Life of the Beloved: Broken
by Jack Wald | March 1st, 2015

Mark 1:9-11

The Apostle Paul was preaching in Antioch, giving a history of Israel, and in the course of his preaching he said God viewed King David as, “a man after my own heart.” (Acts 13:22)

David has always been a difficult person for me to understand. On the one hand, he is so appealing. He loves God and has great trust in God that allows him to confront Goliath in battle. He writes beautiful psalms: (Psalm 23:1–3)
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

But there is another side to David that is not so pleasant. He lies to save his skin, which leads to the slaughter of the priests of Nob. With his gang of hoodlums, he practices extortion and when Nabal refuses to pay, he sets out to destroy him. He cheats and deceives his way through life. His most famous deceit came when his men were out fighting battles and he was bored.

King David was on his roof and saw a beautiful woman bathing. He desired her and asked who she was. He requested she visit him and, using his power as king, seduced her. She became pregnant and now David was faced with a problem. So he called her husband, Uriah, who was at war fighting battles for him, to come back home. He did his best to get him into bed with his wife. But Uriah either figured out that something strange was going on and did not want to cooperate, or he was too good a soldier to seek the pleasure of his bed while his fellow soldiers were fighting. In any case, he went back to the battle with a letter from David to be given to his general, Joab. The letter was his death sentence and when David received word that Uriah had been killed, he relaxed. He relaxed until the prophet Nathan came to see him and confronted him with his sin.

2 Samuel 12:7–13
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

David was a broken man, like all of us are broken people. Our brokenness is unique to us; no two of us are broken in the same way. David’s brokenness began as a child. With seven older brothers, he was overlooked. When the prophet Samuel came to see his father, Jesse, and asked to see his sons, Jesse had each of his sons come to Samuel, all except David who was out tending the sheep. It never crossed Jesse’s mind that Samuel would be interested in his youngest son.

Later, when Jesse’s three oldest sons went to war with Saul, Jesse sent David to take some food to them. David arrived at the camp and began talking with some of the soldiers about Goliath who was challenging Israel. You can tell that David was not respected by his older brothers because (1 Samuel 17:28–31)
28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”
29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?”

This conversation is not just a conversation in the heated front lines of a battle. There is a pattern of communication that has been long established. Eliam burned with anger against David. He ridiculed him as an insignificant nothing. “With whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert?” Herding sheep was not a respected profession and Eliam talks about David’s “few sheep” in the desert. Eliam sneers at David, belittles him, and then he says, I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” This is how Eliam viewed his youngest brother; not with love or affection but with contempt.

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” This sounds almost like a whining adolescent. “What have I done this time?” There is a history to the rebukes of his older brothers. David was fifteen years old at the time of this incident and over the years of his life he had been ignored, overlooked, and disrespected. David suffered from the humiliation of constantly being pushed away and ignored. He was the youngest in the family and so he fought for recognition. This created in David a hunger to be respected and led to a powerful drive to be successful to prove that he was worthy of respect. If his family did not respect him, he was determined that the world would respect him.

David coped with the pain of his childhood rejection by working hard to be successful and he carried his pain into his adult life. The drive to be successful led to his success, but also led to the disasters in his life.

Henri Nouwen writes in Life of the Beloved, about the negative messages we receive and how they lead to self-rejection.
As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking: “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” Instead of taking a critical look at the circumstances or trying to understand my own and others’ limitations, I tend to blame myself – not just for what I did, but for who I am. My dark side says: “I am no good …. I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.”

One of the ways some people compensate for this is to become arrogant. Rather than suffer from more rejection, an overly tough exterior is created as a way of protection. Nouwen writes:
But isn’t arrogance, in fact, the other side of self-rejection? Isn’t arrogance putting yourself on a pedestal to avoid being seen as you see yourself? Isn’t arrogance, in the final analysis, just another way of dealing with the feelings of worthlessness? Both self-rejection and arrogance pull us out of the common reality of existence and make a gentle community of people extremely difficult, if not impossible, to attain. I know too well that beneath my arrogance there lies much self-doubt, just as there is a great amount of pride hidden in my self-rejection. Whether I am inflated or deflated, I lose touch with my truth and distort my vision of reality.

People react to the brokenness of their lives in many ways; one of these is arrogance. What was it David’s oldest brother called him? “I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is.”

David was a cocky, arrogant teenager and his brothers did not like his behavior at all. David’s arrogance covered up the pain of his childhood and the trouble with his arrogance is that this blinded him to his actions that hurt others. When he became king and could do anything he wanted to do, his arrogance made him blind to his sin.

We are walking with Henri Nouwen through his book, Life of the Beloved. He writes that “becoming the beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make.” In helping us on this journey, he takes us through the steps in communion when the bread is taken (chosen), blessed, broken, and then given. We are walking with him through the stage of being broken this morning.

