Broken and Vulnerable

“Broken and Vulnerable,” © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2016 Lynn Abbott

Perhaps, it’s just me.  But frequently when life knocks the wind out of me, someone or other shows up–ready and willing to take me “out.”

This world just seems to work that way. Have you noticed? When we are broken, we are vulnerable.

If you have grieved over any kind of loss, you understand broken fences.

Sometimes an image says it all.

People often ask me, “Where do you find inspiration for a painting?”  And the answer to that is varied.  It depends.

Yet, often, even a landscape painting reflects something of my thoughts at the time…

One day, in search of artistic inspiration, I wandered a favorite local haunt with camera in hand.  A historic site, the estate is open to the public.

At the edge of the property, I spied a broken fence. It particularly spoke to me because I had recently experienced loss…

In truth, brokenness characterizes so much of our lives in this imperfect world.

And just as in the case of the meadow beyond the fence, my life seemed overrun by wild animals.

When the ship goes down, sharks circle the lifeboat.

Yup. The enemy prowls, and attempts to pick off the weak.  You can count on it.  It’s his modus operendi.

As you and I have already noted, Job is a prime example of someone who faced the sharks when he was down and out.  Yet, our grief isn’t usually caused by loss as dramatic as Job’s.

Heartbreak like Job’s doesn’t frequently avalanche us.  After all, most of us don’t lose everything we hold dear in just a matter of a few hours.

Generally, grief builds over time.  Sometimes, it begins with something as simple as a single, broken dream.

And you and I say a hearty amen when Solomon writes, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and “The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, But a broken spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 13:12; Proverbs 18:14).

Yes,  disappointed dreams erode our spirit and undermine hope…

People let us down. Marriages and families fall apart.

Perhaps, you have been laid off.  Your employer waved, “goodbye!”

You long to marry; you long for a child.  Your dreams remain out of reach.

You look for healing.  You hope for success.

You dream for your children. However, instead of applauding their happily-ever-afters, you watch them struggle. You grieve over every hurt.

And then, when you feel you can bear no more,  you face the wild animals–the snarling and snapping, accusing and belittling.  The interlopers are bearers of bad news and the champions of the “gloat.”

You fear you will be torn apart.

I think Hannah must have felt that way.  Scripture tells us in the first chapter of I Samuel that she longed for a child.  But no child came.  In ancient Israel, there were no fertility clinics and adoption probably existed only within extended families.

To make matter worse, the inability to bear a child carried a terrible stigma.  Children represented God’s favor.

As a result, Hannah would have been judged harshly by the other women in her neighborhood.  But the belittling didn’t stop there.

You see, Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah.  I think Peninnah may have been jealous of Hannah because I Samuel 1:5 tells us that Hannah was the beloved.

Hannah’s broken dream, however, made her vulnerable.  Predictably, Peninnah circled her rival.  She taunted Hannah because Hannah was barren.

With the hope of raising herself in Elkanah’s eyes, Peninnah crushed Hannah’s spirit.

Apparently, the bullying went on year after year.  I’m sure that as the heartbreak continued and even grew over time that Hannah felt she could not bear it.

Even her loving husband did not seem to understand.  In response to her ongoing grief, he said, “‘Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad?  Am I not better to you than ten sons?'”

The path of grief can be a lonely one.  Even those closest to us may not fully comprehend our pain.

As Antoine de Saint Exupery wrote in his classic, The Little Prince, “It’s such a secret place, the land of tears.”

I suspect that because Hannah bore her pain alone that heartbreak threatened to overwhelm her. Broken and vulnerable:  that is exactly the state in which Eli the priest found her.

Year after year, Hannah had prayed in the temple.  However, her heartache increased as the years passed; emotionally spent, she crumbled before God.

In desperate distress, she wept. Carefully crafted prayers abandoned. Instead, her heart bled raw emotion.

Perhaps, you’ve been there, too.

Maybe,  you have been so broken that all you could was run into Abba’s arms and weep.   I have been in such a place.

Sometimes there are just no words.

When my heart breaks, the words of Paul resonate deeply, “…in the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,” (Romans 8:26).

Hannah experienced this intimate communion with God first hand.  In fact, Hannah inaudibly breathed her prayer. Her lips moved; yet, she made no sound.

As a result, when Eli, the priest, observed her, he thought she was drunk. Such was the depth of Hannah’s agony and grief.

Eli confronted Hannah, and his misunderstanding brought her further dismay.

She begged for grace: “Do not consider you maidservant as a worthless woman; for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation,” (I Samuel 1:16).

In that moment, Eli recognized not only her grief but also her heart for God.  And Eli, a priest who personally understood God’s grace and mercy, spoke kindly to Hannah.

And then, God gave.

Not only did Eli speak words of blessing, not only did Hannah find peace, but God also granted her heart’s desire, (Psalm 37: 4,5).

Hannah bore a child whom she named Samuel. And Samuel became Israel’s prophet and he later crowned David.  God supplied her dream and so much more.

Without a doubt, God cares about every aspect of our lives.

When sharks circle, He draws near to His child.

When hearts break, Abba longs to comfort.

No matter how small, no matter how insignificant we believe our pain to be, our tears are precious to our Father (Psalm 56:8).

And there is grace. Always grace.

It may not come immediately.  Sometimes, we find ourselves praying year after year.

Nevertheless, we can depend on Abba.

He hears. He knows. He loves.  And He ultimately provides.

The days may appear dark but Abba will never forsake His child (Hebrews 13:5b).

Indeed, Psalm 34:18 promises, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

You and I don’t have to “do.”  It isn’t a matter of bearing up under one’s grief.  Abba not only knows our hearts, but He loves us perfectly.  His love and grace cover everything in our lives, and so, as John writes in his first epistle, “perfect love casts out fear,” (I John 4:18).

What a relief that is!

I don’t have to put on a brave face. I don’t have to hide my weaknesses.  I can be completely transparent with my heavenly Father.  He loves me like no other.

For this reason, I know I don’t face the wild animals on my own.  In fact, because my heavenly Father is near, the enemy’s snarling and snapping mean nothing.

God is in control. His light breaks through even in the darkest and murkiest places.

After all, our heavenly Father is in the business of mending fences.

Thus, when we are broken and vulnerable, we are invited to run into His presence and weep, knowing that our gracious Abba will listen with love and compassion.

And He is willing and able to do “exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think,” (Ephesians 3:20).

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” ~Matthew 5:4

“Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken,” ~ Psalm 55:22

“The LORD sustains all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down…The LORD is righteous in all His ways, And kind in all His deeds.  The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.  He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them,” ~ Psalm 145:14, 17-19