Thursday, July 21, 2011

We're all broken; let's all stop pretending and admit it, shall we?

My brother-in-law has a saying, "Everybody's got something." By that he means that each of us has problems, and not just little ones.

Of course he's right; his words remind me of the prescription to "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." Indeed they are, as discussed further in this article from

This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.
1903, The Homely Virtues by John Watson, Courtesy, Page 168, Hodder & Stoughton, London. (Google Books full view) link
If I think about it for a second, the fact that everybody has something, that everyone is fighting a great battle, means that I'm not alone in mine. We're all fighting great battles, we all struggle, we're all broken. As the Lord himself told us, "In this world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33 or so).

So if my struggle becomes apparent to others, there's no need for shame. And if my struggle remains hidden from others? Well, I'm not a proponent of dumping all my troubles on everybody, but as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." I take this to apply to me too: when I'm afflicted, and when God brings me comfort, I'm being prepared/equipped to comfort others.

Two corollaries come to mind. First, when I have troubles, it could well be that God has equipped someone to comfort me in that trouble. Second, the plan God has for bringing me comfort could well be that very person he has equipped, so if I want comfort from God but I don't want him to use people to bring me that comfort—well, that may not work very well.

In any case, we are not alone in having struggles—great struggles; everybody's got some, as the Lord himself said. So there's no need for shame. Rather, let us glorify Him by giving and receiving comfort -- let us clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, as Paul says. (Colossians 3:12)

"By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

Excursus on "normalizing brokenness"

I don't like the phrase "normalizing brokenness"; I'd rather say "let's admit that we're all broken," mainly because "normalize" has at least two definitions I don't see in the dictionary. The Apple dictionary program (1.0.2) for example has:
1 [ trans. ] bring or return to a normal condition or state: Vietnam and China agreed to normalize diplomatic relations in 1991 | [ intrans. ] the situation had normalized.
Definition #2 wasn't applicable; it has to do with math or computer science. A web search for "normalize" yields similar results.

But a web search on "normalize violence" (with or without the quotes) shows the word used to mean something more like "establish as normal"—i.e., normative. Consider what "norm of behavior" means, or "normative economics" or "normative ethics" for that matter. Here's Apple's dictionary on "normative:"

adjective formal
establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm, esp. of behavior : negative sanctions to enforce normative behavior.
This aspect of establishing a norm (or standard) also appears in online dictionaries: has "prescribing norms <normative rules of ethics> <normative grammar>" as definition #3; has "tending or attempting to establish such a norm, especially by the prescription of rules: normative grammar." as #2.

Normative grammar tells us how we ought to speak and write; normative ethics tells us how we ought to behave; if violence is normative, that's saying violence is OK—which it's not.

Rather than normalizing violence, I'd much rather that we normalize generosity, honesty, self-control, patience, kindness, and compassion. Let's promote those things as standards that we aspire to.

When people talk about normalizing brokenness, I don't think they're saying "let's promote brokenness as a standard or norm that we aspire to"; I think they're saying "let's all admit that brokenness is normal in the sense of average, as universal -- i.e., that we're all broken." We don't aspire to brokenness, any more than we aspire to flatulence when we eat beans, though normal it may be for beans to produce it.

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