While places of brokenness are always painful, they also have the power to set us free from chains we didn't even know existed.
These invisible chains frame our perception of the world, dictate what we value, and guide our choices without us having any awareness of their existence.
Sometimes the only way we are able see the chains clearly enough to release them is through an experience of brokenness that shines a spotlight on the chains for the first time.
Where the chains come from
Much of our childhood training is designed to teach us the "rules" of our culture and how the world works.
Some of these are taught quite explicitly, but many more we learn implicitly: that more is always better, that masculine traits are more valuable than feminine ones, that lighter skin is more valued, or that being single is somehow less than being coupled.
While these types of beliefs do vary somewhat with different religious and family backgrounds, our shared cultural norms become so ingrained in us that they are as invisible to us as the air we breathe.
We are no more aware of their influence on our lives, our choices, or our worldview than a fish is aware of the water it swims in.
Like the elephant who is trained when young that chains around her ankle are strong enough to keep her bound to a stake so that she accepts that limitation without testing it as she grows, so we often allow ourselves to accept limitations that are unnecessary—and sometimes even harmful—to our continued growth.
What brokenness can do
When we encounter places of brokenness, the pain of those moments tends to heighten our awareness of what's often invisible our lives as we search for meaning in what has happened and for a way to alleviate the pain we are experiencing.
In those moments, we are faced squarely with the failure of whatever cultural dictates to which we had been clinging to keep us safe from harm.
Perhaps the quest for job security by doing a "safe" job we hated has led to layoffs and bankruptcy that has left us wondering whether the forms of job security we've been taught actually exist.
Or maybe we have experienced a major health issue that has limited our ability to work and left us questioning whether our worth is really dependent on what we can produce.
Or perhaps our continual striving for more and bigger and better has left us stressed and exhausted, our marriage on the rocks, and our debt load so high that we can't afford to work any less, and now we are wondering whether "having more" is really all it's cracked up to be.
In those moments of brokenness, we have the clarity of vision to see what we normally haven't seen. And this gives us the chance to make our own choices instead of staying bound to the chains our culture has laid on us.
Setting ourselves free
Brokenness can be the spotlight that allows us to see those invisible beliefs and values we have absorbed that may be directing our lives in ways that don't work for us.
Of course, seeing clearly the chains binding us is only the first step. Once we see the belief or norm that is holding us stuck, we have the choice to replace that belief with one that works better for us.
From that starting point, we have the ongoing responsibility to choose a new way of being and of living, and these choices are likely to be uncomfortable and not always welcomed by those around us.
It's never easy. It's often a long, uncomfortable process that's complicated by our own habitual tendencies to fall back into old ways and pressure from others who want to see us back in the familiar chains they know so well.
I do know that there is great freedom in dropping the chains, though, and it's worth the effort it takes to get there.
In fact, sometimes this very freedom is part of the gold we find in the midst of the healing.
Questions to ponder
Consider a place of brokenness (current or past) in your life. What assumptions or beliefs about how life works did that brokenness show to be false?
How have you changed your beliefs as a result of seeing that falseness?
In what ways have those changes set you free to live more fully into a life that works better for you?
As you consider these changes, how would you define the gold that this new freedom has brought into your life?
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