The Meaning of Brokenness: A Part of Everyday Life
Brokenness – no one makes it through life avoiding it.
I’ve broken pencils and Christmas ornaments and promises and my bones.
I’ve had broken friendships, broken dreams, a broken heart.
I’ve felt fevers break after wracking my body with shivers, sensed my will break after long internal struggles, heard tension-infused silences break with soft and gentle or loud and angry voices.
You see? There’s a whole lot of ways to be broken, and from our souls to our fingertips, brokenness is woven throughout all our human experience.
And if anything involves us intimately, God has a lot to say about it. The meaning of brokenness in the Bible could be fleshed out into books upon books. Scripture is brimming with themes of broken people, situations, hearts – and, most importantly, a broken Savior.
Let’s Not Miss The Real Meanings Of Brokenness
Brokenness might not be a foreign concept to us, but it is often a misunderstood one.
It seems like brokenness can easily just become this trendy, vague word we like to slap onto our messiness and imperfection. It can become something we use to ask for pity or to describe our lives the moment we’re uncomfortable.
And while it’s true that brokenness really is threaded intricately throughout our lives, I don’t think it’s real meanings are found in these surface descriptions of our flawed humanity and attempts to stay “true to ourselves” by unmasking or flaunting a persona of who we think we really are. I’ve seen the word used like a badge you can wear to declare to the world that you’re super spiritual or as an excuse to play the part of a victim. Those kinds of self-centered, flashy usages of brokenness cheapen and take away from what real brokenness is, and from what truly broken people are going through.
Because it really is all too real, and we do all experience it. Let’s not settle for a trendy idea. Let’s understand what true brokenness is – its undeniable reality, it’s at times striking brutality, its raw humanness, its inherent beauty, and its place in God’s heart.
Five Meanings of Brokenness In The Bible
Five meanings of brokenness in the Bible stand out vividly. While there might be more, these five brokenness themes give us a ton of insight into the true meaning of brokenness, and more significantly, into God’s heart and mind.
1. Broken Because Of Ourselves
This kind of brokenness is inward – a contrite spirit over our own sinfulness which leads to humility, surrender, and godly repentance. It’s painful to look into an honest mirror and see who we are and what we’ve done as people who are capable of horrible things, but personal brokenness is is an opportunity for restoration, and for us to authentically enjoy our friendship with God again.
(Examples: David after his affair with Bathsheba in Psalm 52, or Peter after denying Christ in Mark 14:66-72)
2. Broken People Can Crush Other People
It’s true what they say – hurt people hurt people. Since we’re all born with fractured and dark hearts, our intentions, speech, and actions divide, separate, and damage other people. We’ve all been on both sides of the coin, some to greater degrees than others, but we can all probably think of times we’ve hurt others, and we’ve definitely found ourselves as the victim of another person’s sin.
(Example: David’s grief over a close friend’s betrayal in Psalm 55)
No one gets through life without feeling the brokenness of the world. If you’ve ever gotten a shocking phone call or suffered an intense physical sickness or lost someone you love, you know what I’m talking about. And if you’ve not yet encountered a life circumstance that brings you to your knees, you will. Don’t let that reality scare you. Let it sober you and direct your gaze to Jesus, the One who overcomes the world and will reach into yours too.
(Example: The prophet grieving over suffering and loss in Lamentations 3)
4. Broken Lives, Unexpected Beauty
If you inspect the life of any well-renowned Christian author, pastor, or missionary, you’ll find that most often the greatest shaping of their lives came not from their strengths or moments when they got ahead, but from their struggles. Because our God is a redemptive God and so counterintuitive to the way we think, He will always take our brokenness and bring new life and beauty from it.
(Example: The entire book of Hosea, where God prophesies how he will redeem a broken people and lead them from sinfulness to healing.)
5. A Broken Jesus For Broken People
Here is brokenness that makes the worst of life bearable – the brokenness of Jesus Christ. We’re forever known, held, loved, understood, and befriended in our brokenness and whatever it entails. Jesus comes near because He’s been there too. You no longer need to bear anything that’s breaking you alone.
(Examples: Jesus’s agony in Gethsemane in Mark 14:32-42, Jesus’s despair on the cross in Matthew 27:45-46, and Hebrews 2:9-18, where it’s explained that because Jesus was broken and suffered, He can meet us exactly where we are at, extending mercy in our time of need.)
The meaning of brokenness in the Bible is deep and rich. Its varied but closely related aspects touch all sides of our brokenness, reminding us that God is no stranger to our human experience. As we awake more and more to his presence and working in our lives, we can find hope in knowing our brokenness isn’t pointless. On the contrary, it’s worth something of immeasurable value. It will drive us further into the heart of the One who makes us whole.
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Anna Wishart is a graduate of Ethnos360 Bible Institute and continues to seek ways to be involved with missions through writing. She currently lives in Winchester, Virginia, and enjoys biking, art, friends, the mountain views, and attending Fellowship Bible Church.