June 7, 2020

Walking The Broken Road

I have no idea who she is or what her ailment is. She started coming to my church a few weeks ago. She is hard to miss—a small woman with twisted hands and feet and a rag sticking out of her mouth. But there she was this past Sunday, just a few feet ahead of me as I was walking into the sanctuary. She had stopped at the women’s ministries table to look at something—rag hanging from her teeth like a cat with a fresh mouse. I averted my gaze and went straight in to find a seat.

I saw her once the service had begun, near the front, standing during the music and raising her hands to mimic those around her. “Why did you avoid her?” came the question in my spirit. I knew that voice. And he didn’t seem particularly happy with me right then.

“I don’t know,” was all I could come up with at the moment. Then I thought, “I wonder if anyone has ever prayed for her healing.” The Lord seemed to say in response to that, “Can I not be glorified in her just the way she is? Why do you think everything has to be made the way you think is right?”

I imagine the pastor’s message that day was good, but I didn’t hear it. I was convicted by what the Lord had said to me. Why is it I think everything has to be my shade of “right” in order to be good? Why am I always after “perfect” as I see it rather than as the creator of the universe sees it? As it has been said: There is a God, and you are not he.

This is not just my problem. Churches revolve around the idea that you and I need to be perfected, and until that happens, we will not experience the blessings of God. So if you can get just a little closer to their version of what is right, you can be blessed. Until then, well, good luck. God doesn’t seem to do well with those who are not beautiful, who don’t have a full set of teeth, who are not smart or popular or cool. God, it seems, wants to hang out with good Christians, those who go to church and drive late-model cars and lead Bible studies and never do anything wrong. Losers are welcome, but only as long as they are working to become winners.

Confession time: My son has struggled with illegal drugs. He dropped out of high school this last year and got his GED. And he was arrested twice in a week’s span. That is not my confession (that would have to be his). My confession is that I have not handled this well. I have been angry and unforgiving toward him. And I don’t like to tell people about his challenges because of what they might think of me. “What? Your son isn’t an honor student and a leader in the youth group? You obviously haven’t been listening to enough Dobson. Here, read these parenting books.” Or maybe I think they would just pat me on the shoulder and tell me they are praying for me, then go hang out with the perfect fathers.

Well, I’m not a perfect father. I’m broken. Whether my brokenness is the cause of my son’s hurts, or his hurts are what led to my brokenness I don’t know. Does it matter? I needed help. I do have some wonderful men in my circle at church who will listen to me, but too often their advice is the cliched Christian responses like, “He needs to come to youth group. He needs to go to Celebrate Recovery. He needs to…” What about me? What do I need to do?

I began going to Nar-Anon, a weekly meeting for those with loved ones caught in addiction. We meet at a local Lutheran church on Monday nights. There are sometimes as many as eight or nine who show up, but more often it’s three or four. We comment and encourage each other, say the Serenity Prayer, and go our ways. It is a highlight of my week.

Once a month I then go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in a different location to hear someone share their story. This is a group of addicts themselves who are working through their addictions. I sit and listen. What I hear are broken people who are not afraid to admit they are broken. There is no pretense in this meeting. If there were, the pretender would be called on it immediately, not out of meanness but out of kindness. Each person introduces himself/herself as an addict. “Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m and addict.” None of this, “I used to be an addict, but God delivered me and now I am no longer.” These broken people stay broken forever. But in their ability to be real with one another they now hold each other up, even carry one another when needed. They clap and hoot and laugh and cry with each other. They hug and help each other.

What I see at this meeting is church. Can God not be glorified in these broken men and women in the midst of their brokenness?

I don’t know the name of the girl who has a rag in her mouth, but I mean to find out. I want to hear her story. I want to know how I can love her as she is. Perhaps she doesn’t need my love, but I need to give it to her. I need to get out of my “everything must be perfect” box.

Daniel Amos sang,

Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose.

They went on to sing,

But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you.

Why is it I forget this so often?