Nouwen talks about how we can find healing for our brokenness, but before I get to that, there are a few things that need to be said, some prerequisites to healing of our brokenness.

Before brokenness can be healed, we need to know that we are broken.

We live in a broken world – which Eugene O’Neill knew first hand. O’Neill was an American playwright who was born in 1888. His mother was an emotionally fragile woman who never recovered from the death of her second son who died when he was just two years old. The birth of her third son, Eugene, was a difficult birth and she became a morphine addict. As you can imagine, this did not make O’Neill’s childhood an easy one.

Eugene O’Neill suffered from depression and alcoholism and married three times. He disowned his daughter, Oona, for marrying Charlie Chaplin when she was 18 and Chaplin was 54 and he never saw her again. He had distant relationships with his two sons, one of whom was an alcoholic and the other a heroin addict. They both committed suicide and Eugene O’Neill died in 1953 at the age of 65. Given the pain in his life, his quote is especially interesting.
Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.

Although he went to a Catholic boarding school, he seemed to have faith only that we needed faith. O’Neill was unsuccessful in a pursuit of faith himself but he knew a biblical truth: We are born broken.

No matter how functional we are, the imperfect world into which we were born has affected us. We learn to protect ourselves and some do this better than others. Some personalities are able to resist the pain the world inflicts; others seem not able to create defenses to protect themselves and are always vulnerable to the world’s pain.

We have biases and prejudices we carry with us. Some people rub us the wrong way. We are not always able to think more of others than we think of ourselves. These are all symptoms of our brokenness and the starting point for us is to recognize this truth about ourselves.

We are all broken but we are all broken differently.

Henri Nouwen writes:
Our brokenness is always lived and experienced as highly personal, intimate and unique. I am deeply convinced that each human being suffers in a way no other human being suffers. No doubt, we can make comparisons; we can talk about more or less suffering, but, in the final analysis, your pain and my pain are so deeply personal that comparing them can bring scarcely any consolation or comfort. In fact, I am more grateful for a person who can acknowledge that I am very alone in my pain that 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 as unique as our chosenness and our blessedness. The way we are broken is as much an expression of our individuality as the way we are taken and blessed.

It can seem selfish to focus on our own brokenness because there are others who have a much more difficult life than we do. “Why should I complain when others suffer so much more than I do?” But as Nouwen points out, comparing our pain to each other is not helpful. In the same way that our sin is not to be viewed relative to the sin of others, neither is our brokenness to be viewed relative to the brokenness of others.

We are sinners and the differences between ourselves is not so great when viewed in light of the perfection of God. We are broken people and while we may see some of us as more broken than others, we all fall far too short of the wholeness God created us to have.

Our brokenness does not prevent us from being successful in our years on earth.

David’s brokenness did not prevent him from becoming king of Israel and successful in battle. The world is full of broken people who are successful in life. There are many people who have developed defenses that enable them to function at a very high level. Life can be enjoyed by people who do not choose to face their brokenness.

But while our brokenness may not prevent us from being successful in the world, our brokenness does work against us in two ways.

First, we can go through life successfully without being healed in our inner self, but we will hurt people along the way and God will be unable to use us to build his kingdom as much as he would like.

Look at David as an example. There is no argument that David was not successful. He expanded the borders of Israel. He defeated Israel’s enemies. He made Israel a wealthy and prosperous nation. But look at the damage he did in his life. The priests of Nob were murdered because of his lies. Because he was not able to manage his sons, a civil war broke out. David did not finish well. His last years were years of conflict among the members of his family and the people of Israel suffered as a consequence. He ended life as a depressed old man.

David is such an appealing character and when I read about his destructive acts, I cringe. I wish David had been more aware of what drove him to success. I wish David had not felt the need to prove himself over and over again. I wish David had been able to be gentle with people in the way God was gentle with him when he was a shepherd and received the love of God in his life.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.

A second way our brokenness works against us is that we miss out on God’s blessing because we are unwilling to work for healing of the brokenness of our lives.

David could have had a much better life. It is painful to see the conflict between his sons and daughters that resulted in a civil war. It is painful to see him as an old man. He is not writing the 23rd psalm in his last years. His last years are years of discouragement and pain.

We will be made whole when we come into God’s eternal kingdom, but we do not have to wait until then to have the benefit of being made whole. We can be set free to live the abundant life promised to us, but we need to be made whole for that to happen. We can survive without the healing of our brokenness but we cannot thrive without that healing.

Nouwen suggests two actions we can take to find healing for our brokenness. First, he says we need to bring our brokenness into the light, examine it, face the pain of our brokenness, and then we need to put our brokenness under the blessing of God, allowing God to bring healing to our brokenness.

