The role of brokenness in transformation

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

I've made many, many changes in my life over the years. I've changed jobs, changed whole career fields, moved across the country, married, divorced, and explored dozens of completely different interests and styles.

From the outside looking in, it might easily appear that I'm not only a pro at handling change but that I even actively embrace it and seek it out.

On one level, I suppose that's true. But more often than not, my many changes were frantic efforts to distract myself from facing even bigger transformation that was welling up inside—transformation that I didn't have the courage to face.

By comparison, even relatively big surface changes that allowed my self-identity to stay intact were much less threatening than real transformation. True transformation always involves being broken open in some way to allow new growth to emerge.

And who wants to be broken?

Avoiding brokenness at all costs

So I kept on doing my best to pedal faster and faster, making small changes along the way as crafty detours to try to outrun those bigger ones demanding attention, until a major crash would put me completely out of commission.

Only then, when that old self was too broken to function, was I able to loosen my grip enough to make space for lasting inner change.

Even after all that, I would still often fight the transformation process tooth and nail in an attempt to keep my life and my self-identity as close as possible to what I've known in the past.

All repair efforts were generally designed to fix the broken places in such a way to return to my pre-broken self-identity to whatever extent that I could.

Transformation was always pushing me to grow into a bigger version of myself, but I found greater safety in staying as small as I'd ever been.

From what I've seen in the lives of people around me, I'm not alone in that. Most of us would rather stay with what we know—even if it is making us miserable—than venture out into the unknown.

If this is true in our choices about how we live our lives day to day, how much more true it is in the degree to which we are willing to allow space for deeper changes in our beliefs, attitudes, or habitual patterns of acting or relating that might change our whole identities!

But it doesn't have to be that way. I'm learning (ever so slowly with many stumbling steps) to approach this differently.

Seeing brokenness as a gift

Several years ago now, a confluence of events and choices led to a rather complete shattering of my life and my identity as I had known it. The size of the implosion was directly related to the amount of effort I'd put into avoiding needed transformation over the years.

This shattering left me feeling as if I'd been stripped completely bare to the point where I wasn't even sure who I was some days. A stranger looked back at me in the mirror.

It was one of the most painful periods of my life.

And I also discovered, much to my surprise, that it was an unimaginable gift.

When the dust settled, I discovered that the implosion had not only broken me wide open, it had also broken open the cage that I had built around myself over the years that limited the degree to which I would allow transformation to occur.

I came away from that experience far more radically changed than I would have thought possible. This time, by allowing myself to really completely fall apart (only because I really didn't have a choice!), I was able to make repairs in ways that made room for genuine transformational growth.

My scars this time around shine with gold.

That's not to say that I ever want to go through anything so devastating again. Nor does it mean that I'm glad it all happened the way it did. (Not by any means!)

But I have managed to recognize that the very brokenness that I'd been avoiding all those years was a gift that set my soul free and helped me find more of my gold in ways that all the running in the world could ever do.

A new approach to brokenness

These days I have a much healthier respect for the role that brokenness can play in opening me up for transformation ... and I still don't enjoy the process of brokenness at all.

What I've learned, though, from my experience is that allowing myself to break open in small ways each time new transformation comes welling up is much more bearable than waiting until life forces me into a tsunami of brokenness all at once.

By learning to allow my heart, my beliefs, my patterns, and my identity break open more easily, I've discovered that the gifts that grow out of these smaller broken places bring enough gold with them to outweigh the pain of the small breaks.

I'm learning to recognize my frantic itch for small changes as a response to a new wave of transformation welling up from inside. Now, instead of looking for the easiest change to make to relieve the itch, I search for the deeper, bigger, scarier change that is trying to blow my world into a new orbit.

I won't claim for a moment that this is an easier way to live. It means stepping outside of my comfort zone much more often than I'd prefer.

But it is by far the most rewarding way I've ever approached life, and I hope to continue to allow myself to break open to transformation ever easier as I move forward.

Queries to ponder

How do you react when you think about breaking open? Is that a welcome idea? Or does it provoke fear?

How have times of brokenness in your life opened you to transformation? Did you allow yourself to transform? Or did you try to return as much as possible to the person you had been before?

In what ways have you used small changes in your life as a means of avoiding bigger inner transformation that was welling up? What does that pattern look like in your life?

What places in your life might be trying to break open to transformation right now? How could lean into that to gain the greatest transformation with the least struggle?

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