Following Jesus

Broken But Blessed: Journeying from Pain to Peace with Unlikely Guides

April 13, 2018 by

Image of the author's new book

Two years ago, prompted by the appeals of patients I met as a hospice chaplain, I embarked on a series of blog posts centered around the Beatitudes in an effort to explore the timeless riddle of why a loving God – if such there be – allows his creatures to endure the agonizing vicissitudes of human existence. If you’ve been journeying along with me, you know some of the trials that have tested my mettle, and you’ve met folk I’ve journeyed with along the way.

Now as my finished book, Broken But Blessed: Journeying from Pain to Peace with Unlikely Guides, reaches publication, I find myself both enriched and refined. I have gleaned pearls of wisdom from those who shared their life’s experiences, while facing new challenges of my own that have forced me to re-evaluate life and examine the journey from a new vantage point.

I wish I could say that my questions were answered during this examination of the Beatitudes. But I discovered no tidy explanations of suffering, nor can I minimize its impact on human life. Repeatedly in my conversations, however, I encountered the strength of the human spirit, placed into us and nurtured by a loving God. When faced with tragedy, we can choose to respond with faith and fortitude, surrendering to the unseen hand which refines us, as in a fire, toward our ultimate good. Like pliable clay in a potter’s hand, we must be molded, worked, formed and re-formed, having all that is not part of the final masterpiece chipped away. And trusting that, while hidden to us, our destiny is clearly imprinted in the heart of God.

One day we will look back at our lives with clear eyes, understanding the fullness of God’s wisdom. The apostle Paul encourages us that when that day comes we will “know fully, even as we have been fully known” (1 Cor. 12). For the time being, however, our sight is limited by the boundaries of our human existence. This requires us to go through life without all our questions answered, holding the hand of the unseen in whom we must place our trust.

We can take comfort in the knowledge that God sent Jesus to reveal his love in human form, entering our human frailty not only to understand it but to overcome it.

Scripture suggests that God uses suffering as a means of pruning us toward greater fruitfulness. In the letter to the Hebrews, Paul declares:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12: 7–11).

Reflecting on Christ’s passion and resurrection this Eastertide, I recalled a passage from Thomas Merton, who admonished that “the Christian must not only accept suffering; he must make it holy.” Suffering, he says, is consecrated to God by faith; not in suffering, but in God himself. “To believe in suffering is pride: but to suffer, believing in God, is humility. The death of Jesus on the cross has an infinite meaning and value not because it is a death, but because it is the death of the Son of God…. Nor would we worship [his wounds] if he had merely died of them, without rising again.”

One day we will look back at our lives with clear eyes, understanding the fullness of God’s wisdom.

The Beatitudes specifically bless those broken in the business of living, and Merton has helped me understand this mystery: “It is of the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.”

Throughout Lent and the Passion Week, believers around the world remembered his suffering. But we must now also proclaim the victory of his resurrection, evident not only in the victory over our own sufferings but in the victory he gives to the poor, the broken, and those who mourn.

I am now back in the United Kingdom where I have resumed my previous work of hospice chaplaincy. I return more broken than ever by the fallen state of our world and its suffering millions, yet also more blessed by a deeper awareness of the eternal power of love that rises, triumphant, from the ashes.

Request copies of Broken But Blessed: Journeying from Pain to Peace with Unlikely Guides here.


About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • When I opened your article today and saw the cover of your book - the words 'Broken but Blessed' struck me in a new way. An image of Jesus at Emmaus came to mind. After walking and talking with him for hours along the road, the disciples only recognized the risen Jesus after he had broken their bread and blessed it. Did that story play a part in your choice of this title for your articles and your book?

    Joe Mckernan
  • Thank you for all the work and time you put into this incredible book. I can't wait to read it.