Brokenness – Different for Different People, but the ball is now in our court

Disclaimer: I’m going to talk about brokenness, but not from a “Bible Scholar here’s what the word brokenness means in Hebrew/Greek” standpoint, but just from a concept that I see by connecting a few Scriptures together. This is more of a “thoughts on my mind” blog post than a “deep theological discussion.” Take what you will 😊

Let’s talk about Brokenness.

In Good Little Christian Theology Land, there are some areas in which we are all equal, we are all in the same situation, and we all have the same problems and the same solution.

The most famous of which is probably “Depravity vs. Salvation/Justification”. We are all equally in need of a Savior, and the Savior is equally available to all of us.

In fact, time-and-time-again, the heresy of “Works-based salvation” has snuck into the church, and time-and-time-again, students of the Bible have fought against this heresy with the truth of faith-based salvation, knowing that we did 0% of the work and that Jesus’s blood did 100% of the work.

Because of our work combatting this heresy, sometimes we overapply the “We’re all equal and works don’t change our standing before God” concept. But there are a few areas where this concept actually doesn’t apply.

One of them is heavenly rewards for a life well-lived in service to God. From the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul, it is pretty obvious that this is not an “all get the same thing” factor. It does not affect salvation.

I have become convinced that another area where this is true is on the topic of “Brokenness.” Not all are equally broken.

Where does brokenness come from?

Salvation comes from who Jesus is and what He did. It is a fixed need across the board, equally for all people who have been separated from God.

Wholeness (the Hebrew concept of “Shalom” or peace) comes from what Jesus said and taught. And there are different degrees for different people.

Therefore, brokenness is a compounded effect of our own failure to build our lives on the teachings of Jesus, compounded with the effects of the failures of the people around us.

If my theory holds true, then here is the idea.

  1. It is possible for me to be less broken.
  2. The more successful I am at building my life on the teachings of Jesus, the less brokenness I will inflict on my children, as well as the others in my circle of influence.

Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV) (Emphasis mine)

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Brokenness simply means this: The machine doesn’t work. The thing doesn’t work the way it was designed to work. The DVD player isn’t playing DVDs. The can opener makes a loud grinding noise and now doesn’t open cans.

My life isn’t functioning the way it was supposed to function.

This is the result of my poor choices that I built my life on, and the poor choices of others that affect me.

This concept was really illustrated to me by…you guessed it…watching people on social media. As I watch both sides of, well, any topic, I see a lot of broken people (I also grapple with my own brokenness as well, but it’s sooooo much less vulnerable to look at OTHER people’s brokenness. Way more comfortable. I’d prefer that approach).

I would watch someone declare their departure from Christianity, because the Christians in their life were Pharasaic and judgmental (A.K.A. Christians that failed to adhere to Jesus’s teachings, and therefore added to the brokenness of others). But they would run to a “Judge for yourselves what is right” and “As long as you’re being nice to people, you’re cool in my book” system of ethics. People who struggle to be others-focused, because the guiding light in the own life is the discovery and affirmation of their own identity. Their mission is to show others that “you can’t wrong me anymore.” Self is their center, their mission.

Maybe I’m missing something here…but can anyone see “wow, two years later, this person looks so much less broken”?

No. Still so much hurt. And the hurt keeps perpetuating itself.

I’ve also seen people run to Christianity as the door opened, but bring with them their old hurts, habits, and scars. People who receive the sacrifice of Jesus, but their lives remain just as broken as ever. Their same desire for accolades. Their same protection of their own resources. And seemingly, it never gets fixed.

Still so much hurt. And the hurt keeps perpetuating.

I also have seen non-Christians who actually seem to have a lot of their stuff together. They function well at social gatherings. They demonstrate responsibility. They act with kindness, expecting nothing in return. They are willing to forgive others when they are wronged. They are vision-focused instead of money-focused. They want to make the world a better place for others.

In other words, although they don’t believe in who Jesus is and what He did, they still have built certain aspects of their lives on things that Jesus taught.

This is why Salvation and Brokenness are two separate topics. One is about who Jesus was and what He did, and the other is about His words and His teachings. One can reject the gift of salvation and still make progress towards a functional life. One can accept the gift of Jesus’s blood and still retain dysfunctional habits.

