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Following Jesus

Broken But Blessed: Examining the Beatitudes

June 10, 2016 by

Yearning

“I feel like I have work to do to come clean. But I don’t know how to do it. Maybe it’s too painful and I’m scared. . .”

Sandy* sat with me on the front porch, tears streaming down her face. It was a beautiful day. Warm spring sun played lightly over the grass while finches chirped happily from nearby treetops. Nature’s charm ensconced us in a protective cocoon as our conversation traversed the contours of Sandy’s dysfunctional childhood. Sandy had read my story and wanted to talk; she called me up and came over to visit. I found her hurting – badly. But she wanted the peace I’d found. That’s not something you can just “give” someone, so I started by simply listening:

I was born in Yonkers, to Italian parents. My grandmother died giving birth to mom, so mom was raised by an older sister who resented her existence every day of her life. Because of this, mom never learned how to mother – she didn’t cuddle or show motherly affection. There was something missing that I needed. I cried out for love ­– and acted out. I lied. And stole. I wished I’d get caught – anything to get attention –but it went on and on.
My parents fought; there was screaming, yelling, and cursing. My father beat us with a belt. He loved to say that his kids would never amount to anything. If you’re fed that every day, you eventually start to believe it.
Dad kept a generous stash of porn magazines hidden in the basement. As a kid, I found them. I started to obsess about my appearance. I compared myself to others and was full of self-loathing. One day, I took one of dad’s porn spreads to school and gave it to a boy. I was caught by the principal and shamed in front of the school. Returning home that night, dad met me at the door and beat me with a strap. I was covered in welts for days. I didn’t dare tell him the picture came from his own magazine; that would only have evoked more wrath.
Two days later, dad chided me, “You are not my daughter; no daughter of mine would do a thing like that.”
I broke every commandment there is. I didn’t know any different. Nobody cared. But believe it or not, I wanted to preserve my virginity. I must have picked that up at Catholic school. But when your mom lets you date a twenty-one-year-old boy with a car and you’re a fifteen-year-old virgin, what do you expect? I was an insecure little girl, trying to get love any way I could. I fought sex for a long time because my virginity was the only thing I had left that was pure and good. But, eventually, the guys wore me down.

a painting of some roses and rose buds by Rebekah Domer

After that, there was no hope. I was disgraced in my own eyes. I became promiscuous. There were abortions. I hung out with people who could have killed me. Maybe I was looking for a way for it all to end. There were drugs – bad stuff. I just went down the wrong path.
My dad died of a massive heart attack at sixty-two. Mom followed five years later. So by twenty-eight I had lost both my parents.
Clinical depression set in for me, really deep. I met some nice guys who would have made good spouses, but, believing I was damaged goods, I turned them down and never married.
At the age of forty there was another pregnancy. I don’t know why, but I prayed on this pregnancy. I was older and at a different place in life. I asked God, “Is this something you want from me, to be a mother to this child?” I woke with the certainty that I was supposed to have this baby.

Sandy’s life was taking a turn for the better – or so she thought. Months later, her son Keith* was born. But something was wrong. Following her doctor’s instructions, Sandy had remained on antidepressants during the pregnancy. This, Sandy believes, is what caused Keith to be born with disabilities.

Keith is a very special boy – and not just because he’s mine. God’s been pursuing me all this time, and he’s given me this child whose purity and wisdom have been so healing to me. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt unconditional love in my life. Keith loves me for me and gives me a wholeness I’ve never had before.

Sandy will readily admit that she is broken, debased by years of pain and abuse. And yet, she yearns for what is pure and godly. Above all else, she longs to be free. Whole.

In the beatitudes, Jesus conferred blessings on the poor in spirit. Who among us are the truly poor in spirit? Could people like Sandy – whose lives are torn, jagged, and messy – be numbered among those called blessed by God?

The psalmist of Old Testament times declared that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). And again, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19).

Jesus himself knew agony of soul. He took on our humanity; all of it. He endured anguish and despair. And he understands.

We all crave wholeness and peace of heart. Desperate, we seek to move quickly through our trials to a “better place,” where life flows smoothly and pain recedes. But I sometimes wonder, is this the answer? Or might the blessing lie hidden in the ordeal itself?