When I first read this I was shocked. It is not natural for us to bring pain close to us. We avoid pain. If I stick your hand with a pin, you will pull your hand back. So our natural response to painful experiences is to bury them, repress the memories, put them behind us. We do not instinctively draw pain close to us.

Nouwen writes:
The first response, then, to our brokenness is to face it squarely and befriend it. This may seem quite unnatural. Our first, most spontaneous response to pain and suffering is to avoid it, to keep it at arm’s length; to ignore, circumvent or deny it. Suffering – be it physical, mental or emotional – is almost always experienced as an unwelcome intrusion into our lives, something that should not be there. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see anything positive in suffering; it must be avoided at all costs.

But as I thought about this, it made sense to me. I know so many people who carry deep wounds but have buried them and fiercely resist opening up the wounds to view. Some of these people inflict pain on people left and right as they make their way through life, but to suggest they go to counseling is an affront. They do not want to go to counseling because they do not want to face the pain in their life that they have repressed.

In the Marriage Course Annie and I are hosting, the speakers talked this past Friday night about a drain in the alley that became clogged during a rainstorm. They had to go out and open the drain cover and push rods through the clogged pipe until it cleared up. When that happened, the water quickly drained. It would have done no good to go out and mop up the surface water. What was needed was to go below the surface and clear the drain.

This is what is needed for us as well. We can continually try to patch up the damage we do in relationships, or we can face the pain, go deep, and find healing for what prevents us from hurting people we love.

We have a choice to make: we can either bring life to the people in our lives, or we can bring death. The truth is that we all do both, because we are imperfect human beings. But we can be people who more and more bring life to others when we allow our brokenness to be healed.

David’s brokenness worked against his love for God and so he lived an inconsistent life. When he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband, Uriah, to cover up her pregnancy, David thought he had buried this sin deep where it would never see the light of day. But God loved David and so he sent his prophet, Nathan, to confront him.

Nathan was a bold man to come to King David and confront him. “You are the man!” Speaking to the king like that could easily end in death. But Nathan spoke what God told him to say and King David repented. He wrote Psalm 51, the psalm of a man whose defenses have been broken down and his sin uncovered.
Psalm 51:1–19 (ESV)
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

David did not speak of just his surface sin. He spoke of “truth in the inward being,” “wisdom in the secret heart.” It was not enough for David to mop up the damage he had created, he needed to repent in his inward being, from the depth of his heart.

When David brought his brokenness out from the depths, with the help of Nathan, he was able to find forgiveness and new life.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

In these weeks as we reflect on being God’s beloved child, there are some who are thinking and saying, “This is not for me. I am the way I am and I will never change. I know that I am not as good a person as I should be, but I will never change. People will have to get used to me.”

I am sympathetic to this response to the theme of these sermons. I have known about my difficulty of feeling loved in the depths of my being for a long time. When I was in seminary, I met with a professor and we talked about this. I talked about this with counselors Annie and I met with in the early years of our marriage. When I went to a counselor to talk over the difficult experiences of 2010 when 150 foreign Christians were deported from Morocco, I talked about this. And, I talked about this in January when I met with a counselor in France.

Over the years people have encouraged me to work at my feelings of not being loved in the depth of my being and I have often felt that I would never change. I wanted to feel deeply loved, but how does that happen? I wanted to be set free. It is not that I was happy with the way things were, it is just that I did not see how it would happen.

I think there are others much better at this than I am, but I persisted. I refused to let go of Jesus and continued to pray for a more intimate relationship with him. I continued to pray for healing in my life.

This persistence is what is required if we are to receive healing. We have to want to be healed. We have to work at being open to what God wants to do in our lives.

There have been many steps I have taken toward wholeness and I have many more to make. There are times when we make huge steps and many more times when we make small steps toward wholeness.

So I encourage you to persevere as well. Some of you find it easier to open the depths of who you are to God and seek healing for the pain of past experiences. Others of you may be more like me and find it difficult.

I plead with you, don’t give up. Don’t shut down and refuse to pursue healing in your life. Seek life. Pray for healing and wholeness.

Don’t feel that your unique brokenness is hopeless. No matter how broken you are, your brokenness is not a challenge to God. God’s creativity and power is beyond our comprehension and it is arrogant for us to think our brokenness is beyond his ability to heal us.

The only challenge for us is to be willing to face the pain, uncover the drain that keeps it out of view, and expose it to the light of Jesus. When we do that, healing begins.

Find someone you trust and share your brokenness with them. Share your brokenness with someone who will be open with you and share their brokenness as well. Encourage each other to seek healing.

Don’t look at your brokenness without being aware of the love of God that surrounds you. You need to feel safe and loved by God in order to bring up the pain of the past. This is why Nouwen talks about our being chosen and blessed before he talks about our brokenness. God loves you and wants you to be healed, made whole.

In the light of God’s love for you, find the courage to bring your brokenness to light and let it be healed.