I recently had an epiphany. One of those revelations you've been sitting on for a while but you just don't have the words for until it hits you. And let me warn you - it's not a neatly organized or packaged epiphany; it's a messy still-in-process one.
Last night I finished reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. To say it wrecked me would be an understatement. The combination of this book, a timely conversation with a dear friend last weekend, and a recording I listened to of a missionary sharing a vision she experienced created the perfect environment for revelation.
In his second to last chapter, Bryan writes "I guess I'd always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we're fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we're shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion."
If you're not familiar with Bryan's story, he started an organization called Equal Justice Initiative which advocates for the poor, incarcerated, and condemned. I won't spoil too much of his story, but I wept my way through his book. It's messy and beautiful and hard and heartbreaking to work alongside those in need and in the midst of injustice and suffering.
Though I do not work with the same population, I have been walking with people very dear to me through suffering and pain. The past four months have been incredibly dark for me personally, but I'm starting to see the other side. I've been so fixed on the feeling of helplessness that I kept myself from the capacity to develop compassion and mercy. I have been so paralyzed by my lack of control that I have distanced myself from the gift of identifying with.
One particular line in Bryan's book hit me square in the face yesterday. In describing a situation with a client who was executed on death row, he writes "I couldn't pretend that his struggle was disconnected from my own." Maybe the key to walking with people in suffering is to equalize ourselves and connect through our shared humanity.
In the past few months I've come face to face with my own pride, anger, confusion, and tendency to control and fix. It's been an incredibly humbling experience and it's changed (and is still changing) me deeply. In fact, it's even caused a pivot in my professional career (more on that soon). I think we gain connection both with God and others when we decide to acknowledge our brokenness and embrace it, rather than run from it. Our culture is so obsessed with fixing broken people - we have prisons, rehab centers, psyche facilities, mental hospitals. None of those things are bad, but what if the emphasis was on extending compassion and mercy instead of fixing? Until we recognize our humanity and brokenness and receive mercy, we cannot extend it.
I'll leave you with one last thought from Bryan's book: "There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy... you begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us."
Friends, we are all bodies full of broken bones. And until we get in touch with our own humanity and brokenness, we will never be able to extend something we have not received. True strength is found in a vulnerable brokenness, not in our power or control.