I personally have found peace only in Jesus. I’ve tried running from trouble, assuaging my pain through work, travel and friendships. But this left me miserable. Frustrated. Disillusioned.

J.C. Ryle, the first bishop of Liverpool, pointed out that “happiness does not depend on outer circumstances, but on the state of the heart.” And Corrie ten Boom, survivor of the German concentration camps, maintained that “No place is safer than other places; the center of [God’s] will is our only safety.”

Solace, I believe, can be found only by uniting our suffering with that of Christ, who “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

In our darkest hours, when we find ourselves floundering in despair, Jesus appeals to each one of us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28–29) In him alone are we truly blessed.


*The names Sandy and Keith are pseudonyms.

Artwork by the author.


Check back in two weeks for my next post in this series.

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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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  • Hi Rebekah, Your recent blogs have been very stimulating and made me think afresh about this particular passage. I have always had a difficult relationship with the Beatitudes and it's only now that I think that I can see why. It is all about “making judgments”, and this from a point external to the situation/individual’s life. Many of the situations you have described cause an emotional/spiritual response within me because they are “places” that are horrendous/stressful/unimaginable when compared to my life. And that is the point ………. They are not my life. It is someone else’s experience. One of the things that I appreciate from the Buddhist perspective is the idea of being non-judgmental. From my tradition as a Christian there are demands that we should love/respect etc, and even to be non-judgmental, but then into the picture comes the whole ethics “thing” that demands we decide that this is “good/God (!)” and this is bad …. And by default the “doer” is in the same category. The same thing seems to happen with the beatitudes ………… why do we need a category, a “blessedness” when it may be meaningless to the person experiencing the trauma (who may not see themselves as blessed in any way at all) and just allows us (the spectator) off the hook somehow ‘cos we can put them in this category of being blessed by God? What exactly do we mean by blessedness? Is it just a useful box into which we can put people who are not receiving their “just desserts” on earth, and it makes us feel better to think that they are recognized by God so “that’s ok”? My feeling about the beatitudes is more that it was Jesus just turning the world on its head again. Just as in the gospel requirement to “love your enemy” etc ………….. so hard to do when applied to the Orlando killings or our own version this week (in UK) with the murder of the M.P. Jesus wants us to see (and respond to) the world from a different angle but that has nothing to do with the individuals concerned ………. It is all about our attitude/take on things. Peter

    Peter
  • Dear Rebekah. Your blogs are such wonderful, real and touching presentations; they will help many indeed. You give the details so openly and touchingly that many people can find their lives and experiences in them. The presentation is so detailed and especially the Name: "Broken but Blessed". After all Jesus is always there, waiting for us, finding such joy and wonder in helping all of us in need. You invite people of need, and you make it so clear and offer them consoling invitations to have courage and to be open. Your great Faith and suggestion that they go to Jesus is wonderful. Thanks for this wonderful account of a person's life due to circumstances in life and lack of care and love. Jesus loves such people who suffer so much. I can only thank the communities I have come into contact with and especially those who help such people by their communities. God bless you all. Thank you again...

    Johanna
  • Thank you for sharing. This passage reminded me of the simple fact we are all God's children. It calls to mind the story of the prodigal son. It is never too late for anyone. Most important, God is there to guide you and give you what you need. It may not come in the form you think you need or want. Everyone receives a blessing in some form or other when they turn to God.

    Rosalie Gambino
  • Rebekah each blog has been used by God to speak something new to me. I have recently returned from Morocco where people struggle with incredible poverty, Illiteracy, physical abuse from teachers and much chaos, I find myself struggling with it all it overwhelms me. I feel I harden myself to the problems just to survive. I just saw these people in a new light they are poor in spirit. I will see them through new eyes from now on Thank you xx

    Hannah Naatit
  • I like this.

    denis jackson
  • All three of the children (now adults) God has given us, have learning disabilities at some level. It's great enough to cause them to struggle with life. I often wonder why God sent me severely dyslexic children, two of which have traits of Aspergers syndrome. The joy of being with these children is their great vision, not being able to learn linearly they seek to understand laterally — they cannot get straight to the point, so they use images, colour, sound, sight, smell. As they travel through their minds, their vision of the world opens up views that others miss; we who have no trouble learning miss the mystery and the depth of life.

    Judith Meredith