As I’ve reflected on the school year and its many blessings, God has brought me back time and time again to this Christian idea of brokenness before the Lord. Ann Voskamp notes that the key to life is “not about growing tough enough to take what life throws at you; it’s about staying open enough to all of life to simply receive it…to thrive, you must surrender control and trust One who is in control, though you will be taken beyond what you can control and into a brokenness that will hurt and yet be kind. A painful grace.”
This “painful grace,” is the school of brokenness, and it’s one in which all God’s people are enrolled-not because they choose to be, but because all the really great stuff He has for us are found there. It’s the process of being wrung out, through hardship, pain, and toil, of misunderstanding and being misunderstood. And, in my experience, no one is really ever much good to anyone else without it.
Brokenness builds strength. Once, when I was skiing in college, I tried one of those college boy ski tricks that seemed like a good idea at the time, but resulted in a broken collarbone. When my collarbone healed, even though it was knotted and irregular, it grew back stronger than before. Being broken by life is like that: scarred, yet also strong. The strength that lies not in being hard but brittle, however, but in being flexible and yet resilient.
As we’ve walked with our teachers and leadership team through COVID and the million decisions and challenges it brought this year, it was the dozens of more minor, yet nonetheless painful challenges we’ve walked through together in the past that have given us all the strength to keep moving forward through this one, to not throw in the towel and start running for other jobs.
Brokenness also builds the ability to promote flourishing in others. When Christ was in the upper room the night before His death, He took bread and broke it, and gave it to His disciples. He said, “this is my body which is given for you.” (Luke 19). Before we can give of ourselves to others, we must be broken. In some mystical way we don’t fully understand, brokenness aligns us with Christ in a manner that allows us to be fully intimate with Him and, therefore, with others. Brokenness allows us to enter into the suffering of others, creating empathy and compassion for them in a way that’s impossible without it.
Have you ever been a friend with someone who has lived a life of humble brokenness and submission to the Lord? Who has had a hard road, and yet exudes grace and love? That friend is a precious gift who draws others to Him.
It was humility and submission to the Lord, borne in brokenness, that allowed our teachers to step back into school this year. It’s hard for us to look back now and remember what it was like going into the school year- the climate of fear and concern, even here in East Texas.
Schools around the country were talking about not opening, even here. Counties in Texas were ordering schools to close. There was a great current of fear created by this disease that none of us really understood.
The media was warning that schools would be big spreaders, and we didn’t know what impact COVID would have on us. But our teachers knew how important it was to be face-to-face with their kids, pouring into their lives, because teaching is discipleship, and discipleship is life-on-life. This was their ministry, their calling. And, so, our teachers did what Christians have been doing in the midst of pandemics for 2000 years- stepping into the gap and serving each other and the world around them, as an act of love and worship. Doing what loving lavishly called them to do.
Finally, brokenness brings a deep sense of gratefulness. I have watched other schools around our country and our world navigate this dark and difficult year, through COVID, racial tensions, political division, and all the other things we walked through as a nation. I’ve seen and visited with my peers in schools around the country about the impact being closed or in virtual learning has had on them. I realize that, to have been open and to have had an amazing school year- a year of being together, of learning together, of having Christmas and fall and spring concerts, and musicals, and of never having to cancel our many, many athletic events this year because of illness on our teams–all of these things are a testimony to the indescribable goodness of God, working through a people who truly love each other, and who are dedicated to working together through challenging and fearful circumstances to do what’s best for our kids, to the glory of our God.
I know we all didn’t agree all the time. Some of you thought we were overreacting at times or underreacting at others. In many ways and at many times, you may have been correct. There was no playbook available to us for a situation like this one, and making the politically or even scientifically correct call was always less important than keeping our community intact, emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy, and together and engaged in this great work of discipling our kids in community. One of the beautiful things about living in community is loving each other through differences of opinion and perspectives, and realizing that the majors (the bond we have in Jesus) is way more important than politics, perspectives, or almost anything else.
As we end this school year, I am so deeply grateful for our families and teachers who worked together to create what was a paradoxically normal year for our kids. They, and, one day, the world around us, will be the beneficiaries of a great year of teaching Jesus and making disciples.
But, how will the events and brokenness we’ve endured change us forever, in good ways? It would be a complete waste of a perfectly good crisis if we were to walk away unbroken, unchanged, no better than we were before. How has God used this season to make you kinder, more gracious, more an enjoyer and giver of the abundant life He promises to His followers in Christ Jesus? We will walk from this broken and scarred, but will we be better?
Finally, as we move into the summer and new school year, and rejoin with our brothers and sisters in full, unfettered, un-distanced community, will we each re-engage completely, with all our hearts, souls, and minds? Do we remember how to love, to sacrifice, to lay out our lives as broken vessels for each other? When Christ prayed in the upper room the night before He was crucified, He prayed for unity among us. In fact, in that Luke 17 prayer, He staked His whole testimony before mankind on His people being unified, that by loving lavishly our community would give an account that He actually was who He claimed to be. Will we be those people again, loving each other with the love for which this school is known far and wide?
I pray the Lord will do His great work on us all this summer, and that we’ll emerge, broken, yet grateful, ready to love each other well.
Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.