There are three ways to approach the inevitable broken places in our lives when they occur.
Two of these ways keep us stuck in the brokenness, but those two approaches are the ones we choose most often.
The third, less chosen way is the only one of the three that makes space for healing.
One of the beauties of the kintsugi metaphor for living is that it offers encouragement for choosing this third approach that works.
Approach 1: Denying the brokenness exists
The first approach that is commonly used is to deny that the broken place even exists. We do this in an attempt to avoid dealing with the pain and discomfort of what has happened to us.
The problem is that we can't heal what we refuse to see because we can't address anything we haven't acknowledged.
We also can't heal from anything we have not allowed ourselves to feel. Part of the healing process is releasing the pain and trauma of whatever happened to us. Without the willingness to sit with that pain and discomfort, we keep it stored up inside us where it can continue to do damage.
As much as we'd like it to be otherwise, being able to clearly see, acknowledge, and experience the brokenness that does happen to us is an absolutely necessary part of the healing process.
Our attempt to detour the entire process means that we also detour any chance of true healing, and it ultimately prolongs our pain and discomfort.
Consider what would happen if you broke your leg but refused to acknowledge that it was broken and therefore never had it treated. This approach would avoid the challenges of dealing with a cast and crutches and would save you the money of a doctor's bill.
The leg bone would also likely eventually knit itself back together, but chances are good that it would not heal properly and could leave you walking with a limp for the rest of your life. It would increase the likelihood of re-injuring it (causing even more pain) before the bone fully knits back together.
Our emotional, mental, and physical selves are not all that different. We may be able to get away with denying the broken places a little easier, but the results are the same.
A kintsugi artist has to first acknowledge that something is broken before the work can begin to repair it with gold. Our true healing work must also start with an acknowledgement of our broken places and a willingness to face them.
Approach 2: Making the brokenness our identity
In this approach, we have at least moved beyond denial into an acknowledgement that the broken places exist, but that in and of itself is still not enough to move us forward.
Sometimes the intensity of the pain we experience in the broken places of our lives forces us to acknowledge that they exist, but we may then allow that story of brokenness to define who we are, which keeps us stuck in brokenness.
This is very easy to do when the pain is so intense that it seems to have taken over our entire world. Sometimes the broken place has caused so much damage to the identity we had before that we may feel like we have no identity any more except for this brokenness.
Many years ago now when I was going through a divorce—a source of brokenness in my life—the best advice I was given was to never allow myself to define myself as a divorced person. Yes, I would henceforth be a person who had been divorced, but my personhood was what defined me, not my status as being divorced.
It seems like a subtle linguistic shift, but I discovered that there was great power in remembering that I was more than this one circumstance. It left the door open to move beyond the divorce into healing.
I've used that wisdom time and again in other broken places in my life. I acknowledge the broken places, but I do not let them define me because I don't want those broken places to become the source of my identity. To do so would keep me stuck in the brokenness with no path out for healing to happen.
Instead, like a kintsugi artist might see a bowl to be repaired as a bowl first and foremost with a broken place that is temporary, so I see myself as someone who is whole and complete with a temporary broken place that can be mended.
This frees me to move through the pain and brokenness without getting stuck because my identity has not gotten wrapped up in being broken.
Approach 3: Actively engaging the broken places to move through them to healing
In this approach, we acknowledge our broken places without allowing them to take over our identity. This gives us the ability to address the issue in a way that keeps the door open for healing to happen.
When we do this, it allows us to engage the broken places in a deeper way because we know them to be temporary. We know that we are more than the brokenness.
From that place, we are able to sit with the pain and the discomfort to allow it to move through us to be released. We can have the courage ask for help in mending those broken places. We can remember places where we have healed in the past to give us hope that healing will come here too.
The metaphor of kintsugi really shines in this approach as it allows us to engage with the broken places while focusing our attention on the gold that is developing in the healing. We may acknowledge the brokenness, but always will a focus on the healing and the gold that is unfolding as well.
This approach is often uncomfortable and challenging in the short term, but in the longer term, it is also the fastest path to healing. The hope that the metaphor of kintsugi offers can help sustain us on this path toward active healing.
As you look at the broken places you have experienced in your life, which approach have you chosen most often? How has that choice affected your healing?
What changes might you make to more actively engage your broken places to increase your ability to heal from them?