For a long time I thought I was not broken.
I was happy. I had a good home, a good-enough job, plenty of material things to keep me satisfied, the ability to travel, the ability to help others, hope and possibility tucked up under my breast bones as snug as a brooding chicken in its nest.
Even recently, when I heard a preacher say we are all broken, I stopped and considered. Am I broken? I look around me and see the broken spots of others. But am I not whole? I had such a beautiful childhood, so much love.
But recent stresses have made me realize my inadequacy. You see, for most of my life, I’ve been an achiever. When I set my mind to do something, I give it my all, and most of the time I succeed. Only now am I realizing how stringent have been my expectations and how deeply I’ve measured my worth by the results of my performance.
During an especially stressful season, with a young child and multiple responsibilities competing for attention, I had a late-night conversation with my husband in which I understood I wasn’t meeting his needs like the wife I wanted to be. Ivan understood the conversation differently, so if I had opened up and started talking, the incident might have ended differently.
Instead, I curled into a hard ball away from him on the bed, anguish exploding inside. There was no one around to take the blame, no one but me. So I lifted my hands and started beating my forehead hard. I must be punished. I hated myself.
I didn’t realize until that moment, until Ivan held me and told me to stop beating myself, that I realized what a harsh taskmaster performance is.
All my life I’ve measured my worth by what I do, by how I behave, by the depth of my devotions, by the height of my ice-scream scoops on the 100’s chart at school.
What do you do when you try your hardest and your performance fails?
Although I’ve often beat myself up mentally, it took a physical manifestation of the action to make me realize what I was doing — to realize how deeply wrong it is to measure worth by performance.
Marriage and motherhood have also brought me to this realization, because they call for a response from a deeper place, a more private and genuine place than I have given from before.
I’ve had to raise my head and step forward while acknowledging my inadequacy. I’ve had to mother not knowing the best solutions of mothering, to wife not knowing how to love well, to share from my heart to another person even when that heart was imperfect, unholy and focused on self.
In a marriage, you have to let the imperfect places out, because if you don’t, the marriage dies. And so someone else besides you realizes what you never admitted before: You are deeply selfish and deeply inadequate. You cannot perform well in a marriage and then go home. You are home.
Brokenness is the opposite of performance. Brokenness allows me to accept that the grace of God covers my wrong, that I don’t need to beat myself when I perform badly.
Godly brokenness says, “I am inadequate, but I walk forward in faith. I hit the wrong note in the opening lines, but I play on, contributing my notes to the orchestra. I stumble before the finish line, but I get up and move forward, OK with finishing in last place. I have a piece missing, but still I sit in the china cupboard, willing for someone to drink from me, willing to serve.”
Brokenness says imperfection is OK. Imperfection in others. Imperfection in me.
Looking for worth in performance, really, is just another form of brokenness.
In an article on the beauty of disability, Peter Mommsen writes:
To be human as Christ was human involves pain. It requires vulnerability, an emptying of one’s own power, and dependence instead of autonomy. It leads to perfection, but of a different sort than the one Socrates had in mind: “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, King James Version). This perfection is available to every human being.
May we each claim this broken perfection.