Confession #5 – The Strange Gift of Dysfunction

I grew up in a good home. I absolutely love my family. But we had our share of dysfunction at times. Conflict avoidance. Difficulty expressing deeper thoughts or emotions. Unspoken tension and disagreements. Relational distance.

Church life also had its problems. What should have been a place of mutual acceptance, honest exhortation, vulnerable humility, and practiced forgiveness was often a place of superficiality, feigned spirituality, offended sensibilities, and an inability to model the love of Christ. Watching a church argue and split over minor issues and personality clashes impacted my young faith. Seeing abuse in a church…which was subsequently ignored and swept under the rug…still causes me to wonder, “How in the world could a church let that happen? And what in the world were they thinking when they chose to act like it never happened?”

Looking back, the mistakes, failures, and sins seem obvious…avoidable…correctable.

But then I realize I am guilty of my own share of mistakes, failures, and sins.

Here is a revelation that is hard to deny.

We all suffer from the dysfunction of our past. And we all contribute to the dysfunction of our present.

The wounds that we have received are real…and often deep. But the wounds we create…often in our own woundedness or self-righteous sense of justified anger…can often be as real and deep to others.

I am reminded of the words of Miroslav Volf in his excellent book, Exclusion and Embrace, which revisits his own experience in the Croatian-Serbian War:

To break the world cleanly into victims and violators ignores the depths of each person’s participation in cultural sin. There simply are no innocents.

If victims do not repent today they will become perpetrators tomorrow who, in self-deceit, will seek to exculpate their misdeeds on account of their own victimization.

As I look back on my own past, I see much to be thankful for…and much to lament. I wish some parts were different. I wish I could rewrite the script on many experiences. I wish I could get past many of the fears, anxieties, and thought patterns that I developed as a child.

But in another way…in a strange way…in an almost paradoxical way…I am thankful for the dysfunction.

I am thankful that I can see it as dysfunction. It motivates me to change.

I am also thankful that it opened me up to explore my heart….to ask deeper questions…to see my own brokenness…to seek help…and to develop a sensitivity to others with similar wounds and pains.

We are all broken people…not functioning as we ought…learning to grow…needing grace…waiting for full redemption.

Isn’t it a gift to realize that?

David, after the biggest failure and sin in his own life, wrote a heart-wrenching, honest confession in Psalm 51. I have always been fascinated by verses 5-6.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

David wants us to stop and “behold” two truths.

One, we are all dysfunctional, selfish, sinful from the moment we are born. We can blame our environment, family, upbringing, church, culture, or even God….but in the end our own hearts have a problem that we cannot fix…and our own thoughts, words, and actions contribute to the messes that we often find ourselves in. Denial, blameshifting, bitterness, and self-righteousness only add to the mess and the pain…and keep us from finding wholeness and healing.

Two, God desires us to be honest with ourselves. Self-confrontation and humble confession are…quite simply…powerful. They remove the illusions of invincibility and the masks of perfection and bring us face-to-face with our own weaknesses and failures. From here we are finally in a position to receive grace and extend grace.

But there is a second part to the equation. Not only does God desire honesty in our “inward parts” but He also gives us insight and wisdom into the “hidden part.” Perhaps this is just Hebrew poetry repeating the same principle. But I tend to see something deeper here…more profound…more revealing.

In each of us there is an “inward part,” the part that we are aware of but that we often hide from others. Being honest here is the first step toward vulnerability and authenticity.

But in each of us there is also a “hidden part,” the part of us that even we do not understand. Like an iceberg, there is a whole mass of hidden motivations, wounds, hurts, offenses, thought patterns, idols that lie deep within our hearts. Behind our anger, anxiety, and depression is often something that we simply cannot see. Ironically even the most self-aware person isn’t aware of all their self.

It is here…in these hidden areas…that God grants wisdom…as we learn to submit to Him and listen for His still, small voice.

And it is here that true healing needs to take place.

And what motivates us to seek this healing?

Difficulty. Pain. Relational conflict. Panic attacks. Wounds. Hurts. Hitting a wall. Even hitting rock bottom.

Unless the pain of where you are is greater than the pain of facing yourself and seeking change, then you will probably never change.

Here is where dysfunction becomes a gift.

It is the pain that motivates you toward healing.

It is the brokenness that leads you toward wholeness.

It is the darkness that points you toward the Light.

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)

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