Nothing is Wasted: On Brokenness and Grace

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There is grace in brokenness. We don’t see it at first, it takes time to reveal itself. Time, and sufficient enough shattering to remove all–or most–obstacles to its manifestation.

That’s what brokenness does–it strips us of what’s superficial and unnecessary, of all pretense, of fake (and not) attachments and strivings, leaving us emotionally and spiritually bare and ready to see the truth. That’s where grace comes in, bringing the truth along.

“Each time the losses and deceptions of life teach us about impermanence, they bring us closer to the truth. When you fall from a great height, there is only one possible place to land: on the ground, the ground of truth. And if you have the understanding that comes from spiritual practice, then falling is in no way a disaster, but the discovery of an inner refuge.” Sogyal Rinpoche

Only when we are broken we can see it more clearly: the truth about ourselves, others, the world and God–or whatever one wants to call this grand principle responsible for our existence on earth that shows itself in it with such insistence, even if for a time through its seeming absence. It is also called the Source, Spirit, Force, All There Is, the Ground of All Being, Oneness, Universe; however you want to name (or not) this higher power, God has only three letters so it’s easier to use, therefore I’ll stick with it. This God is not a bearded father figure fuming in judgment over his sinful creation, but rather omniactive loving intelligence, as psychiatrist Thomas Hora put it. It is precisely grace working on and through our brokenness, by the way, which allows us to see and understand, to the extent it is possible, that this higher power is compassionate and set up in ways to manifest this truth to, in and through us. Grace is God’s middle name, as Richard Rohr says.

Brokenness, in all its forms–physical, emotional, spiritual–empties us of false beliefs and illusions, making thus room within us for God/Truth/Love, for grace. This emptying is a process that usually takes a long and difficult time, while grace manifests instantanously, appearing in a flash of insight, or more often an epiphany, when the pain of our broken existence becomes unbearable. Its benevolent work, which so often begins in such a transformative flash, continues throughout the rest of our earthly life, changing us–little by little–from the people we were to the people we are meant to be.

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through adversity.” Malcolm Muggeridge

Grace working through brokenness is the process of uncovering our Innermost, True Self and its God-like nature, the kingdom of heaven within.

Pain and suffering are its necessary antecedents. Disappointments, losses, grief, loneliness, anxiety, depression, abandonment, despair, physical and mental illness, addictions, inner conflicts and self-doubts; all those states also known as soul sickness, or a dark night of the soul. It cannot be otherwise. And none of it is wasted. Grace works upon us in this darkness whether we realize it or not.

“The seed must be buried deep down in the darkness under the weight of the earth. Then the seed must be subject to the winter, the season of frost, of long darkness and short light. The slow pace, the long pause in periods of growth is the condition of bearing fruit.” Caryll Houselander

And as the Zen proverb reminds us,

“No seed has ever seen the flower.”

We learn and transform only through lessons of suffering, and that has not varied yet. It does not mean that all suffering leads to obvious transformation, but transformation does not, will not happen without disintegration and pain.

“Pain is merely pain, but pain for a worthy cause is suffering. What is more worthy than your soul–than creating a life through which the energy of your soul can flow unimpeded into the Earth school? What is more worthy than fulfilling your most noble aspirations?” Gary Zukav 

This is the way of positive disintegration, initiated and guided by grace. The transformation effected through grace working on and in our brokenness has a spiritual (and/or religious) character, regardless of our belief system. It opens us to previously unseen, though perhaps sometimes intuited, vertical dimensions of reality and also unknown depths within ourselves. It lets the light of God to penetrate our being, but also allows the light of our True Self shine through the cracks of the broken facade that was once our false self (or ego, or individuality). With time, that inner light grows stronger and shines brighter, illuminating any corners where darkness may have lingered.

In our brokenness, we begin to see what really matters. Just as grief and suffering empty us, making room for God, they also prepare inner space for gratitude that disperses our inner darkness and allows us to see life more clearly, including our own characters and those of others.

“Karma draws your attention to what you have created. Is your attention not captured when you are in pain? Asking why the Universe is treating you badly when you experience painful circumstances in your life is like asking a mirror why you look the way you do. Your reflection will not change until you change.” Gary Zukav

Grace is a manifestation of God’s existence and boundless love for us. But we cannot see it when, functioning as the false self and assured in its certitude, we are in thrall of our self-seeking pursuits and the fleeting rewards they offer. Being broken opens us up to see and receive that love, and to be transformed by it into people we were meant to be, as the image and likeness of God.

“If there are supernormal powers, it is through
the cracked and fragmented self that they enter.” William James

A friend sent me a brief video from a Japanese spiritual teacher showing the beauty of broken objects, the pieces of which were put back and glued together with gold, bringing a new look, and a new quality, to their appearance and function.

The gold glue holding our pieces together is God’s love filling and pulsing through the previously disjointed seams, transmuting their brokenness into a now coherent whole. It not only fixes the broken fragments, but creates a new entity, full of new life. This spiritual alchemy transforms pain and suffering into compassion and love.

“The wound is the place where Light enters you.” Rumi

During Easter at my Mom’s house, I heard a Polish radio interview with Helena Studencka who is Secretary General of the Polish Highlander Organization in America. Helena talked about the loss of her son in 2015 and how it has affected her life.  It is difficult to describe this interview, but I am certain it captivated all listeners, accidental and not, such was the power of Helena’s voice as she talked about her grief and how it has been transforming her. Nobody wants to know the pain of losing a child; but as most of us will experience–and, if of a certain age, already have experienced–grievous losses, the journey, even though unique to each of us, feels familiar in many ways.