As you are reading this, I am sitting in the sun in South Carolina watching my son graduate from Army boot camp. No doubt I am crying with pride as I watch him—and many hundreds with him—put on a grand show for us. He is now a soldier. He is still broken, yes, but he has made it through a hard nine weeks of training. He will face many struggles as he returns with me to Oklahoma. His actions have consequences he will carry for some time. He is broken.

And so am I. And somehow, that qualifies me to be accepted by God.

Yesterday morning as I was praying I had a picture in my mind of the girl at my church. It was her wedding day, and she stood in the back of a huge, classic cathedral ready to walk up the aisle to meet her groom, the King of Kings. He was beaming at her as she was dressed in brilliant white, with a crown on her head and a bouquet of roses in her hands. In her mouth was an old, tattered rag. And to the King she was absolutely perfect.

 

Comments

  1. We are a broken people in a broken world.

    Our Lord loves broken people and desires to make them whole. And He will.

    Thanks, Jeff.

    • But his method is so confusing. We (I) want to be lifted out, have him wave His magic wand (or follow 7 easy steps) and be made whole. Instead He seems to let us muck around in our brokenness and pain while He crawls in and suffers along with us. Wholeness does come, but slowly and sometimes not even in this life. This perplexes me greatly.

      I know a lot has been written on the purpose of pain and brokenness. The life of C.S. Lewis is a classic example. It is one thing to discuss it; it is another to experience it.

  2. Ohhhhhh …

  3. Gail McNeeley says

    In a way, a small way, Rich and I understand. The addiction thing. We both come from families where members were held captive by their insidious, mind poisoning addictions that not only ruined their lives, but the lives of their families were at the least, unpleasantly touched. For some, disgustingly affected. My brother was one of those who victimized so many people. He became the one who was hard to love and nearly impossible for some to forgive. The broken trail that he left behind hasn’t been completely cleaned up. Broken, shattered people who love Jesus just know that they must cling to the hope that Jesus really does love and care for them. Maybe they cling or hold on by one imaginary finger. And then, there are those who give up; they let go. Maybe the girl with the rag in her mouth had let go, then came to church to see if there was any hope. I believe that by the time you get to our age, most people have been broken into, as a house is broken into and the thief came and robbed us. Let’s not allow the thief to rob us of the bit of joy we might still own in our hearts and minds. Hang on there, Jeff. We love you and we hope to read the rest of the story!

  4. Thank you, Jeff, for writing this. All we can do with our loved ones who have addictions is to offer them love and encourage them to get the help they need. It’s great that Nar-Anon is so helpful to you. I hope your son will soon find his way to either a self-help group or a doctor or both and begin the road to recovery. And I pray that in the meantime he will not come to any further harm and that he will not harm others. It is SO difficult to live with people who are self-destructive! And the damage they leave in their wake can be incredibly damaging to others. It’s amazing that so many of us do as well as we do getting through a day. We must come to the realization that we cannot control the addicted person and yet, to some extent, we feel the need (and it may be the reality) to intervene to at least protect people around the addict. All of this is so hard. I don’t have it figured out yet. It’s why prayer has been so important to me. I need to let the power of God do the work that is needed. It is easier said then done, though. Jeff, I wish you and your son great peace, strength, love.

  5. Yes thank you for writing this! We are all broken and in need of a Savior. The beautiful thing is Jesus loves right where we are no matter where that is or what our struggles are.

  6. Beautiful, Jeff. I have to say, your writing has been refreshingly transparent and humble over the past couple of months. You’ve really touched my heart, bro.

    Peace…

  7. It is difficult for me to put into words how profoundly grateful I am for words like you’ve given us. They hit me at a strange time: I’m on my out of a church that teaches a version of what I’d call “prosperity light”, not the riches part, but definitely “follow Jesus and x, y, and z, will get better and better..” Christian self-help, I guess. I cant’ take it any more, so it looks like coffee shop or hang out with family on Sunday morning, and (yeee-haw) go looking for a new spiritual neighborhood.

