Trade Your Brokenness for Wholeness
- 2007 12 Mar
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Kim Gaines Eckert's new book, Stronger than You Think: Becoming Whole Without Having to Be Perfect, (InterVarsity Press, 2007).
Do you feel like something is missing or flawed inside you or your relationships? Life in a fallen world can make you feel broken. But God can take the broken pieces of your life and use them to create something beautiful – a whole woman who is healthy and free.
Here’s how you can trade your brokenness for wholeness:
Look in the right place. Stop wasting time and energy looking for wholeness in the wrong places, such as through romance, motherhood, or a career. Realize that nothing and no one except God has the power to complete you as a person. Give up unrealistic expectations for others to meet needs that only God can meet for you. Rely on God alone for the healing and fulfillment you’re seeking, and know that you can always count on Him.
Embrace your true identity. Recognize that you have incredible worth because you’re one of God’s children, made in His image. Know that despite whatever critical comments you’ve heard about yourself from other people (parents, siblings, teachers, bosses, etc.), God loves you deeply and unconditionally. Understand that your value isn’t based on what you do or don’t do; it’s based on who you are as a person. Don’t calculate your worth on the basis of your appearance, job performance, success in a certain relationship, or anything other than your identity as God’s beloved child. Embrace the freedom that Christ offers you – to be forgiven and cherished, no matter what, and to express your gratitude by making healthy choices in life.
Learn to use your voice. Get to know the unique qualities that make you distinctive as a person, and don’t hesitate to express yourself to others with confidence. Ask God to show you who He has created you to be, and who He is calling you to become. Don’t live your life for other people; instead, seek to please God by discovering and fulfilling His purposes for your life, no matter what other people think. Express your opinions honestly, clearly, and directly, even when others think differently. Make your own choices rather than just going along with someone else to try to keep that person from disliking you. Say “no” to requests you can’t reasonably accommodate, and don’t feel guilty about doing so. When a friend or family member hurts you, don’t be afraid to let that person know. When you hurt someone, admit it and apologize. Don’t be shy about asking people for help whenever you need it. Start speaking your mind in small ways and build up the courage to do so in larger ways. Remember that when you’re open and honest with other people, you’re actually giving them a gift – insight into the real you.
Change the way you talk to yourself. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. If you tend to think that you should give up on yourself or other people when you or they make mistakes, realize that no person can be perfect and mistakes are bound to happen. Ask God to give you the compassion you need to be understanding and accepting. If you often become frustrated because people don’t live up to your standards of what you think they “should” do, ask yourself whether the standard they haven’t met is truly biblical, or simply a preference of yours. Keep your expectations of yourself and others realistic, and don’t punish people unnecessarily. Don’t make assumptions about what people are thinking; don’t come to conclusions without sound evidence. Instead of attempting to read people’s minds, get to know them well and ask questions. Don’t let “What if?” questions plague you; stop worrying about potential worst-case scenarios in the future. Instead, focus on the present and use your energy to work toward solutions for the problems you’re facing. If you catch yourself filtering out the positive aspects of situations and seeing just the negative parts, ask God to give you a holistic perspective. To change these and other unhealthy thought patterns: Stop yourself whenever an unhealthy thought enters your mind, and challenge it by evaluating its accuracy. Then reframe the thought so it reflects the reality of God’s love for you and the truths in His Word.
Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Stop pretending that you’re happy all the time; know that it’s okay to express anger, anxiety, and depression when you’re experiencing those feelings. Remember that God looks at your pain with compassion. Be honest with Him and other people about your real emotions. Acknowledge and accept all your feelings, including the ones wish you didn’t have. Understand that you can learn from your emotions. Pay attention to your painful feelings to discern what they’re telling you and how you can respond wisely. Ask God to use your painful emotions to help you grow as a person. Invite Him to teach you what He wants to teach you through them. If your emotions are interfering with your relationships or performance at work or in school, seek help from a pastor, counselor, or doctor to manage them better. When you get lost in your emotions, don’t try to escape them through alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or some other distraction. Instead, ground yourself in the present moment by making a point to notice what you’re experiencing with your senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, etc.), and look for how God is at work at that very moment in your life. Coach yourself toward healthier thinking patterns, and remind yourself of Scripture passages that reassure you. Make a chart of important events in your life and use it to remind yourself of how God has worked in your life so far. If you’re overwhelmed by your emotions throughout each day, contain them by scheduling brief, specific blocks of time to feel anger, anxiety, or depression, then stop doing so when the time is up. Record your feelings in a journal you can read and reflect on later. Engage in as many pleasant activities as you can each day. Get your mind off your own problems by reaching out to help other people through a service project. Do relaxation exercises like deep breathing.
Build healthy self-esteem. Ask God to help you view yourself as He sees you – as someone who is worthy of respect and love. Don’t believe the lie that you can never be good enough; recognize that God meets you wherever you are. Know that, thanks to Jesus’ work on the cross, there is no condemnation for those who trust Him. Don’t focus on your sins and weaknesses to the exclusion of the strengths and talents God has given you, and remember that Jesus has redeemed everything in your life. Embrace God’s grace and thank Him for it. Spend some time journaling to get to know yourself better. Write down a description of yourself that includes at least two neutral or positive attributes for every negative attribute you mention. List your interests and talents. Then plan to pursue your interests and use your talents regularly, as often as you can. Let go of trying to be perfect, and extend grace to yourself. Remember what you were like as a child and what messages you heard from others like your parents, teachers, siblings, and friends that hurt you. Consider what ways you internalized those messages, and how you may still be carrying them around. Pray for God to show you how you can begin to let them go. Meditate on God’s unfailing love for you, imagine what He might write in a love letter to you, and write that letter to yourself. Whenever you feel discouraged, read the letter to remind you that you can always rely on God’s love.
