Why I’m Against Calling Anyone “Broken”

1414425_74248645smI’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.”

“No Man Could Heal Me” at Prodigal Magazine

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I unconsciously hoped for what the media portrays as the romantic ideal: a wounded girl is rescued by a kind man who teaches her to trust and hope again. I wanted someone to do the healing work for me. Problem is, the movies and books don’t tell you that no man should have to carry that burden in addition to his own burdens. You’ll both be tangled in each other’s demons in addition to your own.

Writing at Prodigal Magazine today on why “No Man Could Heal Me.

If good men will come alongside and you don’t put an unrealistic burden on them, they can help you be strong for all those times the knight in shining armor missed his entrance (or exit). You are comrades who love, not lovers.

“God, How Could You?” at Prodigal Magazine

godhowcouldyousmPerhaps it began at age fourteen when I visited Morocco’s slums and started taking Paxil. How can a good God let innocent children suffer? The question grew louder when I realized human trafficking still existed–in the States. Read more. 

This morning “God, How Could You?” was published over at Prodigal Magazine. It’s the piece I mentioned the other day.

I’m not one of those “write a little every day” sorts of people. For me, I want every time I write, and every finished piece, to push me in both the craft and content. I couldn’t pull that off every day. But when I do it, I want it to be a step forward. A strategic movement toward the High Places

This one wore me out, both in the living and the telling.

He wasn’t asking me to deny anything I’ve experienced or believed and unbelieved. He challenged my despair by reminding me that I don’t have the full answer or perspective on my questions. He challenged me to keep searching and fighting.

“Further up and further in” (as C.S. Lewis says) things will look different than they do right now. Was I willing to believe that my search wasn’t over?

I’m trying. Read more.

Purity vs. Innocence

whitedressWearing a white dress is not a bride’s prerogative. The primary images for Pursue the Beauty focus on women wearing white dresses. This is no coincidence or a mere sentimental nod. It is in part because of the exquisite taste of Jamie Marie, but there’s more.

Other women deserve and need the opportunity to experience what a white dress symbolizes: beauty, purity, hope for the future. Sex slaves. Women who have been raped, molested, or abused in any way. Feel free to add to the list.

Purity is not a physical condition. It  can sometimes involve our bodies, but purity is not defined by the possession of a physical attribute or lack of certain physical experiences.

 Purity is not a physical condition.

On February 1, many supporters of the White Umbrella campaign wore white as part of White Out for Freedom. For me, it served in part as a reminder of the accurate definition of purity.1926_WhiteUmbrella_SharableImages_480x268_3

There is a marked distinction between purity and innocence. Don’t believe me? You’ve never had someone touch you against your will. The difference is everything. Unfortunately, the girls who have experienced forced intimacy struggle to believe it, too. Truth is, sex slaves are no less pure than you or me, but their innocence (and far more) has been stripped away and nefarious lies pounded into their bodies.

This is a horrific crime.  There is no way to make restitution for lost innocence. But they need a chance to wear white and know beauty. To feel safe and clean.

Do we care enough to fight for this?

Top photo courtesy of Jamie Marie Photography

Wounded Healer – Part One

woundedhealer1The Dutch priest Henri Nouwen spoke of being “wounded healers” for His kingdom. When I first heard that simple phrase, something inside me drew back in reverent fear and awe. An awesome calling, to be sure, albeit far more elevated than I ever desired to climb.

Last winter my King brought me to a crossroads. It was a diverging of path which many far braver, far stronger saints than I have trod. If given time to ponder, I would readily have confessed that I did not qualify for that pathway. As much as I admired the witness of those believers, I was hoping for a road more in line with “happily ever after” than “though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). Yet His call to me refused to be reworded or revised:

Will you let me hurt you, my child? And instead of cringing away from the blow, will you open up all the wider and allow the fiery wound to sear you to the very core of your soul? Will you be broken for me? Will you bear these wounds not as marks of shame but shadows of future glory?

