On being broken

Written: 6/5/06
Published: 7/11/11
Bibliography: Gleanings, by Douglas Steere


As we approach month #3 of our time here in Kenya and I work through my parent’s recent divorce, changing vocation, and changing cultures, being broken and humbled seem to be almost a daily occurrence…were I back in Australia or the States, I might be tempted to view these as sufferings to be avoided, or an attack of the Enemy…but my perspective is starting to change.

I came across this short writing on being broken several years ago.  It is by my great-uncle, Douglas, who was a leader in the Quaker church in the 20th century.  I have found simultaneous comfort and challenge in his words:

Each of us has snatches of the 23rd Psalm that come back to us in the crises of life, snatches that repeat themselves in our minds in the sleepless hours…’he maketh me to lie down’…’he restoreth my soul’…these are not statements of creed or of dogma, but are instead the Jewish psalmist’s reports of personal experiences out of the depths of life’s turbulent struggle.  For me, these experiences are not things that happened 3,000 years ago, but are experiences that take place again and again in our lives today if we will attend to their promises and be willing to yield to them.

These 2 confessions our of the Psalmist’s depths belong together, for there are few of us who can have our souls restored until we have been brought to lie down.  Clover seed has to be scarified, driven over sharp, sandpaper-like surfaces that break open the hull, before it germinates well when planted in the earth.  We human beings seem to require the same treatment, and life does not hesitate to provide it.

Florence Allshorn, a British saint of a generation ago, had returned from a stiff missionary assignment in Uganda with tuberculosis that, while ultimately healed, prevented her return to Africa.  She spent the years after her recovery teaching prospective missionaries in a training college in Britain until it became clear to her that theoretical instruction prior to some baptism by fire in the mission field was unreal and ineffective.  As she put it, ‘They have not yet come to the end of themselves.’  Instead of teaching, she set up a rural hostel in Sussex…where missionaries weary and ‘torn open’ by work in the field could live for a sizable part of their furloughs.

How much the same it is with us all.  Until life compels us to come to the end of ourselves and to stop, often to be shattered, to be searched in our most mysterious depths, even to be taken beyond the possibility of coming to terms with our new situation by our own means; until life pushes us out into the depths where we cannot, hard as we may try, touch bottom with our feet, there is little likelihood of our turning to the mysterious Other, the one the Psalmist calls our Lord and Shepherd, for the restoration of our souls.

…when life is smoothly going along according to plan, especially when it is according to our own plan, how easy it is to forget either the Restorer or the need for restoration.  When I am made to lie down in life’s unfolding, I am being given another chance, if I could only know it.  For when I am made to lie down, when my public image is shattered, when my assurance of health and strength and companionship from those I love most is cut off, when I may even have lost the very image of my own destiny in my falling and my failure, I may be given a peek into the very womb of God where a rebirth is possible, where a fresh regrouping of all that my life has been comes sharply into focus.  This does not mean that I shall be restored to where I was or  that I may not have been bidden to a condition that  I cannot reverse. But there is even such a thing as dying inwardly healed, and such a thing as the Inward Restorer’s giving me again a peek in to the image of what my life is really meant to be in this life and beyond.

[So can we point to God as the cause of our being brought low?]  …Neither you or I know enough about human freedom, about the relative autonomies of life, and about the operation of divine providence to dare to charge God with causing some specific act of intervention in order to bring us low and to lower our thresholds to a new awareness of God’s healing, restoring presence.  Nor do we know enough, however, to exclude God’s profound and continuous involvement in our lives!  Perhaps it is enough to say what W.H. Auden says, ‘It is where we are wounded that God speaks to us.’ 

Author: steeres

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