I’m on a mission: to battle against the use of the confusing, misused, harmful Christianese term broken.
Part of the danger with the word broken is that everyone who uses it may mean something slightly different. Broken is not like the word apple. It’s an ambiguous, spiritual-sounding term; it willingly molds itself however context requires and covers a multitude of mental and emotional weaknesses–and errors.
I know what most writers probably mean. You mean that even though you aren’t perfect and have issues, God will use you.
But that’s not what you say. Instead we (it may even be on an old piece on this site…though once I find where I’ll quickly nix it) dramatize things with the word broken and, maybe without realizing it, cause harm and judgment that some never break free from (perhaps too cliche as well? Help!).
The damage comes when Christianity as a collective group turns a term used both to crush and comfort into a spiritual catchphrase.
I don’t know much about Ann Voscamp. I only visit her site about once a year because the autoplay music is a personal irritant (I always forget about it and no, I won’t take the time to go over to the sidebar and turn it off because by then I’ve either woken my son, made the nearby Starbucks customers stare at me, etc.).
But someone I love posted a link. I clicked and felt my blood pressure rise because countless women read Ann’s work and will embrace her words about being broken. I think her heart is sincere and caring, but not everyone’s is. The damage comes when Protestant Christianity as a collective group turns a term used both to crush and comfort into a spiritual catchphrase–leaving everyone assuming they are speaking the same language but talking past each other.
Only when you’re broken are you tender enough to wrap yourself around anyone.
Only the broken people can really embrace. (Ann Voscamp)
I assume Ann’s purpose is to encourage women who feel like imperfect mothers. But I still want to cry and maybe get out my boxing gloves (thank you for the new stress reliever, R.A.D.) to express the grief and intense frustration. Frustration. There’s another nice, Christian word. I’m angry. Not at Ann. I’m angry at the cumulative effect of all the Christian websites and well-meaning comments and social mores that have molded us into accepting the identity, label, stigma, banner of broken.
May I give a different perspective? I know Ann is no stranger to mental illness; she gave a beautiful tribute to her mother and her mother’s pain. But I don’t know if Ann herself has lived through anything mental health related in addition to depression (I think-I didn’t study her in-depth). I don’t know if it even makes a difference what she’s observed versus experienced in her own person. I don’t know.
But she didn’t define her use of the word broken, at least not in this piece. And for every thousand readers, there’s going to be at least five hundred different interpretations, all assuming they know exactly what she meant. And maybe for most readers, it doesn’t even make a ripple on their ponds.
For the not-so-few of us who have been fighting to get loose from the constantly applied titles of broken, weak, and damaged? I don’t like that term so much. Yes, we all feel broken at times. But that doesn’t mean we are broken. Feelings do not define you, but hearing trusted adults tell young women that they are broken will leave its mark. Even more, to feel a spiritual social pressure to embrace the term broken because it’s the new trend to be real and transparent, etc.?*
Allow me to be open in saying it’s gone too far and is imbalanced. Not Ann’s writing per say–the whole trend in many Christian writings. Many are encouraged by it? Fair enough. But there’s a large demographic being ignored. And if this trend is assumed, by sheer volume, to be the only acceptable view of life, mental illness, pain, and healing? I’m not okay with that.
One reason this blog has been quiet is all my (very limited) energy is being poured into trying to help strengthen an opposing voice. But it takes time. And every day I see stuff that, if I were still assuming I was intrinsically broken–and God wanted me to be way, would be dangerous.
As I understood the piece I quoted above, Ann limits the ability to truly love someone else to those who are, or claim to be, broken. And maybe she has a different definition for broken than I’ve heard yet, but not everyone will read more than this one article to find that definition. We assume we understand, and we all have our own noise pounding our own hellish definitions of ourselves against every evil thing we’ve ever seen or experienced.
I am not broken. And until I realized God does not see me as broken, I could not embrace anyone as God desires. I don’t embrace my son with the most tenderness because of my imperfections but when I fight against them the hardest. Any good in my relationships comes when my focus is on pursuing holiness and humility when I fail, not on all the messed-up things and how it’ll all somehow be fine despite my doing x or y shocking thing.
If your definition of broken is being imperfect, why not say that? We can argue all day but semantically they are very different. To use them interchangeably in a forum frequented by countless emotional, hurting women demands clear definition or it’s going to trigger all kinds of…trying to think of a word that won’t offend Christians…all kinds of…well, just fill in the blank for yourself.