Develop a healthy body image. Ask God to help you see your body as He views it – a wonderful creation and a temple for the Holy Spirit that is worthy of respect. Don’t neglect or abuse your body through overeating, extreme dieting, avoiding exercise or exercising excessively, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, etc. Rather than focusing on your physical appearance, focus on what your body enables you to do (such as hike through the woods, eat delicious food, etc.) and thank God regularly for the gift of a functional body. Whenever a negative thought about your body comes into your mind, turn it into a positive thought (for example, instead of thinking about how much you dislike the shape or size of your legs, think about how much you appreciate their strength for supporting you so you can walk). Pay attention to your body’s natural signals to discern when you’re truly hungry and when you’re truly full. Then eat according to those signals rather than according to an arbitrary schedule. Wear clothes that fit you comfortably now, whether or not you lose the weight you hope to lose. Honor God with your body. Use your body to learn more about God, such as by fasting in order to focus more on prayer for a set time period. Instead of thinking of your body in terms of pieces (“My smile is nice, but my nose is too big.”), think of your body as a cohesive whole that is all good because God created it. Remember, too, that you are more than just a body – you’re a whole person with an embodied soul. Ask God to help you see and appreciate yourself in a holistic way.
Develop a healthy sexuality. If sex with your spouse is painful or unpleasant, seek help from a Christian therapist or resources like books and videos that you and your spouse can use together to openly discuss the issues. Remember that God intends sex between spouses to be a wonderful gift that both embrace and enjoy. Pursue healing for any sexual abuse you may have experienced in the past and work with your spouse to pursue healing together for any sexual sins that have damaged your marriage, such as adultery or an addiction to pornography. Confess and repent of any sexual sins in your life and ask God to regularly help you remain sexually pure. If you’re single, ask for His help to remain celibate as long as you continue to be single. Grieve the sexual losses you have experienced in your life, whether through broken relationships or any other ways. Educate yourself on what sexual techniques you and your spouse can use to enjoy this part of your marriage. Pray for God to help you relax and approach married sex with a spirit of joy and fun.
Grow healthy relationships. Think and pray about who you are as a person, and once you’re confident that you know yourself well, pray for the courage to share who you are with others. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, or avoid sharing your thoughts and feelings with other people. Be open and honest with others, knowing that the risk is always worthwhile. Intentionally work to build close, meaningful relationships with others. Allow other people to be who they are – who God created them to be – instead of who you would like them to be. Don’t try to make decisions for others, change them, fix them, or control their choices and opinions. Ask God to help you respect and value the unique people they already are. View other people’s talents as gifts to appreciate rather than as threats in competition with you. Ask God to give you confidence in yourself that can’t be shaken by other people. Take good care of your own needs so you won’t unrealistically depend on others to take care of you; make sure you get adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Practice seeing the good in all the people with whom you interact, and value all of your relationships (not just those with your family and close friends). Cultivate intimacy in your relationships by creating a safe space for honest sharing. Ask people questions about themselves and their lives, and genuinely listen to them. Let them know that you care about them and that you’re interested in their stories.
Restore your broken heart. Acknowledge the reality of the wounds you’ve suffered from broken relationships in the past. Allow yourself to experience the entire range of emotions associated with that. Talk with a trusted confidante about your feelings, and pray about them, too. Clean out the wounds by letting go of the bad stuff – either abusive relationships that you must end, or unhealthy relationships patterns that you need to identify and change. Get rid of bitterness that poisons you and choose to forgive yourself for your relationship mistakes and other people for the ways they have hurt you. Know that God expects you to forgive, and He stands ready to help you do so. Pray for the courage you need to keep on reaching out to others in love. Write your autobiography to reflect on your life. Then ask yourself what you can learn from your story, and where you see God at work. Pay special attention to your relationships, noticing patterns and considering what ways you grew as a person through your relationship experiences. Remind yourself regularly of God’s promises to you in the Bible. Notice the ways God is at work in your life right now, and place for your hope for the future in Him, knowing you can always count on Him.
Reach out to a hurting world. Invite God to use your brokenness to help not just you, but also other people in need of wholeness. Ask Him to give you compassion for what other people are going through as you recall your own struggles. Reach out to hurting people by simply being present with them in their pain. Don’t try to rush them through their challenges or give them advice, clichés, pat answers or empty promises in an attempt to solve their problems. Instead, give them the valuable gift of genuinely listening. Ask God to help you be honest, patient, and gentle with others. Allow your own wounds to become a source of healing for them.
Adapted from Stronger than You Think: Becoming Whole Without Having to Be Perfect, copyright 2007 by Kim Gaines Eckert. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Kim Gaines Eckert, Psy. D., is an assistant professor of psychology and counseling at Lee University, Cleveland, TN. She is also clinical director of Kids’ Talk, the Lee University play therapy center.