And although depressing, there are areas where others have damaged us, where we are broken by others. A conditional love narrative that a parent gave. A discouraging word from a friend that stuck and went deep. An absent parent who showed their children that the parent’s career was more important than them, and their self-worth concept diminished. A parent that shoved their child’s healthy autonomy aside to protect the reputation of the family. A manipulative boss who got ahead by underpaying their workers, yet kept them with a “you can’t make it without me, you’re so lucky” narrative.

These are far more common than we are comfortable admitting.

Some of our brokenness is self-inflicted, some of it is others-inflicted.

But the good news here is that it does not have to be accepted.

Each time I am successful in plugging in Jesus’s teachings and building my life on them, I can take one step away from brokenness, for myself, for my wife, for my children, and for the people in my circle of influence.

Although I will not always be successful…each time I show my Taekwondo students “I still believe in you, even when you fail and break the rules”, I can take them and me one step away from brokenness. Because my Savior said to forgive 70 times 7 times.

Although I will not always be successful, each time my kids and I practice contentment by enjoying the things we already have, or even being okay with giving things away, we can take one step away from brokenness. Because my Savior said that “what to eat, what we’ll wear, where we’ll stay” dominates the thoughts of unbelievers, but that believers would learn to trust that the Father will provide what they need that day, even if it’s not the preferred food or dress or place.

Although I will not always be successful, every time I choose not to retaliate against someone who wronged me, I take a step away from brokenness. And every time I apologize for wronging someone else without excuses and accept the consequences, I take a step away from brokenness. Because my Savior said that if I’ve wronged someone, to drop what I’m doing (to drop my gift at the altar) and go make it right, immediately.

If relationships are a machine, then grace is the oil that keeps them running smoothly despite friction. I cannot imagine a functional relationship without grace (unless you know a couple who always treats each other right, 100% of the time).

I do not need to “earn extra salvation”, nor can I. Jesus did all that work himself.

But Jesus has equipped me with everything I need to turn my broken life into a functional life (ask me about self-restraint and credit card debt): His words and His Spirit. I’ve done some of the work, and I’ve got a lot more to do. But whenever He assigns me homework and I do it, it pays dividends.

I want to be less broken, and I want people to feel less broken because they interacted with me.

And I actually think that I can do it. Because He equipped me to do it. So bring it on.

What is loyalty, and what is honor?

Thoughts on my mind: Loyalty is important. Those without loyalty are going down a dark road which ends with all bridges burned and no allies.

But the word “loyalty” is often abused. In fact, the word is used in too naïve a fashion, and therefore loses its true meaning and relevance.

So I hope to spark a positive discussion here. (If you are in my martial arts circles, you know of the recent drama. However, context: I’m not targeting any one side or organization. Instead, I’m targeting every side and organization. Actually, my hope is that this opens up a positive discussion that helps set proper boundaries and helps shake off unhealthy peer pressure.) What does loyalty actually mean, and what does it not mean?

Here are some hypothetical examples. Hypothetical, I promise.

Hypothetical Example #1: My wife and I are hanging out with a friend of hers. Things are going fine, until one moment her friend says something that I overreact to, completely inappropriately.

After I’m gone, if my wife tells her friend that she doesn’t condone my behavior and that she is mad at me too…….does that mean that she is being disloyal? Or does loyalty require her to defend me in this circumstance?

What does loyalty actually look like in this circumstance?

Hypothetical Example #2:

I am the right hand man in a company, second only to the CEO.

The CEO calls everybody together and says “Alright, everyone, we’re working up a new strategy and I expect everybody’s support and backing on this. We are going to put all our resources and focus into the best Yellow Pages marketing campaign this company has ever done.”

So I take my chance to talk to the CEO, and maybe suggest that in 2021, the Yellow Pages are not the key to success here.

The CEO says “You know, I was really counting on your loyalty here. Are you going to back me or not?”

What does loyalty actually look like in this circumstance?

Hypothetical Example #3:

Your parents want you to visit. They love seeing their grandkids, and you want them to see their grandkids. But you’ve noticed something…the last several visits, they have crossed boundaries that you have set and have even flat-out contradicted your parenting, in front of your child.

So you hold your boundaries and confront your parents, expressing that if this continues, you will be opting out of these visits.

