We are all broken and wounded in this world. Some choose to grow strong at the broken places — Harold J. Duarte-Bernhardt
Blake (my therapist) has said a number of times that I have a tendency to go to a “dark place.” His concern has always been my going there and staying for too long. Sometimes I think he’s right.
However, sometimes, we have to go to those dark places within us in order to learn what has taken place, to take notice of all the messages we’ve been told, and to cull the messy, deceitful, harmful ones, leaving the good, honest, truthful ones behind.
Cull. It’s a good word. Working at Target, I’ve heard it used to describe the process of removing products that have or are near expiring. What’s interesting is that, in filling the milk coolers as I have the last few days, I’ve been instructed to remove milk that is four days pre-expiration. It’s not bad milk. In fact, is has a good chunk of time before it might even go bad. But in order to have the “freshest” product, and in order to protect the good product, sometimes you have to remove something before it has a chance to go bad.
Preemptive culling is not always an option. You don’t always catch the messages before they go bad. And you don’t always catch the messages that were bad to begin with…
For some time now, I’ve been working to pay more attention to the messages that I have and continue to hear, either from without by others, or from within by my own self. It’s a daunting task, trying to get to the root of your pain, shame, guilt, and grief. It takes time and exorbitant effort. And in my case, it takes entering that dark place that houses all the harmful, negative messages. You know the ones…
The list could go on for many of us, I’m sure. I know mine does. And every time I butt up against one of these messages and realize how early in life I encountered it for the first time, I groan at the thought of surgically removing it from my ego. Yet we have to if we have any real hope of experiencing wholeness and peace. We have to take the time to sort through the messages and the signals and separate the wheat from the chaff. And we need amazing people in our lives to help us do it.
Frankie and I came to the realization some time ago that we cannot meet every single one of the other’s needs (a realization I believe might lessen the divorce rate in our country, but that’s another topic). There are certain things he cannot be for me, and certain things I cannot be for him. As such, we’ve created a space for the other to have those needs met by way of other friendships. Being the emotional carousel that I am, with the constant up and down, round and round of my psychological cogs and cranks, I tend to work hard at knowing my needs and discerning whether or not I should pursue having them met. But sometimes the needs are so carnal, so innate, that the drive to meet them overruns my sense of logic, inhibition, and boundaries. When that happens, my cracks show up. My brokenness surfaces. And I’m sometimes at a loss for words.
A broken soul is not the absence of beauty,
but a cracked and torn soul reeks of the sweet incense it contains
— C. Joybell C.
One cannot have a conversation about needs and brokenness without addressing boundaries. Truth be told, I suck at them. My dearest friends know this to be true, and the best of them have stuck around despite my floundering habit of violating theirs and not setting my own. Case in point: I spent last night having dinner with a dear friend who had laid out some pretty clear ground rules (read: boundaries) for our hangout time. When it came time for my needs to butt up against his boundaries, completely unintentionally, I steamrolled forward right over the lines he’d drawn. And I felt horrible, mostly because I feel so strongly that boundaries should be respected and cherished. This is my brokenness, and when it appears, it hurts. I know few people who would disagree with this reality. Yet we cannot escape it, and we should not deprive ourselves of the moments where our brokenness reveals something beautiful, because it often does.
After he left, I ended up sitting on the kitchen floor across from Frankie, mostly because that tends to be one of my favorite crying spots in the apartment. Kylar, our younger cat, walked across me a few times, letting me pull him in for hugs and cuddles, only to sneak away whenever he felt too confined. I shared my experience with Frankie. If anyone knows how much I want to overcome my struggles, he does. No one has seen it more clearly, and I would place bets that no one has felt more powerless to do anything about it. That’s the beauty and pain of marriage, of covenant relationships: sometimes we see the pain and hurt of our loved ones and can’t do a damn thing.
The worst kind of brokenness is the kind that you don’t know you have — Amy Neftzger, The Orphanage of Miracles
Which leads to my final thoughts of last night: what about God (you knew it was coming). I called April, a longtime friend and surrogate sister, to talk after Frankie had calmed me down. We share some similar struggles, and she gets me. More specifically, she understands some of my questions and thoughts about God and the ways in which God interacts with and impacts us. I told her: Sometimes, I think it makes more sense to me that God is as powerless as we are when it comes to our brokenness. God looks at it, sees the pain it causes, and rather than coming to the rescue, sits down with us on the cold, tile floor, grabs our hand, and gazes into our eyes, just as tearful. God says, “I’m sorry. This sucks. I wish I could do something, but I can’t. But I’m here, and you’ll be okay. I’m not going anywhere.” I’d rather hear God say something like that than give me some demonstration of ego and superpower. I don’t always want a God who can save me, but I do want a God who will stay with me.
We all have brokenness, and perhaps, we all struggle to find the balance between needs and boundaries (since we all have both). Sometimes we can catch the bad before it becomes too deeply rooted, and sometimes we miss it, having to go back and take the time to cut it away. Regardless, there are still good messages within each of us: messages that remind of us of our beauty, our worth, and our belonging. Messages that tell us all shall be well, even if it doesn’t feel that way now. Messages that remind us to not cull everything: make sure you leave some of it behind, just enough to remind you where you’ve been and how you’ve grown. Just enough to remind you: you are deeply loved.
MICHAEL OVERMAN is a soon-to-be graduate of Garrett-Evangelical in Evanston, IL. As a self-admitted “old soul”, Michael is more than comfortable asking the tough questions and not having immediate answers. Michael is passionate about all things interfaith, challenging the religious status quo — and baking whenever possible. Michael lives with his partner and their two cats in Chicago and is currently preparing to enter full-time hospital chaplaincy. In his spare time, he loves chocolate, wine, and scifi. Check out more of Michael’s writing at www.findingthebalance.net.