I have a problem with weakness. When a person’s weakness is on display in a way I don’t like, I find it difficult to be welcoming and open. Yet I also am convinced that being honest and sharing your heart is a necessary part of living an authentic Christian life. I understand that seeming as though I always have it together is detrimental to myself and others. However, seeing weakness in a way other than what I believe is an acceptable display is hard for me to embrace.
This realization–my understanding of vulnerability and yet my dislike of apparent weakness–makes me pause and wonder what is in this little heart of mine. Sometimes, I see weakness and I am drawn to the person. In a way, I suppose my heart responds like the Lord’s heart–the misery of another makes me desire to love them in the midst of the struggle. However, sometimes, I see weakness and I am repelled by it. I question why they struggle in that particular way or in such a public manner. Instead of feeling compelled to reach out to them and help them, I withdraw and wish they could get their act together.
Like I have said before, this heart of mine is far, far away from being a perfect heart.
I think a theme that has been woven into several of my posts is one of brokenness and seeking the Lord in the midst of that break. Yet I also want to have it together and I want other people to be composed. The other day at Mass, I found myself asking my heart a question, “How is it that you want people to share their brokenness and yet you don’t want to see weakness? Is there an appropriate way to be broken?”
Is it fair to criticize people for the way they fall apart? For the way they fail and are weak? I like when people talk about their humanity, but I’m less interested in actually seeing their humanity. It is silly, but I find myself arguing that I think there is a proper way to be broken. A recent experience in prayer highlights the freedom that can be found in being broken and revealing that brokenness.
Fr. Timothy Gallagher has a book called An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises. The opening meditation uses the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in Mark 10. In the opening lines of the meditation, I was directed to take my seat with Bartimaeus. Soon, this blind man is calling out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
In prayer, I was surprised to find an annoyance with him. He was obnoxiously calling out to Jesus and I resisted the urge to shush him. How could he be so shameless? In the midst of the crowd, he was crying out, causing people to acknowledge his blindness and his complete inability to change his situation. I wanted Bartimaeus to be more discreet and not draw so much attention to himself. However, to Bartimaeus, his helplessness was paradoxically a place of hope.
The meditation continued as I was directed to call out to Jesus, “Jesus…have mercy on me!” My embarrassed response to Bartimaeus turned into a timid calling out to Jesus. Yet as Bartimaeus continued to boldly yell, I felt my own heart emboldened as I called louder and louder. In the midst of that calling, I found a freedom. When I make my needs to known to Jesus, He stops and has me brought to Him, brokenness and all. However, the simple act of shouting to Jesus, showing others that I am weak and broken, brings freedom to a place of hidden fear.
If I trust that Jesus will do what is best for me, why should I care if others know about the change occurring within me? Without Him, I am a broken mess. The fact that Jesus can come into that broken mess and create order and healing, is something to rejoice over and make known, not keep hidden. My littleness reveals the greatness of the Lord. I cannot cause such a change within myself, I cannot heal myself–but He can.
So when it comes to the brokenness I see in other people, I want it to be limited glimpses. I want the weakness to be something small, manageable, and proper. Bartimaeus showed me otherwise. Perhaps people reveal their struggles and difficulties in ways I find repelling or at least inconvenient. Maybe I am struck by their complaints and feel threatened because they are complaining about something I like or their brokenness is too apparent. Instead of compassion, I re-double my efforts to keep my facade and remain collected.
More than propriety or comfort, the Lord desires my honesty and authenticity. He knows I am not perfect, yet He asks me to keep acknowledging my lack. It is a lack that only He can fill. But unless I remind myself of that truth, I am quick to think I can fill it myself or at least cover the gaping hole so that it doesn’t appear too bad. When I called out to the Lord in prayer, I found a freedom. A freedom in releasing my restraints of what was acceptable to do in a crowd or my fear of how others would perceive me.
I am broken. We all are. Yet Jesus came so that we might have an abundant life. This full, abundant life does not come when we hide our ills or make-believe they are not there. The abundance comes when we freely ask the Lord to heal these areas that prevent us from a life of overflow. In this acknowledgment of our littleness, we find the freedom to pursue the greatness the Lord desires us to pursue. Freedom is a far greater strength than superficially covering up the imperfections within. And if I find freedom in accepting and presenting to the Lord my own brokenness, perhaps freedom is found in doing the same with the brokenness of others. Rather than being a source of frustration or annoyance, the imperfections of others can remind us that we are all striving Heavenward, one stumble at a time.