Your parents respond by listing out all the things they sacrificed to raise you, and all the things they provided for you, and all the nice things they did for your children. And they are surprised at this disloyalty that you are showing by “being so confrontational and vindictive”.

What does loyalty actually look like in this circumstance?

If you have taken the time to read this, I am very interested in your thoughts and responses. For me, here is where my thoughts have arrived.

Loyalty does not mean that you get to control my pathway forward. Loyalty does not guarantee agreement. Sometimes, as painful as it is, true loyalty requires conflict. True loyalty requires that I sacrifice the comfort of “placating” someone and choose the discomfort of discussing wrongs in private.

Loyalty is not supposed to be a rug that wrongs are shuffled under. In fact, loyalty is reciprocal, isn’t it? Doesn’t it seem like loyalty and unconditional love are actually separate topics? Isn’t loyalty investing back into those who invest in you?

But wait…….doesn’t that mean that I’m “required” to invest in you if you invest in me? Pardon me for being crass, but isn’t that awkwardly close to the “if he pays for the really nice date, then you better sleep with him” fallacy?

It is not that I am against loyalty. I think that loyalty is important. It’s just that I think that loyalty is an easily abused topic. Therefore, I prefer to think about “commitment” and “honor”.

The reason I prefer the concept of “honor” vs. “dishonor” is that I understand it better. It lines up with what Scripture has taught me. Scripture calls me, requires me, to honor my parents. This doesn’t mean allowing them to control my life. This doesn’t mean ignoring abuses. Rather, it means that I do not deliberately air dirty laundry for all to see (dishonor). It means that for those who sacrificed to raise me, that I dwell upon what is praiseworthy. When I have the chance, I speak about these things. I choose honor.

The reason I prefer the concept of commitment is that it captures what is so valuable about loyalty without allowing for the abuses. One of loyalty’s strengths is that it is not blown by the wind or dependent on moods. One of loyalty’s strengths is the bond that is shared. I am committed to my students. That does not mean my students get to control my life. That means that they can count on me to be there for what I said I’d be there for.

It is true that the students who commit to me will get more out of me. And I will also have students who aren’t really that committed to me, who may stop as soon as things get tough or until an interaction is less than they require of me. That’s okay. My path, my vision, allows for that.

In the martial arts circles: My organization (ATA) has done incredible things for the martial arts world, and for me. I am able to own a business, train students, train instructors, learn, teach, and train myself, because of the foundation that the ATA has set and continues to develop. The ATA is deserving of honor. I don’t always agree with ATA. Some of the stories are one-sided and incomplete. But the ATA is deserving of my honor.

I love training in weapons, and I have a debt of gratitude to every instructor who made that available to me, who put weapons training and grappling training in my pathway. A great many instructors, some ATA and some former ATA, have poured into me and my training. And they are deserving of my honor. Although great martial arts instructors, several of them have made pretty douchey Facebook posts. Some of them can be pretty victim-ey in their posts. Some of the stories are one-sided and incomplete. I am not ignoring this. But there is still reason and cause for honor. Their past contribution is deserving of my honor.

In short: If you played a part in making my life better, and there are a lot of you, then you are deserving of my honor. No, I don’t agree with every decision you make. But the things you did…well, thank you.

