By Susan E. Richardson

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise,” (Psalm 51:15-17).

Back when I was in fourth grade, my class went on a field trip to the zoo. We ended with a picnic lunch in the pavilion. The covered area was up a few steps from the ground, and proved particularly irresistible to us. The steps circled around the tables, and we were soon running around and around despite calls to settle down before someone got hurt.

One minute I was running with the rest and the next minute I was lying on the stone stairs. When I tried to get up, I found that my left arm hurt any time I moved. My mother was among the parents on the outing, and someone quickly got her to come see about me. An unexpected trip to the doctor, and I came home with my arm in a cast.

Being broken hurts. With something like my arm, the pain warned that something was wrong. I had an injury that needed tending. Once cared for, the pain diminished and healing began.

What about when Scripture speaks of being broken as a good thing? The pain of becoming spiritually broken is therapeutic: necessary for us to become more like Christ. In physical terms you might compare it to debriding a burn, an excruciating process necessary for healing.

The pain can cause confusion. Those of us wounded through the sinful acts of others consider pain our enemy, something we want to avoid at all costs. Learning to embrace the pain of healing is hard.

The lesson becomes harder when we face new pain. In the confusion of new wounding, we can’t always tell what is happening. Is God breaking us further? Did we do something wrong He needs to correct? Should we be repenting? Instead of hearing an answer, renewed waves of agony further cloud our thinking.

About five years ago, I found myself caught in the boiling confusion of pain after someone betrayed my trust. Through the grief and shock I asked many questions about what had happened. Was God breaking me spiritually again? Or had I been emotionally shattered instead?

One morning while continuing to puzzle over my situation, I went to the front door to find a fine filigree of cracks covering the outer pane of glass. My mother and I couldn’t find anything on the porch, so nothing seemed to have hit the glass. Nor did we remember anything hitting it in the past. Finally, as the cracks spread, we had to assume that the damage came some time before and cold weather brought about the actual cracks.

The day the window gave up and shattered into a pile of shards on the doorstep, I contemplated the oddly compelling remains. Something in those sparkly bits spoke to me of my situation, yet I couldn’t draw a metaphor of hope from them. No stained glass to create a new work of beauty—nothing but the glitter of broken bits.

The turmoil continued until the pain finally began subsiding. Then I could compare the two situations. When God breaks us, new growth and greater fellowship with Him soothe the residual ache. When someone shatters us emotionally, the destruction can spread and requires healing.

My problem was confusing the two. I was looking for reasons to repent when I needed to be allowing God to heal me. I asked God if He was punishing me when I was simply the victim of someone else’s human frailty. As a result, I tried the wrong methods to find peace again.

If you are hurting, check your conscience before God. If He is not asking you to allow Him to break you in some way for your good, don’t waste more time looking for ways you may be at fault. Ask if you are emotionally shattered instead so you can begin to heal.

Father, when You choose to break us, let us fall on our faces before You and embrace the pain of change so we may become more like Christ. When something shatters us emotionally, help us see and understand so we may cling to You as we walk through pain to healing.