I hate fasting. And when I say I hate fasting, I don’t mean it in the same sense that you might describe a discipline like running, where you know that it might be painful and the motivation hard to muster, but the endorphins and the self esteem booster will be worth it in the end. No, fasting is not like that for me. Which is why I was somewhat unfortunate to find myself taking part in a required, full, three-day fast: no food, no communicating with other people, and just my Bible, notebook, a pen, a water bottle to keep me company . . . and the ever-present desire to go to sleep. But it was in this, to be perfectly honest, miserable state, sitting in a cold stairwell, that I actually began to take this physical experience and learn something more spiritually transcendent.
I learned about brokenness.
Hmmm. That word can evoke many different meanings for us. It can almost be a sense of comfort for those who have experienced its beauty. It can mean dread or bitterness for others who have heard it said one too many times at women’s conferences or have never encountered it in a redemptive way. For me, this brokenness experience didn’t come from bearing my soul at an altar or weeping over deep, dark sin. I was fasting after all, and emotions took a little bit too much energy to muster for this introverted girl. Instead, I found meaning in it through the life of someone else, in the Biblical account of blind Bartimaeus, and have since learned to incorporate it in my own life.
For those of you not readily able to recall this story, Mark 10:45-52 describes a scene in which Jesus and his disciples enter Jericho and are greeted by “a great multitude.” Amongst the crowd sits a blind man by the name of Bartimaeus, who cries out to Jesus despite the people’s attempts to silence him. Jesus responds in true Jesus fashion and heals him. And instead of going on his merry way, Bartimaeus proceeds to follow Jesus.
Let’s dive in a little bit more.
Here we have Bartimaeus, who was blind since birth, begging on the side of the road. Imagine the way we view modern day beggars. They are poor, ragged, often considered “beneath” the middle and upper classes. His existence seems to fully epitomize what we might call desperate. So along comes this man Jesus, and when Bartimaeus hears who it is, he cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is not a meager prayer hesitantly offered to a distant God. It is a plea for help. It is his recognition of his own pitiful and helpless state and the need for physical salvation.
And what astounds me is that the crowd attempted to quiet him. I may be a bit cowardly, but if an entire mob attempted to shut me up, I would not be inclined to argue. But instead of shrinking back in fear and humiliation, it actually causes him to cry out even more. And when his attempts finally prevail and Jesus responds, he does not casually saunter over to Jesus, but instead he “throw[s] aside his garment,” and receives healing.
I don’t think I could conjure up a more desperate and broken situation. Bartimaeus knew his condition, and he probably knew what his future would bring. He knew the power of Jesus. He had heard the testimonies, and nothing – not popular opinion, nor the overwhelming attempts of the masses – could keep him from crying out all the louder for the one person who could, and who just might be willing to, save him.
I am struck by this posture Bartimaeus had before Jesus. It is that of humility and brokenness, and the same posture that we ought to have daily before God. Our lives might not usually consist of such tragic circumstances, but that does not mean they don’t necessitate the same dependence, healing and restoration that are only brought by brokenness before the Lord. It is dwelling in this state that causes us to forsake all, to cry out, defy our distractions, to throw off all that hinders, if you will, and chase the one and only thing that can truly bring redemption and salvation.
Brokenness places us in our rightful state of humility and puts on the throne who truly belongs there: the One with the power, the grace, the mercy, the love and the willingness to restore all things, the small and the big, to Himself.
Brokenness is not merely tears. It is not just grief, or giving up. Nor is it merely standing in church with outstretched hands during worship. It is not a word to describe the “spiritual” or emotional Christian. And it doesn’t mean that we are crippled, forever walking in a mournful or weakened state. Rather, it is the very key to strength and healing, the kind that comes from an almighty God working on our behalf as we surrender our own feeble attempts.
What followed Bartimaeus’ miraculous healing was gratitude. He recognized the power and love of his healer and did not desire to be away from his savior. He continued to follow him on the road.
This state of brokenness doesn’t have to be a show; no long journal entries need to be written as a result. It should be a daily positioning of our lives before God, of recognizing His power, His might, and our desperate need for His continuous grace and mercy. His example might be extreme, but the plight and response of Bartimaeus serves to demonstrate the beauty and power of a broken spirit before a good God.
It was in a place of physical deprivation that I discovered the value of emptying myself, and found rest and comfort in the process of doing so.
He is the potter, we are the clay. We are broken vessels poured out as a fragrant offering.