    Your son’s story has REDEMPTION written large on it. GOD has been faithful and fatherly to both of you. May you know HIS embrace as you both walk in honesty and transparency.

    Thanks again for a message that puts the real gospel, and the real savior in a truer picture frame.

    GregR

  8. Wow. Thank you so much. Sharing this with everyone I know.

  9. Straight to my heart these words rang. And straight from my heart I give you thanks for writing this with candor, as usual!

    As I was reading, I hear things I need to hear. I laugh at the appropriate, or inappropriate times, as so many have told me I do in my life. It’s my way of deflating an otherwise stressful situation…..let’s make a joke and not be so damned serious. But then in and through it all, I echo the words of gregr above……Oh Jeff, there is redemption all over your son’s story. This prodigal is a living, breathing example that God can take us and love us, forgive us, help us walk a little straighter on this broken road we call life.

    I struggle to find other broken people who are okay with my brokeness and sometimes utter stuckness. Who won’t condmen me just because they are further along than I, so therefore better off spiritually. I don’t have any Christian cliche’s to throw around and I know from first hand experience that “just getting into youth group”, or “just doing this or that” isn’t the answer. It’s Jesus in US that loves them how they are that changes lives……in or out of the church.

    Hope you’re day was a good one! A proud papa for sure! And a big congrats to your boy!

  10. Do you think we will ever get it right?

    • No, never. Just have to keep picking ourselves up, saying “Okay, now I get what you were trying to tell me, Lord” and then stumble on to the next mistake.

  11. never responded before, may never again.

    “I wonder if anyone has ever prayed for her healing.” The Lord seemed to say in response to that, “Can I not be glorified in her just the way she is? Why do you think everything has to be made the way you think is right?”

    floored me…

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    God doesn’t seem to do well with those who are not beautiful, who don’t have a full set of teeth, who are not smart or popular or cool. God, it seems, wants to hang out with good Christians, those who go to church and drive late-model cars and lead Bible studies and never do anything wrong. Losers are welcome, but only as long as they are working to become winners.

    Which is why you’ll find me hanging out with IPMS plastic modellers, D&Ders, Furry Fandom, and Bronies (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom) instead of with Real True Christians (TM).

    And also a major factor as to why I am 55, straight, and never married. When I was flushing $$$ down the toilet of Christian dating services, every female signed up for the service demanded such Uber-Christian Spiritual Perfection in the males they would consider that even Christ Himself couldn’t have measured up. That and their self-description as Uber-Uber-Christian Smiling Stepford Wife material. (Both could have been pre-printed on the forms, they were so universal and consistent.)

    • “every female signed up for the service demanded such Uber-Christian Spiritual Perfection in the males they would consider that even Christ Himself couldn’t have measured up.”

      This need to be put in a book somewhere! LMAO! Thanks HUG!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        RG, in all my dreams of what it would be like to have a girlfriend; in all the secondary romance threads I write into my attempts at SF; quoting Scripture(TM) proof-texts, Doctrine, and Theology to each other like Christianese chatty-doll recordings was NEVER part of the mix. Yet that’s the vibe I got — promising The Party Line instead of Cuddly Companionship. Add in the command to be Equally Yoked (TM) and you’re in an impossible situation.

        And all these Christianese girls keep complaining about how they can’t find a Christian Man. YOU REJECTED US EVERY TIME WE CAME AROUND!

        P.S. I was raised a Kid Genius, expected/demanded to know everything about everything without ever learning it, expected/demanded to master everything perfectly on my first attempt ever. (Just like Wesley Crusher and Doogie Houser.) Expectations and demands of Utter First-Time Perfection. The last thing I want is a God and church who demand the same.

    • HUG, you will get a grin out of some of my experiences with Christian dating services. One was a listing type, and newbies were the fresh meat. When I was a newbie, and getting phone calls from prospective dates, it was just after I had broken my jaw, so I was talking through clenched teeth. Not the best way to make a good impression.