Helena said that nowadays, three years after her son’s death, her grief turned into a sort of numbness and described what it feels and looks like. It is still very difficult, but it is different now. She is learning humility, meekness, she said; the calm warmth of her voice confirmed it. She may or may not know–although her interviewer made a comment to this effect–that through such open and vulnerable sharing of her pain she has helped others heal. The grace working through her brokenness already influences others.

“All suffering prepares the soul for vision.” Martin Buber

We don’t always see or know right away how grace works through suffering and brokenness.

Pat, a kind and loving mother and grandmother started to show first symptoms of Alzheimer’s in her mid-50’s. Within several years marked by the rapid progress of the disease and the heartbreaking challenges it created for her impoverished family, she became unresponsive and confined to her bed, lingering there for nearly 20 years in a vegetative state, plagued by infections and other problems associated with her illness and incapacitation.

Her younger daughter, Kasia, took care of her in a tiny two room apartment that was home to four more people: Kasia’s chronic schizophrenic husband, Ian, unemployed for decades due to his disability; their two young sons; and Kasia’s ill and requiring progressively more care dad, Pat’s husband. Kasia was the only healthy and more or less functional adult in that household, tasked with generating income from her secretarial salary, keeping the family together and organizing their life, as well as caring for her mother, and her ill husband and father. The stress of their living situation bordered on unbearable most of the time.

As Pat’s state deteriorated, however, something unexpected happened: Ian spontaneously started to care for her and attend to her needs around the clock. Soon enough, he became her main caretaker, performing his duties with attention and compassion that nobody knew existed within his capacities. This man, lost and locked within his seemingly disordered mind and diagnosed as an incurable case, turned into a skilled and devoted nurse, finding purpose in his own life and serving through it as an example for others.

“God uses everything to construct this hard and immortal diamond, our core of love.” Richard Rohr

Nothing is wasted, least of all our suffering.

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9 thoughts on “Nothing is Wasted: On Brokenness and Grace

  1. An interesting article on “suffering” that threw me back a few decades in memories. As one familiar with suffering during my younger and middle age years, I’ve given the concept much thought and evolved a philosophy around it that turned it from the monster that it is to something meaningful. To do that I had to go beyond the idea that suffering leads to brokenness and grace. For me, that was simply not true, but it has been a pinion of religious thought by which the religious elites manipulated their captive masses. The idea of an eternal hell surpassing every imaginable form of suffering came from this dismal view of life.

    Suffering has but one purpose, or point, in my personal philosophy, and that’s to create a situation where it is eliminated. Suffering is always the enemy of life, the destroyer, hence why the ruler of hell is the Lord of suffering. Suffering is always, by its very nature, intolerable.

    The question, for me, became “How do I eliminate suffering from my life?”

    Obviously it was a question of transformation of a state of mind. If the suffering was not self-imposed, but of circumstances beyond my physical/material conditions, then I could not stop it. I had to transmute it into something else. Your article hints at that from the quotes. With help from “the Teachers” I came to see that suffering, which is a personal, dare I say selfish, process had to be changed into something beyond myself. At that point I was ready to consider another aspect of life: sorrow, the dark twin of joy.

    Through the practise of compassion I entered into that selfless aspect of contemplation – not removed from the daily grind, but in the thick of it. I learned not to think of those negative aspects of life as personal suffering, but as part of a greater vista that encompassed all of life such as we experience it.

    I also learned to stop chasing after personal pleasures that should engender happiness for I saw that as a will o’ the wisp also. In order to eliminate suffering from my personal life I put myself “on call” to the service of neighbours and whomever in general, eschewing judgement as much as common sense allowed.

    I don’t know that I discovered “grace” from that, but I certainly eliminated my personal suffering problems. Even my body responded, dare I say, happily to the changes in my mind. Much of our suffering is caused by stress, and that is self-induced and can be controlled – if we learn how to live selflessly. That involves self sacrifice and is achieved, as I mentioned, through the practice of compassion.

    The point of all this verbiage is to say that it isn’t suffering, but the elimination of suffering through an expanded view of the cosmos and our infinite part in it; through the mind change that turns an essentially selfish being (the survivor type) into one that lives between the worlds of joy and sorrow by the practise of compassion. So life has taught me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I recognize how much suffering can be transformational for many. But I also think that adversity is different than suffering, and that we should challenge ourselves if challenges don’t find us, but I don’t think suffering is necessary for us to grow, even if it is possible for some to grow from it. I guess this all reads to me a lot like the idea that God never gives us more than we can handle. This is clearly not true. Some people just break and they never recover. Some suffer there entire lives, some suffer to the point of ending it pre-maturely. And some suffer through no fault of their own and simply die. It is human nature to look for silver linings and this is something we should always strive for, but there is nothing to glorify about suffering and being broken. Because suffering has thresholds, and there are points beyond which the mind or the body will simply fail. Some of the people that have caused the most harm in the world have also suffered greatly.

    In addition, while difficult times did help me grow, so did I change by being inspired. By seeing kindness, and seeing the happiness that ensued from kindnesses. I have been changed by those who express wonder, and curiosity, those who have passion, and those who are made happy by beauty. These have also been transformational to me and I would not place them below any lesson I have learned through suffering. And whatever I have learned through suffering, it is never clear to me that this was the only way to have learned an important lesson. Like maybe there was a challenge less painful that could have taught me the same thing. I am captivated by stories of people overcoming suffering, and think because suffering happens, we do have to help people try to learn the right lessons from it all, but the reality is that not everybody does, and some suffering is just far greater than one deserves and I don’t think good comes of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Quote: “I don’t think suffering is necessary for us to grow, even if it is possible for some to grow from it.”  I think that sums it up well. It’s what we do with adversity that makes all the difference, not the fact that we suffer. It isn’t suffering that makes us empathetic.

      Liked by 2 people

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