broken pieces of an egg shell with small footprints of a baby chick walking away from the shell

Breaking apart or breaking open?

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

In those times when life as we have known it is falling apart, images of brokenness come readily to mind as descriptors of what we are feeling and experiencing.

As I’ve gone through periods like that, the images that came most readily to me were very similar to the ones I’ve seen lately in the news of the aftermath of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico. My life felt like one of the houses I’ve seen with the roof and walls ripped off and broken debris of the owner’s possessions and furniture strewn about, buried under pieces of the house.

Everything in me longed to be able to fit the pieces back together again just the way they used to be, to go back to life as I had known it.

But sometimes that’s not possible. I know it wasn’t for me.

Sometimes big pieces of what used to be are no longer there to put back into their old places, and there are no replacements to be found.

Or maybe the experience of living through the destruction has changed us so much that rebuilding what once was just wouldn’t fit us anymore. In fact, maybe it hadn’t fit for a long time, but we hadn’t really noticed it until it fell apart and gave us new room to breathe.

Despite this, most images of brokenness that we envision define our experience as one of breaking apart, leaving pieces that itch to be reassembled. And this image easily drives our experience and our thoughts in that direction.

Breaking apart not the only possible image of brokenness, though.

Another image of brokenness

It’s also possible to imagine our life breaking open to new life, like an egg shell breaking open to release a baby chick or a chrysalis breaking open to release a butterfly.

In this case, the broken pieces are not ones that need to be put back together (even with the most beautiful kintsugi work). The broken pieces are something to be left behind as the newly hatched one ventures out into a whole new world that is now available to it.

Sometimes this is exactly what happens to us as well.

Sometimes what feels like breaking apart is really breaking open to new life, and the broken pieces are not meant to be reassembled (or can’t be).

Although this makes the brokenness no less painful or scary, maybe it’s time to grieve what is lost and walk into a new future that is bigger and more expansive.

In fact, every time I’ve been through a period of brokenness, it’s been some of both. There are parts of me (like my broken heart) that needs mending and healing and there are parts of me that are being offered the opportunity to break open into new life in some way.

And that choice has always been up to me. What do I see as broken apart and needing to be mended? And what do I see as broken open and ready for new life?

Images matter

The image I choose to attach to the experience profoundly influences not only my experience of those broken places, but also the choices I make about what comes next for me.

The image of breaking open offers so much more room for growth and expansion and new possibilities for my life as a whole even as I work to heal the wounds that process may have caused.

It reminds me that no matter how much brokenness I am experiencing, there is some part of me (like the baby chick) that remains whole even in the face of the broken places of my life and that the broken places (no matter how much they hurt) are only the shell.

And it focuses my attention on how I can use this experience to create and nurture new life even in the midst of the pain of brokenness. It doesn’t make the pain go away, but it does radically shift my focus in ways that point toward hope and healing more than on brokenness.

The next time you face a place of brokenness in your life (and experience that is inevitable for all of us), you have a choice about how you envision that brokenness. Will you choose to think of yourself as breaking apart or breaking open?

The image you choose to live with matters more than you might think.

For reflection

What images of brokenness come most readily to mind as you think of the broken places in your life?

If you haven’t spent time imagining yourself as breaking open, how does that shift how you think and feel about your experience?

What would it look like to focus on the new life emerging from the broken pieces (the shell) instead of focusing on how to put the pieces back together again?

What would it mean for your kintsugi gold in this experience is that new life that is emerging? How does that change your thoughts about what is possible?

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