Will you be my wounded healer?

As many of you know, I was married in the fall of 2007. Early in 2008 my husband forced me to leave our home. Our merciful God knows all that I did and went through to keep the marriage alive. Because of His grace, my offering of my life and my love was not and will never be wasted. But a marriage requires two people. Against the counsel of our families, counselors, and pastors, my husband divorced me.

In one of the glorious paradoxes of the Christian life, even as I lost everything, I had lost nothing (Romans 8:31, 32). The Lord mercifully and faithfully provided for me. He also protected me—not from pain, rejection, or even evil, yet His care remained evident. He held me close and assured me that He would not let me drown. When reality became worse than my most-feared nightmare, He let me feel His nearness in the darkness.

Read the entire series.

Project Rescue

projectrescueMy first introduction to Project Rescue came in picking up the book Beyond the Soiled Curtain (unfortunately out of print) at a thrift shop in the Ozarks. Before I had time to begin reading I searched online for Project Rescue and read everything I could find on the organization. Wow.

Here were people with a similar passion as the International Justice Mission which I have supported through the years specifically because of their work with young girls who are sexually exploited. Why had I never heard of Project Rescue before? They are helping the girls that some would never touch; they are battling an evil some will not even acknowledge as existing. Human slavery has not ended in America, much less other parts of the world such as Asia and Eastern Europe. Did you know that one million new children are drawn into the commercial sex trade every year? Can we even comprehend such a number? Do we even care?

A girl who is purchased by a trafficker for as little as $150 can be sold to customers as many as ten times a night and can bring in $10,000 a month profit. With minimal expenses, police as co-conspirators, and almost unlimited victims to prey upon, trafficking for sexual exploitation is surpassing the sale of illegal drugs as the preferred industry for criminals. In India, there are approximately 10 million prostitutes, and an estimated 300,000 – 500,000 of them are children. In the city of Mumbai, 90% of the 100,000 women in prostitution are indentured slaves. – from Project Rescue

I am selfish and stupid if I ignore reality. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I know it exists. This organization’s purpose to Rescue, Restore, and Prevent is one I whole-heartedly support. The need and magnitude of this issue could easily seem overwhelming and too difficult. I may not be equipped or able to save one million children this year from slavery, but I can do something.

Why Should We Try?

indiagirlNo one can deny that our world is full of pain and suffering. When you look at the tens of thousands of orphans in China needing loving homes and families, the hundreds of thousands killed in genocides in Africa, the millions who are starving, the billions who need Christ…how can you even begin to make the slightest dent in the need? Why even try?

Why indeed. The typical American mainstream Christian’s solution is to toss some spare change toward a charity and feel better. After all, the need is so great–there is no sense in feeling guilty because you can’t do it all.

There are always going to be starving children. There will always be persecuted brothers and sisters enduring unspeakable torment. There will always be the need for followers of the Way who are not satisfied with a safe life. Ones who want to help in more painful ways…ways that require sacrifice and effort.

An article published by the International Justice Mission recounts the stories of two young women rescued by IJM from slavery. Though only two of countless thousands, Simla and Kani were worth rescuing. Every girl and child and man and woman being persecuted or abused are worth rescuing. They are worth our sacrifice, our time, our prayers, our tears. If we pretend or forget or assume they aren’t, we lose.

One life, one heart at a time. Isn’t that what Jesus did?

To Simla and to Kani it mattered that IJM brought the hand of justice to them despite the massiveness of the problem of oppression. Not only is each victim the one, but we likewise can be the one. The one called, the one listening, the one willing, the one sent to bring freedom and justice to innocent ones who are suffering.

Being overwhelmed by the numbers is an indulgence the oppressed can ill afford. Thank you, dear friend, for your willingness to stand with us for each child, each woman and each man who longs for the chance of a new life of hope. – IJM

Photo by Karl Grobi