      Some of the Christian single men that I met gave me the willies. One I was even afraid to mention that I had a black cat. (We had one date, and nevermore)

  13. maybe I can say a few words later… right now, i can’t stop weeping, my mind is flooded with so many thoughts from your words Jeff… thank-you. i know it is corny to say, but i love how you write and i am praying for you & your awesome boy…

    • He holds your tears Gail!

      • Thanks Rebekah, yes He does!

        This post opened the floodgates, but not a depressed cry, rather a gentle weeping of gratitude, and without going on and on why Jeff’s words moved me, in a nut shell… I loved getting high in my teens & 20’s, because the drugs took me right out of the pain that got lodged inside me ( I guess) from physical & sexual abuse (and also being a real hellian) So, I was 28 unchurched, didn’t know a thing about God, when Jesus just came and surrounded me, I couldn’t see, Him but His presence hung out with me for about two weeks. I was loved like I had never been loved… Long story of course, but after that encounter, I got religion, because I was hooked on Him… No more drugs, sex, & rock & roll, I became the church lady… That lasted for 15 years or so… Like Eagle, and so many others I gave up on evangelical Christianity, hated the bible and church, yikes… but I couldn’t shake Jesus ( there is a cool song with that title) and several more years down the road, now 57, and loved by Him in my broken state of being…
        The other trigger of Jeff’s post is my husband, he is now bent over from A.S. so I tower over him, him being 5’1″ me 5’8″, so he is different, but he is my hero, and back in the day, when we were part of that cult of perfection & performance, and a zillion prayers that others prayed for him to be straighten in his spine… I was asked why he stopped coming to church with me, was it because he was embarrassed about how he looked? O, crap… And, I said I wouldn’t go on & on, but this glorious piece of writing just slayed me being that it hit so close to home.

        • Girl! We gots to meet!!!!!

          Couldn’t shake Jesus! I might just have to get that tattooed on me somewhere :o)

          If you click on my name and head to my blog, you find my e-mail address, or you can find me on facebook….would love to “know” you!

          PEACE!

  14. I am 75 years young,and should have grown up by now, but I’m still broken and still make dumb mistakes, but God sent His Son for fools like me and that’s all I need.I don’t think I will ever” get it right.”

    • David Cornwell says

      Vern, may the peace of God which passes all understanding be with you. We all share in your brokenness.

  15. I pray this all works out in the end and these experiences form a rich base of empathy and humility from which your son will live. Hang in there.

  16. Jeff I’m sorry for you and yoru son have had to endure. Your approach reminds me of Philip Yancy’s chapter on why he wishes her were an alcoholic in his “What Good Is God?”

    Here’s my take….

    Christianity is for the perfect. Those who have all their stuff together. Those who never have had spiritual problems, that send out Christmas cards where the kids are wearing shirts with Bible verses and they are healthy and project the picture perfect family.

    Christianity IS NOT for the broken. It’s for the elite, Pharises and top notch of society. it took me years to figure this out but I wish I did becuase I could have saved myself a lot of harm and painful experiences. I know what the Bible says, I know the claims, but it’s like grace. Grace is talked about in the Bible it just doesn’t exist in Christianity!! So if your an addict of any type, gay, mentally ill, homeless, have AIDS/HIV lower class, etc.. you don’t belong in the church. God’s not interested and you will not be loved unless your perfect and unfortunately the area I was not perfect in is the sin that evangelical Christians rank as one of their unforgivable top 2 sins. It’s how it is. I don’t know! It”s so messed up. It’s part of the reason why I am confused. How do you reconcile being full of Bible knowledge and horriffic church expereinces that just don’t add up.

    Your not going to find hope with the church, but instead the broken like yourself who are not good enough for the church. For that probably the best bet is to leave the Christian faith and find others like yourself.

    • Sorry for the typos…. 🙁

    • Eagle,

      If it makes you feel any better…

      I’ve wondered those things too, and I’ve been a Christian for a long time.

      Just because you have doubts doesn’t mean you have left the faith or that grace has departed from your life.

      I’m not trying to be patronizing, as I don’t really know you or what you believe, just suggesting a possibility you may not have considered.