Personal Update: God the WayMaker

“Way Maker,
Miracle Worker,
Promise keeper,
Light in the darkness,
My God, that is who You are”
“Even when I don’t see it, You’re working,
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working,
You never stop – You never stop working
You never stop – You never stop working”
The song Way Maker took my mind on a rabbit trail this morning, with this pandemic and going all the way back to 5 years ago.
I’ve been raised in the faith, but actively following Christ since 14. And each new phase is a journey that we enter together. Marriage. Parenting.
Business ownership.
It has always been important to me that in all things, that my life not be split into pieces. I had a pastor (Doug Bailey) that taught “Stop talking about putting Jesus first in your life, as though you’re putting Jesus first and your family second. Don’t put Jesus first in your life. Make Jesus the center of your life. Don’t put Jesus before your marriage. Instead, make Jesus the center of your marriage. Don’t put Jesus before your parenting. Rather, make Jesus the center of your parenting.”
So since becoming a business owner, this is what I’ve been reminded of, over and over again, especially during this pandemic. My commitment was to make Jesus and His character the center of my business. I don’t know about other stories, I do know about mine.
Although I may feel fear looking to the future, the past has loud-and-clear examples of God providing for me and my family. At times, we have “survived”. At times, we have been richly blessed. But God’s past providence is this business ownership journey is in-your-face obvious to me.
Five years ago, almost to the month, I left West Salem ATA, and students that I loved. There were many small reasons, but the biggest reason: The owner’s dependence upon me allowed him to do wrong by other employees, knowing he could count on me. Feeling like an enabler, I knew that the painful decision of leaving West Salem ATA in 2015 was best for me AND best for the school.
By the way, we were right. Me leaving forced the owner into retirement, and a new team took the school into new heights. This new team dramatically improved the competitive quality of the students there. But still…scariest decision I have ever made. And hardest. I have never actively chosen to walk away from my students, and it hurt. However, every analysis showed that it would be best for everyone.
Scared that I would have to change careers (after 15 years of teaching) or uproot my wife and two daughters and move across the country to find an opportunity or build a new school from the ground up, I remember literally laying awake, shaking. I had never experienced that feeling before.
At that time, Senior Master Rusty Duer found connections in our region, schools that would experience a win-win if they brought me on their team. So the connection would made that I would help with instruction and business at Albany ATA.
I would be there for 8 months. They helped me to learn the business from an all-new perspective, and they let me try out/experiment with a few tools, all while still being able to feed my family. It wasn’t my permanent home…my job was not to “enact my vision” for their school, but to support them in their own vision. As this happened, I started to learn that I had my own vision, my own direction I wanted to go.
Within this time frame, the opportunity to buy Keizer ATA came up. The short story is that the owner, a long-time friend of mine and competitor, Master Keegan James Ireland, wanted to return to driving a single school to excellence, and believed it was better for both academies if each had a single owner driving them forward. Also, I’m the nostalgic type: I wanted to teach in the same city I grew up and had already forged connections in. (for those who don’t know, Keizer is Salem’s hat. You know, like Canada ;-).)
The long story is really about timing, but I’m going to spare that story here.
Funding options fell through, and we learned that things like SBA loans would take 6 months or longer. But then, my dad, who was previously vehemently opposed to lending family money (which makes sense…loaning money can destroy relationships) was game for helping me out.
Then, I was able to buy it.
But then, I had only one staff member (Deborah Bickle), and I needed a staff team to create the experience I wanted to create for the members.
So Dan Shaffer, a prior martial arts classmate and comrade, suddenly appeared and said “This isn’t my chosen forever career choice, but I can help.”
Then West Salem ATA called and said that Mr. Nathaniel Mauro and Mrs. Tawnia Mauro wanted to become instructors and perhaps school owners, but there was no room on their team for them. So they asked if there was availability on my team. We hired them before we were actually able to afford them, and before they even knew what they were doing.
Then, months after Dan Shaffer left and we ran the school understaffed for a while, my old “training brother” (we were hired at the same time as teenagers) and trusted friend Reuben Gould returned, wanting to choose this as his career. The addition of Mr. Derrick Oman also significantly upleveled our school’s customer experience and our culture, and for that we are thankful.
Fast forward to March of 2020. Pandemic hit, and we discovered a feeling that we hadn’t felt since we laid awake shaking after leaving West Salem in 2015. Will we be okay?
Over these past five months, we’ve cut things tight to spend wisely. But we’ve been able to take care of ourselves, our school, and our team. Some months we’ve been a little behind. Some months we’ve actually been ahead.
We are thankful to our staff, our students, parents, and families, and the incredible support they’ve been.
But over and over again, it’s been obvious that this is not chance: It’s too hard to ignore the “coincidences”. God has been putting the pieces together for us.
I know that God does not equally bless. He is not required to, for there is noone above Him with authority to require of Him. But for whatever reason, my school and my family have experienced His blessing.
And as this pandemic continues, the fear is still present. But the greatest tool to alleviating the fear is to remember the stories of God’s past involvement in my personal and business life.
“I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains.
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again”
God bless, everyone. I don’t know about your story, I only know about mine. But if you discover God’s providence in your past, I hope you can find your hope for the future, in a time where your hope is actively attacked by the social media narrative.