In his thought provoking book, The Last Word and the Word After That, Brian McLaren tells the story of a concert pianist living during the Nazi take-over of much of Europe. Being Jewish, this man was arrested and during interrogations, he was tortured, with one hand being broken in six places and the other in seventeen. Though exposed to the unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust, this man survived and lived to a ripe age. However, because he had never received the necessary medical attention, his hands had not healed properly and he was never able to reproduce the sounds that once brought joy to many in his earlier years.
After his release, when he heard piano music, he would bite his lip and tears would run down his face as he rubbed his deformed hands together in frustration. Despite his anguish, however, the pianist vowed that he would not be dissuaded entirely from his calling, so he became a teacher of young students. He wanted to instill in his protégés a capacity to not only play the piano expertly but to immerse themselves passionately into their efforts, letting their fingers be guided by a sheer love for the beauty of the classics. Though his hands were mangled, his heart more than made up for his deficiencies. He would tell his students his personal story and beg them to feel the music and play it from the heart.
Years ago I became acquainted with a minister who had been divorced and because of his failed marriage he was forced to look for work outside the church. Prone to deep introspection, this man agonized over his contributions to the marital break-up, and his musings prompted him to seek formal education in marriage and family counseling. Eventually he developed a ministry designed to aid couples who were struggling to keep their marriages intact. He developed a workbook and led many weekend marriage enrichment retreats. Though it was impossible to keep count of the marriages that were saved because of his initiatives, it would be safe to say that many had been richly blessed by him.
This man confided in me that he repeatedly encountered one primary problem as he would speak with other ministers about referring couples to his retreats. “Over and over,” he said to me, “I was told that I had lost credibility because I was divorced. Many could not accept the possibility that I actually had more to say about marriage because of my own relationship collapse. They seemed fearful to place trust in someone who did not have a pristine resume. When I explained that it was my very brokenness that had made me effective in my work, some would believe me while others could not.”
Through my years in the counseling profession, I have realized that my own education and growth is never completed, meaning that it is wise for me to listen to others who share insights about a wide array of topics. I try not to focus only on authors or speakers whose ideas are tightly aligned with my own, but I am willing to contemplate the notions of those whose bent is quite different. That way, my thoughts tend not to be stale and, if nothing else, I stay updated on the wide range of information that is being spread to the masses.
As I hone in on the thinkers whose ideas I ponder most carefully, I am drawn not toward those who have perfect professional resumes, but instead I tend to pay more attention to those whom I know have experienced pain or setbacks. I have concluded that while one”s intellect can be strengthened by reading good books and listening to provocative lectures, it is only after personally encountering sorrow and uncertainty that wisdom is developed. I have also concluded that the change process is primarily driven not by great ideas but by heartfelt introspections. Show me someone who has struggled to find the pathways toward love, grace, beauty, encouragement, and peace, and I will show you one whose knowledge transcends that of mere intellectual advancement.
The pianist with broken hands inevitably became a finer teacher because his heartache compelled him to instill something more into his students than a mastery of the technical dimensions of music. The divorced minister was surely a better counselor because his willingness to delve into his own failings enabled him to understand that it was not enough to provide couples with a formulaic approach to personal growth. He emphasized traits like deep honesty, humility, and servitude.
I must admit that my own ego does not easily allow me to publicly acknowledge just how broken I have felt, but when I remind myself that brokenness tends to put a person on the most direct road to healing, I smile as I realize that I can speak as an insider with those who are most in need of true encouragement. Like the concert pianist and the divorced minister, my life may not have taken the direction I would have chosen, but my positive influence certainly does not have to draw to a close, no matter what the detractors might suggest.
I am learning that brokenness is not only not fatal, but it can deepen the heart”s resolve to love.