God gathers the brokenhearted

She sits with shoulders slumped and looks at me, eyes bright with tears. After growing up in the church and marrying in the church and promising to raise her child in the church, she’s finished with the church. Actually, she says, she’s finished with God. She grew up believing that God was good and the church was full of holy men and women. With that foundation, she somehow came to think that if she were good and believed in the good God and did whatever the church said, all would be rosy.

 

Then, life happened.

People in the church disappointed her terribly. She learned that they were real and human and flawed. Life hurt. There was defeat and disappointment and death. How could she reconcile the good God of her childhood with the omniscient, omnipotent being that allowed such pain when all she ever did was believe in Him? Why would God allow her to experience heartbreak?

Why wouldn’t He?

God carried a cross up a hill and allowed Himself to be nailed to it. He hung there in pain — pain inflicted by real, flawed people. That’s where she’ll find Jesus. He’s on the cross, in pain. And when the Father allows His children to suffer, He is inviting them into fellowship with His Son.

Why, then, are we so surprised by pain? Why do most of us fall apart when confronted with real suffering? Why do we dissolve into grim self-pity, confused because somewhere along the way we got the notion that we’re good people and good people are supposed to be rewarded?

Actually, we’re God’s people. And God’s people suffer. All people suffer, but God’s people can suffer in fellowship with Him. Being Christian doesn’t spare us suffering. Being Christian means that when our hearts break, His does too, and He is there in the heartbreak to gather us into Himself. Even though we want to believe in a crystal clear Christian world where the good guys don’t suffer, we actually are called to believe in the redemptive value of suffering.

And what if you suffer at the hands of other Christians, at the hands of other people in the church? The church is made of and for sinners. The people in the church are going to mess up. It’s inevitable. Why would anyone think that they won’t suffer because of the sins of someone else? Of course they will. And they will also cause others to suffer. We all gather together under the steeple to profess our sins against one another. That’s how this works: fellow pilgrims helping one another on the journey, but also, sadly, hurting one another.

It is on this battlefield for hearts and souls that we have a choice to make. We can choose to walk away when we learn how fallen the other soldiers are, washing our hands of every sinful person we’ve encountered on our journey of faith, dismissing them and their religion because they are flawed. Or, we can stay, look around, see that God is at work with broken people, offer grace and receive the same. It’s a choice that every mature Christian makes at some point. No one journeys toward Jesus and navigates the snares of the devil without coming to a place of reckoning where they acknowledge that we are all broken people in need of a Savior.

God uses broken hearts to accomplish His purposes. We rail against being broken. We fight it with every fiber of our beings sometimes, and we use brokenness as a reason to turn and walk away from God. The paradox here is that God uses brokenness to pour Himself into us. Instead of turning away from God when our hearts are breaking, perhaps we should thank Him for allowing them to break? Maybe that’s where the true healing begins.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@elizabethfoss