      Thanks for the perspective you bring here.

  17. I drive right by Fort Jackson on my way to work every day. I figured there was a graduation ceremony going on today because traffic was backed up from the base entrances onto I-77. Didn’t realize that your son was part of the proceedings or that you were here to celebrate with him. Congratulations to both of you for making it to this point and may God’s grace continue to extend to your areas of pain and doubt. Thanks for writing so openly and humbly about your experiences.

  18. some thoughts that were catalyzed this morning while perusing iMonk…

    it is a funny (as in irritating) characteristic about God that He allows us & those closest to us to make boneheaded decisions…

    or go thru life emotionally crippled with each important choice/responsibility woefully undermined by such a condition…

    and what of those that suffer even greater brokenness? mental illness or anti-social behaviors?

    but i want to get back to the obviously broken choices we make even when we cry out to God for help. i was never a quick-fix Christian even though i can identify where God did guide & preserve & kept working out whatever good could be squeezed out of all the crap i went thru. broken choices from a broken man…

    crazy. at least it seems so from our view down here in the trenches… 🙁

  19. Pam Burns says

    Thank you for your honesty which makes it easier for the rest of us to be honest.

  20. Beautiful post. We are all of us broken; some just hide it well and/or live in denial. Thank you for this reminder.

    I have been blessed in the past few years to have attended a church where one of the senior pastor’s main sermon series and ongoing themes was “no perfect people allowed.” Not everyone in the church got it or lived it, but a lot did, including many who became good friends.

    At the same time I’ve learned in recent years that a few in my immediate family and many in my extended family still hold out the expectation of the perfect Christian, to the point of ostracizing those who they think aren’t, and to the point of arguing for privilege and standing because they are. It’s so very sad to see. I pray for change.

  21. My heart hurts with and for you, Jeff. However, a celebration is in order here. Congratulations to both of you on this apparent turnaround!

    As the father of two grown sons who, to all outward appearances are doing quite nicely, I was greatly disturbed to find out that one has been being treated for depression for some time. I thought all was well. Where was I?The other has stated that he ardently wishes he could call his father his best friend, but can’t. I am learning that sometimes the “defects” are not always as apparent as twisted arms and hands. Sometimes they are much more subtle and difficult to detect. And sometimes the defects reside in the observer, not the observed. I’m afraid my armor has been chipped a bit. I expected all of us to be perfect. I’ve learned none of us qualify …a lesson I am still digesting.

    Please travel safely home.

    PS …I stole your photo from up top.

  22. Thank you for this post Jeff…. I feel like you are speaking about my very own life in so many ways. I cant put it all into neat and orderly words, so for now I will just let it be. Praying with you. h

  23. Thank you so much for this post. I was thinking it extraordinary that the woman in your story keeps coming back. No doubt given your honest sharing, there are few people who don’t fit the mold (on the outside) coming inside the walls of the church. I struggle with going to church though I still go—because it’s hard to reconcile how we do things when all around in the shadow of the steeple are the broken, hurting, poor, messy people who would not be accepted by the “club.”

    I’ve also survived a marital crisis at the hands of my spouse’s addiction. A good Christian man with a horrible secret–too ashamed to let anyone know, including his goody-good Christan wife. He’s now a broken man with an exposed secret and a real, daily, constant surrender to a real, living, loving God. And he’s married to someone who dropped all pretense and religion from a puddle of cries for God’s mercy who is also in a real, daily, constant surrender to a real, living, loving God. We’re making it. We didn’t divorce. I forgave but all glory to God who heard that cry too when I couldn’t. We are two broken people totally and completely rescued and loved by God Almighty through Jesus our Lord. I say all of that just to say that I love your heart and your post. Let us know how your friendship begins with the woman in your church who has so impacted you.

    Peace.

  24. Jeff,
    Brilliant!
    We are all broken my brother.
    Peace.

  25. “Do you hail the gifted ones
    And the others do you shun?
    Do you speak to only those you chose?
    Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
    Has no ups, and it has no downs
    Goes out to those who win and to those who lose.”

