Spiritual Brokenness in
by Dale Ryan
STEPS Volume 4, Issue 3, Summer 1993.
I did not expect my relationship with God to be difficult. Quite to
the contrary, one of the first things I learned about the Christian
faith as a young child was that "every day with Jesus is sweeter
than the day before." I learned a series of songs about this. I
remember singing about being "hap, hap, happy all the
live-long-day", "all the burdens of my heart rolled
away," and about having "joy, joy, joy, joy down in my
I didn't think adults would mislead children about something this
important. So, I believed that every day with Jesus would be sweeter
than the day before. It took me several decades to fully realize that
these expectations were profoundly rooted in denial. Indeed, I have
yet to encounter a denial system more comprehensive than the
every-day-with-Jesus denial system. Even active alcoholics will tell
you that they have bad days sometimes. But by the age of five, I was
convinced that a bad day was a kind of spiritual failure.
My experience is that people who expect their relationship with God to
be relentlessly cheerful are in for some significant disappointment.
In my case, I worked very hard to make every day with Jesus be sweeter
than the day before. I worker hard. I worker harder. I worked my
hardest. But the reward for all that hard work was gradually
increasing depression, confusion, anger and religious compulsion.
It is now clear to me that although the God of my intellectual
convictions resembled the God of Christian orthodoxy, the god of my
guts, the god I worshipped and served, the god I lived in solidarity
with, was a very different kind of god. I served the god of impossible
expectations - a resentful, heartless, intolerant, and abandoning
It was a very important development in my own spiritual journey to
recognize that the god of impossible expectations is not merely a
distorted image of the living and true God. It was not that I was
really serving God but that I had 'missed the mark' by a little. I did
not need some kind of spiritual fine-tuning. I needed a coarse
adjustment. The god I worshipped was not God at all. Not even close. I
served a god who was quick to anger and slow to forgive. That's not a
distorted image of the living and true God. It's the wrong god
The Bible is, fortunately, full of helpful wisdom for people like me
who have served a god who is not God. What is needed is to say
"no" to our not-God, to throw the bum out. No compromises,
no half-way measures, no evasive theological discussions. If the god
you serve is not God. Dump him.
Dumping the only god I had ever really served resulted in a season of
very intense spiritual distress for me. The god I had worshipped may
have been a worthless and abusive god . . . but it was the only god I
really knew at a deep level.
One of the most distressing parts of this season of saying
"no" is the experience of God's silence. Somehow I expected
the living and true God to talk more. But, God did not speak. Just
because God was not speaking, however, did not mean that it was quiet.
Quite to the contrary, there was a clamor of voices. There was a long
list of people who were prepared to explain things, to defend God or
to quote verses. None of these voices seemed to understand. When they
spoke, I longed for silence. It wasn't until later that I realized how
grateful I was for God's silence. If God had spoken too soon, I would
have added God's name to the list of people who did not understand,
the list of people who were not to be trusted.
When God eventually does speak, it is a most remarkable thing. My
experience was that God said the very last thing in the whole world I
ever expected God to say. I would not have been surprised to hear God
express anger about my spiritual inadequacies. I expected God to shame
me, to blame me, to be disgusted by my spiritual failure. I expected
God to be frustrated with me and disappointed in me. But, God says
surprising things to people who are spiritually bankrupt. When the
living and true God speaks to people whose spiritual resources have
been depleted or stolen, God pronounces blessing.
Listen to the biblical text: "The sacrifices of God are a broken
spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise"
(Psalm 51:17). God does not despise people who experience spiritual
brokenness. Rather, God sees our spiritual brokenness as a kind of
worship (a sacrifice)! God understands how painful it is to say
"no" to our idolatrous attachments. God understands how
difficult it is to let go. But God also recognizes the spiritual
maturity that is being shaped in us during this process. Jesus made
exactly this point when he said "Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Contrary to all of our
expectations about spiritual brokenness, God sees past the confusion,
the doubt and the distress to the growing spiritual humility that is a
sign of our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The living and true God does not despise our spiritual brokenness.
Praise be to God!
May God grant you the courage to say "no" when it is the
time to say "no". May God grant you the grace to receive the
blessing reserved for the poor in spirit. And, may your roots sink
deeply in the soil of God's love.
Reproduction in any form
without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.