As a result, we turn away from it, reject our crosses, and find ourselves fighting against something that is intended to purify and sanctify us.
If it’s true (and it is) that God uses absolutely everything–every misfortune, broken relationship, tragedy, oppression, etc.–for our ultimate good, then we have to shift our perspective about suffering. When Sarah was born, I had to wrestle with the reality that I was being called to live out what I had always been taught about redemptive suffering. It was time for me to truly learn how to suffer well.
The longing for wholeness and healing is ubiquitous. But most of us want to bypass the arduous work of entering into our pain. We’d rather simply skip facing what hurt us and go straight to the inner peace. If you truly long for wholeness, though, you have to accept your brokenness and allow it to change you from the inside out. Henri Nouwen wrote:
Healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it.
Know that pain is your teacher, and if you listen to what it tells you, you will begin to walk your own Calvary alongside Jesus and the Blessed Mother with greater surrender and trust.
Becoming a Blessing to Others Through Vulnerability
What is it about becoming vulnerable to others that is so frightening? For me, it is an intense fear of rejection, criticism, or ostracism. I seldom have the courage to be myself, without pretense, in a group of total strangers. Even writing on this subject is an act of extreme vulnerability. It’s tough stuff.
Our brokenness is an opportunity to bless others, however. If I am practicing the act of handing over my pain and misery to God through prayer and then trusting He will make whole what has become damaged and shattered, I will also grow in a deeper awareness of the brokenness of others. And I won’t want them to feel alone in their own journey.
What I’ve learned, ultimately, is that my very personal and unique form of brokenness is an invitation to accompany others who are suffering a similar journey. It’s to show them that there is beauty and, yes, joy in our sorrowful seasons of life. When I live as a daughter of the Resurrection, I don’t shove aside the necessity of the Cross, nor do I present suffering as the ultimate end.
Our goal is always, always new life. Allow Jesus to bring you to resurrection through your brokenness. Press your wounds into His wounds. Console Him when you are lonely. And then you will learn that to suffer well is to love well.
Are you going through a period of brokenness? Have you been able to find the blessing in it?
Jeannie Ewing is a Catholic spirituality writer who focuses on grief, redemptive suffering, and waiting. Her books include From Grief to Grace and Waiting with Purpose. You can learn more about her here.