Brokenness

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

 Broken crosses

Brokenness is a necessary part of creating kintsugi (or kintsugi-inspired) artwork. Something must be broken before it can be repaired. In fact, in the creation of my artwork, breaking the initial item I make is one of the most important (and challenging) steps of the process.

As I shared my application of kintsugi as a metaphor for the way we find beauty in the healing of our broken places with shoppers at this weekend's bazaar, people's eyes lit up time and time again as I could see them relating this to the broken places in their own lives—be it broken hearts, broken relationships, broken ways of relating or coping, broken health, or broken faith.

The people I talked to universally recognized this as a reality in their lives and appeared inspired by the idea of finding beauty in their healing.

Some religious systems (in particular, some of the more conservative strains of Christianity) focus a great deal on being "broken" as another term for "original sin." This is the idea that we are born irreparably broken and need something outside of ourselves to make us worthy. This is not what I envision when I speak of brokenness.

For me, speaking of brokenness assumes that something started out whole. Like the artwork that I make, I can only speak of it being broken because there was a time prior to my breaking it when it was all in one piece. Therefore, brokenness (as I speak of it) assumes a starting place of wholeness that gets damaged by something that happens to us from the outside.

Brokenness in this sense is not something that we are; it is something that happens to us as we encounter the challenges of life. It is also something that can be repaired and not a permanent state of being.

I think of brokenness more like a broken leg. When we fall or otherwise experience an accident that causes our leg to break, we do what is necessary—using a cast and crutches and perhaps physical therapy—to help the bone heal. We see this as a departure from the leg's original wholeness that needs our attention and care. We do not see the leg as being "evil" or "defective" or "disobedient" or "intrinsically flawed." It simply encountered something that it was unsuited to deal with.

My experience of life is very much like that on psychological and emotional level as well. Sometimes I encounter things that I am unsuited to deal with without experiencing negative effects—be it loss or trauma or violence or rejection—and my heart gets broken in some way. Sometimes I find that the world's broken systems have taught me unhelpful ways of dealing with life's stresses and challenges, and these lead to broken patterns of relating or coping.

Just like with a broken leg, however, acknowledging that brokenness is the first step toward doing what it takes to heal it.

In his book When the Body Says NO: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection, Dr. Gabor Maté has a chapter entitled "The Power of Negative Thinking." He takes a look at the way we sometimes use "positive thinking" as a means of avoiding the discomfort of dealing with the hard realities of life and of our condition. He points out that it is only when we are willing to acknowledge the reality of what isn't working, what hurts, or what is broken that we can take steps to fix it.

As my grandma was getting older, she developed Alzheimer's disease, so my brother lived with her for a time to help keep an eye on her as she became increasingly confused. He came home from work one day to find her sitting on the floor. When he asked her what she was doing there, she quite cheerfully insisted that she just decided to sit on the floor because she hadn't done that in a while and thought it would make a nice change of view.

In actuality, she had fallen and broken her hip, but in her confusion had either forgotten that she couldn't get up or didn't want to admit that she needed help. It was only when he tried to help her up that it became apparent that something was wrong and that medical assistance was required.

While she seemed perfectly happy with her location on the floor when he asked about it, the truth is that remaining on the floor without getting treatment for the broken hip would have had some very serious negative consequences for her in short order. Recognizing that the hip was broken was the first step toward doing what it took to heal it.

Likewise, while "positive thinking" feels better in the moment when it comes to our psychological, emotional, and relationship wounds, it actually prevents our long-term healing because we refuse to acknowledge that there is anything that needs to be healed.

This is why the idea of brokenness is actually a positive idea for me. When I acknowledge that something is broken, it means that it doesn't have to stay the way it is—it started out whole and that means that it can be healed to return to wholeness. That's good news! And having acknowledged that it's broken, I can begin work on that healing process.

What does brokenness mean to you?

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