There are few times in our lives when we can look back and declare, “At that moment, right there, I was broken, and it changed everything.” I remember such a moment, one that sent me on a journey I continue to navigate seventeen years later, one filled with death and sorrow, pain and loss, joy and hope.
It started the day a former coworker stood in front of our church staff asking for forgiveness for a sin he’d committed. He humbly shared his brokenness and how God brought wholeness through the previous twelve months.
As he shared, I glimpsed joy in his story, joy born from sorrow and pain. The depth of his relationship with God emanated through his tears as he described the excruciating work he’d done during that time, yet how God graciously met him in those moments and revealed Himself in tender ways.
“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God”
(Psalm 51:17, New Living Translation).
A dangerous prayer
I bore witness to a genuine relationship with the Creator of the universe birthed from a broken heart that day. As I considered what he experienced, I peered into my own relationship with God and found it wanting. Not that I didn’t believe. I did. I’d followed Jesus since I was a child, reaffirmed as a young adult. I was on staff as a children’s ministries leader, but I wanted what he had—deeper intimacy, trust, and joy.
So I prayed what I see now as a rather dangerous prayer. I told God how I longed to be closer to him. Then I gave him permission to do whatever he needed to draw me near, even to the point of breaking. I went home to my husband and four children that night, oblivious of what was about to unfold.
The next morning, my house caught on fire as my youngest daughter and her daddy lay inside. God began to answer my prayer by exposing me to my worst nightmare and revealing that he is bigger than anything I might face or fear.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”
(James 1:2-4, NLT).
Clinging to God
Minutes after arriving home to find my house ablaze, I fell to my knees in prayer. I knew God. I knew he was powerful beyond imagination. I knew he had the power to save, to rescue my little girl, and give me what I needed to survive what unfolded before me. I prayed on my frozen driveway that Wednesday morning, begging God to find my sweet Emma.
She was found, just not in time to allow her to stay with me here on earth. My precious little girl, my sweet Emma, died from that fire. My heart shattered into a million pieces. I was broken.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”
(Psalm 34:18, New International Version).
Later, I walked the halls of the hospital with my mom, trying to process, pray, and navigate the swirl of emotions that threatened to overwhelm me. As we walked, I made a choice. I declared that no matter what would happen, whether she lived or died, I would trust God. No matter what.
I declared that trust again as the doctor told me she did not survive her injuries. And again during her Celebration of Life service in front of hundreds of people. I declared it again as her precious little casket was lowered into the ground. I continued to declare that God was trustworthy, that he would give me the power to trust, no matter how difficult life became, how broken I’d become.
“Make me to hear joy and gladness; Let the bones which You have broken rejoice”
(Psalm 51:8, New American Standard Bible, 1995).
Broken wide open, I sought God’s comfort, clung to truth from his Word, and begged to be made whole. Slowly, bit by bit, God gathered those broken pieces and started something new. Like the disciples, as I journeyed with him, he revealed new insights about his kingdom and my place in it. He opened my eyes to truths about his character and his goodness, and revealed how much higher his ways are compared to mine. He orchestrated beauty from ashes in ways I may never comprehend.
“We’re depending on God; he’s everything we need. What’s more, our hearts brim with joy
since we’ve taken for our own his holy name.
Love us, God, with all you’ve got—that’s what we’re depending on”
(Psalm 33:20-22, The Message).
At times I felt I’d never be whole. If I were completely honest, those feelings still visit me today. But God, in his sovereignty, longed to provide something deeper and more lasting than my mere happiness. God longed to make me whole.
Wholeness through brokenness
How does that happen? Through the brokenness and suffering of his Son, Jesus Christ.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed”
(Isaiah 53:4-5, NIV).
Some may think God is not loving when he allows us to be broken. But as I consider the work of the Cross, the truth of what Jesus endured to bring healing and reconciliation bears witness to a depth of love that is higher and wider and longer than I can ever imagine.
That moment I stood on my driveway as my house burned changed my life in ways few others ever will. But I realize the real breaking began the moment I chose to pray, giving God permission—or rather submitting to his plan for my life—even one that involved the shattering of my heart and soul. This plan challenged me to shift my gaze from those broken pieces to the One who heals and restores.
These past seventeen years have not been easy, but I can tell you this: God heard and answered the longing of my heart to draw nearer to his that day in 2005. Yes, he allowed me to experience a devastation so severe that it threatened to crush me. But, like the Psalmist, I cried out to God and he answered me. I sought him and he met me in the pit of despair. His goodness shone brighter in the darkness. He indeed brought me closer, cultivating a wholeness born from a broken heart.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. H
e put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God”
(Psalm 40:1-3, NIV).