    Jeff, was that off of Shotgun Angel or their self titled album? They made some great music, but it’s funny how they started off country and then made such a dramatic change once they connected with Norman. Anyway, GREAT POST. Thank you.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      As a guy who spent most of his life as one of “the gifted ones” (kid genius), I can attest it’s not all Happy Clappy Success either. You just end up with a different set of “ways to lose”.

  26. Jeff,
    Thanks so much for your honesty. As the father of a handicapped child I have blessed to see God reveal many lessons to my family and me. She is our “broken gift” that has taught me more about God the Father. God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit than a lifetime of attending church. That is not to say there has not been heartache, tears, doubts, fears or trying to understand God. Since God looks at things throughout eternity and I view things on an at this moment view. My daughter , much like Jesus, has lived her life with constant stares – like Jesus she replies with pure love. It has been my experience that the “broken” ones are more likely to understand God’s grace and glory than we who are relying on our own faith and perfection. May God give you the peace that only He can deliver – when He does please feel free to share it with the rest of us we all need it.

    • Roger – Beautiful words here brother! Thank you!

      “She is our “broken gift” that has taught me more about God the Father. God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit than a lifetime of attending church.”

      That line especially stood out to me, as I had a child at the ripe old age of 17 and only received my G.E.D after I was in my 20’s. If I had a dollar for everytime I’ve said, “She’s taught me more than any class room ever could!”

  27. Beautiful. Thank you, Jeff.

  28. Jeff, I just want to thank you for this post…and I want to thank everyone who had the courage to comment and share.. I come from a small uber-conservative church…and many times I feel like an alien…like an outsider looking in, I’m wearing the “victory” mask, when all I’ve known is defeat. Deep down, I’ve been going through my own struggles with sexual addiction…and this post brought out some very heart transforming truths that have led me to look into a S-Anon meeting in my area. I’m broken, but I know there is mercy and healing in the Lord. Let’s seek to pray for one another.
    God bless you all.

  29. Hi Jeff- Wonderful post. Thank you for your honesty and awesome testimony and witness here. Scripture tells us we are all made as different parts of the body of Christ with different functions. I have often thought on this exact topic. I’m one of those ” Perfect people” I hear spoken about above. I’ve always been an overachiever. Called ” Golden Boy” . Only in my life I’ve been a sinner. I’ve been a womanizer in my youth, a drug user, alcohol abuser, brawler. Cleaned up my act and transferred all those things to workaholic-ism to the detriment of my time with my wife and family whom God blessed me with. Which is JUST as destructive as any of the other things I mentioned above, just lets you live longer while it slowly kills you in a vacuum. Lost my business and pride in a bankruptcy. The thing is, I’ve seen a LOT of people claim to be Christian and really just be calling themselves that in name only. Now I lead a bible study. I lead worship. I have a small group. But I also play in a secular band. Work in the secular world. AndI can honestly say, I see just as many “imperfect people” who have been hurt treat and prejudge “Perfect people” and not see them as what they are. Brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve been judged by the culture and the counterculture. And its exactly the same. The bottom line is that God Calls us all to Love him above all and our neighbors as themselves, regardless of what they look like or who you think they are. You Love them not because of what they do but what HE did and what YOU believe about him. When people attack the church, it isn’t a building or a small sect. WE are the Church. So we do nothing but attack ourselves. We are to Love. Others are to know us by our Love. And when they ask why? We point them to Jesus and keep on Loving them. I’m really glad I found this site- Thanks Jeff – God is using you in a powerful , mighty way. And to those commenting- God loves you and is using your comments for his glory and the edification and good of his people. AGAPE.
    Bob
    1 Corinthians 12:21
    “21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

  30. Beulah Land says

    Captivating.
    Thanks Jeff for exposing imperfections. You make it look so easy. Maybe by your example more of us will be more comfortable being honest with each other. And maybe if enough of us risk doing it we could change the church. It could become a place where broken people can come….and find refuge.