In the small groups that I lead, I sometimes do a night of “Boundary Breaker” questions. Some of the questions are light, such as, “What’s your favorite TV show?” Others are not. A question we always ask is, “When is a day you died a little?” This question usually goes deep since we all can recall a time we suffered a broken heart. I have heard women talk about being date raped. Others have confessed having an abortion. Guys have shared the day their fathers introduced them to pornography. Here is mine.
When I was about to turn eight years old, I lived in New Jersey with my parents and little sister. I was excited because we invited a bunch of kids to come over for my birthday. The night before my big party, in the middle of the night, I felt a hand on my shoulder. My dad was shaking me awake. “C’mon, we’re moving.” I didn’t understand. “What Why?” He wasn’t taking time to explain. “We’ve gotta move. Now. C’mon!”
My father was an angry man. He was abusive to my mother and me. Living with him was a nightmare. Living with him was also a tornado. There was always someone who wanted to arrest him or kill him, and so we were constantly on the run. So, we quickly loaded up a truck in the middle of the night and left for Florida. I didn’t care why. I cared about my birthday party and all the kids who would show up and find an empty house.
A Broken Heart
My father and I drove his truck down to Florida. My mother and sister took our car but stopped on the way to visit family, so my dad and I got there first. We went out to dinner, where my dad met this lady. They talked and talked, but I didn’t think anything of it.
Later we went to a hotel room. I was still sad about the party and was missing my mom and sister. My one consolation was that it’s cool to stay in a hotel room with your dad. But then my father told me he was going out for the night. He said not to worry. He would lock the door behind him. I shouldn’t open it for anyone. And he left.
There I was, the day after my eighth birthday, alone in a hotel room. I tried to sleep but was too afraid. Neon fingered its way through the slats of the plastic blinds, giving the place an ominous purple glow.
Occasionally I would steal a look out the window, hoping I’d see my father returning, but at the same time hoping he never would. Maybe he wouldn’t. He had disappeared for weeks at one point in the past. What would I do? I didn’t have money. Did my mother know where I was? I tried to sleep again, but my brain would not shut down. I kept thinking about losing all my friends back in New Jersey, and what would the kids be like in Florida, and how could my father leave me here?
A Broken Spirit
All these questions filled my young mind, and then I saw the ashtray. It had been sitting on the table the whole time, but I hadn’t noticed it. I pushed down the blanket, jumped down from the bed, picked up the ashtray, carried it to the bathroom, broke it in the tub, took a shard of glass, and tried to slit my wrist.
I wasn’t successful.
Then I freaked out. I felt an insane fear that my father would discover what I had done and beat the crap out of me. So I crawled around the bathroom, frantically picking up all the pieces of glass and flushing them down the toilet. But I still spent the rest of the night obsessing over the fear that my father would notice the ashtray was missing. In hindsight, this made no sense because my father didn’t smoke, but nothing made sense to me anymore.
The only thing that made sense was my pain.
Back in bed, I thought, “I don’t ever want to feel this way again. I would rather not feel anything than having to feel this way. I’d rather be dead than have to experience this.” And I made a vow never to care about anything. I would not get close to friends. I would not trust my parents. I would not let anyone hurt me.
I died a little that day.
About ten years later I received a CD boom box as a graduation present. At that time, CD’s were new and all the rage, so I thought a CD player made me the coolest guy since the person who invented sliced water chestnuts. That CD player moved with me from dorm room to dorm room, from college to college, from apartment to house. Somewhere along the way, the antennae broke off, which didn’t seem like a big deal at the time because it still played CDs.
However, there are times when I want to listen to the radio. Days when I want to put on my favorite station and hear the music. But I can’t. All I get is static.
Similar to the evening in that hotel room when I decided to disconnect from those around me, I broke my antennae. Because I never experienced healing, I stayed broken. Jesus said the most important thing is to love God and love people. But I almost became incapable of giving or receiving love.
C.S. Lewis said that to love is to be vulnerable. That night in the hotel room, I decided vulnerable is the one thing I would not be. And there were times over the years when I’ve wanted to love and be loved when I wanted to connect deeply with another person, wanted to care, wanted to cry, wanted to feel pain, but I couldn’t hear the music. I was broken. All I got was static.
A Broken World
Do you recall a day when you died a little? Maybe it was:
- A friend who didn’t turn out to be what she seemed.
- A spouse who took vows that you thought would last forever.
- A co-worker who broke your trust you trusted, but he broke that trust by taking credit for your work or stealing an account that should have been yours.
- A parent who wasn’t there for you, or abused you or just wasn’t there for you.
- A boyfriend who said, “I love you” but didn’t mean it; he was just trying to get something from you.
We need to be honest with ourselves. Brokenness isn’t just something done to us; it’s also something we do to us. We’ve all sinned in ways that have messed us up. We hurt others. We live in the shame of it. We become calloused to what we’ve done, to our capacity to harm others. We are broken and living in a broken world.
It seems life has a way of breaking us down eventually, but God will always put us back together. God can heal a broken spirit, but you have to give him all the pieces. He longs to restore us regardless of how many times we mess-up or fall apart. Instead of just learning to live with our brokenness, we need to give it to him to fix.
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