I take issue with forming an elite Club of the Broken and focusing on making each other feel okay with the wounds and failings and fears.
Hopefully we all know we are all imperfect. And I have no problem with continued dialogue on that. But I take issue with forming an elite Club of the Broken and focusing on making each other feel okay with the wounds and failings and fears. Yes, we need to talk about them. I’ll be the first to advocate more honest (versus transparent) dialogue about the realities of suffering.
Do you really mean broken? Or do you mean imperfect, sometimes weak, humbled? Or do you mean mentally, emotionally, physically ill and damaged to the point of not being as capable a human? Or so sin-wrecked that no redemption appears likely? Or do you mean different things depending on who you are referring to? If everyone is going to insist on using these words as is, can we at least compile and pass out a dictionary? Then when you say broken, you can cite definition number three, and everyone will be on the same page.
In the past I’ve joined the party of throwing around these words. I’ll probably still do it unconsciously in the future, because we tend to mimic the speech of those around us. But I’m seeking to be aware now that words influence others’ self-identities, decisions, and whether to choose God or walk away from the church.
Remember how many millennials are leaving Protestant Christianity? It’s not all because they’re shallow and selfish. Sometimes it’s because they are tired of being told depression is caused by their own sin, or being broken is preferable, or if you are raped you probably were at least partly in the wrong. If someone hears this and leaves their faith, I don’t see that as shallow. It sounds like survival. Which is heartbreaking because without God there is no real healing or hope.
Maybe I am more sensitive to the undertones of recent writings because in 2007 I was the first girl (I knew of) to publicly admit I was depressed. No twentysomething I knew was doing that, and the encouragement I received was to focus on my brokenness. Some urged me to accept it. No one told me that no wound, no physical or mental illness, required me to keep the title of Broken. So I joined the club. Wore my figurative broken heart pin on my sleeve.
Back then it felt like only 2% of my world had experienced depression, or a feeling of being “not quite right” or “fundamentally broken at the core.” I don’t know what an accurate number would be (25% of American adults must translate to more than 2% of Christian women), but there’s a lot more depressed, mentally ill, abused, wounded young women out there than we realize. They aren’t usually the ones commenting on blogs or writing the articles, so no one knows how things work in their heads. I see some efforts in the last few years (respectful nod to Amy Simpson), but it’s not enough yet.
A few of us have found each other. We are choosing to be whole, strong, and healed, believing this is God’s desire for us. Speaking as one who has run the gamut from being sure I was irreparably damaged to being secure in my strength before God–a process which took half my lifetime–I believe God wants us to be contrite, humble, and grieve in safe places–but not be broken.
I’m beginning to network a community known as the Others. The name refers to all I stand against: being thought of as “the other girl”: the broken one, damaged goods, a girl who did x or y–as if what we do or what happens to us is the best marker to sort us into categories of future usefulness.
It’s a holy treasure hunt searching for these Others: doing life and then meeting a pair of eyes and feeling the connection–often before words are spoken. There’s one. She’s definitely one of the Others.
Ultimately this post isn’t about Ann Voscamp, though her post was the impetus spurring me to put out this post tonight. My words are directed to the Christian community at large, among whom I have spent countless hours of late wading about trying to find a conclusive word on this–and other–topics. Even if only 2% of the women reading popular Christian content are experiencing harm through it, isn’t that enough to spur thoughtful evaluation?
Even if everyone writing books and blogs continues on just as they are, we’re going to spark some writing and dialogue and networking around another club of thought. Around a different focus.
Until a few years ago, I didn’t realize there was a different focus possible for one of the Others. Someone finds out you’ve been in a psych ward or divorced and you can forget ever being seen as normal or acceptable again. The stamp is on your forehead; you’ve been measured and categorized.
When I understood and believed at my core that I was not broken I could finally live a brave and beautiful life. I know there are other young women who can join me and need to hear something else. It may take another ten years to find each other and develop a lasting presence, but we’ll be here. Because whole, healed, brave women with a focus on holiness aren’t getting knocked out of the game anytime soon.
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*On a lighter note, a part of this same subject is addressed–but from a humorous standpoint–by Jon Acuff’s “20 Christianese Phrases We Really Need to Stop Saying.”