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  • Zerah Goh

Celebrating our Brokenness



Zerah is currently the Executive Director at Montfort Centre and is involved in retreat animation and spiritual direction. He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from the Singapore University of Social Sciences and completed his spiritual direction programme with CenterQuest School of Spiritual Direction.



A rabbi after proclaiming the scriptures would always invite his disciples to place those words upon their hearts. One of his disciples, however, was confused and asked the rabbi why the invitation was to place scripture upon instead of in their hearts. The rabbi looked at the disciple with a grin and replied: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So, we place them upon our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”



When I first heard this story, I was terribly worried because I could not bear the thought of having my heart break repeatedly just to have God’s word fall in! Why should I experience brokenness and the much-avoided feelings that come with it, like sadness, anger, fear, anxiety? And is it true that the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit? (cf. Psalm 34:18)


One of the most poignant experiences of brokenness in my life happened exactly a decade ago in February, just before the Lenten season. This was also a season of my life where God felt very far from me, and I was utterly disappointed with how my life was panning out.


I was conscripted into the military as an armoured reconnaissance specialist and learnt how to ride a motorbike for outfield military exercises. As we were about to depart, I noticed that the front brakes of my motorbike had snapped and had the latter replaced immediately. A sinking feeling still weighed upon my chest as I sped off with my platoon onto the expressway, as though I had a premonition of an imminent disaster. Shortly after entering the expressway, my motorbike started to experience a speed wobble and my handlebars started oscillating rapidly from side to side. Unable to regain control of my motorbike, I braced myself for the worst as my motorbike skidded and I was thrown off onto the busy road. I witnessed the flesh of my palms tear off as I tried to break the fall with my hands and as I was hurled over, I saw my platoon mate’s motorbike hurtling towards me. And when it collided into me, I really thought that was the end of my life.


In a state of shock, I was rushed to the hospital. What was more painful for me was not the scrapping of the road tar from my already excruciating wounds, but my broken ego along with the feelings of shame, guilt, sorrow, and anger. I lay in bed that night moaning and groaning for my wounded self as I wondered why such a terrible thing must happen to me. I cried out to the Lord in the silent depths of my heart: 


My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

(Psalm 22:1)


God has a very mysterious way of drawing us back to Him especially in the most painful and vulnerable moments of life. 

It was during my prolonged period of convalescence that I began turning to scriptures again, and read the account of Jonah the fearful, reluctant and indignant prophet. Jonah’s journey helped me see I was like him - a prophet who was afraid, and who ran away from God’s dream for me - I always felt a strong call towards pastoral ministry from a young age but chose to follow the ways of the world which worships a prosperous career and a stable life. I was indignant because though I believed that God has plans to prosper and not harm me (cf. Jeremiah 29:11), I could not help but resent Him for allowing me to experience pain and suffering this way. 


Interestingly, it was only in my deepest hour of despair and darkness that I turned to the Lord, and prayed as Jonah did in the belly of the fish: 


To the roots of the mountain I sank down;

the earth beneath me barred me in forever.

But you, Lord my God, 

brought my life up from the pit.

When my life was ebbing away, 

I remembered you, Lord,

and my prayer rose to you,

to your holy temple.

What I have vowed I will make good.

I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’.

(Jonah 2:6,7,9)


The prayer must have shifted something. For when I was steeped in pain, I could not think about anything or notice anyone else but my pain. But on hindsight, I realised how the nurses, doctors, military personnel, and my platoon mates had to work hard behind the scenes to ensure my speedy recovery as well as prevent me from getting a possible military disciplinary charge for negligent riding. It is no wonder pastor and author Charles Stanley affirmed in his book The Blessings of Brokenness that “after brokenness we can experience God’s greatest blessing”. The caveat he adds is that

“this blessing comes only if we experience brokenness fully and confront why  it is that God has allowed us to be broken”

Confronted with my own mortality, I was grateful that I was given another chance of repentance and redemption. God has preserved my life and gently called me back to His desire for my life. And so, I made a resolution that Lent to embrace God’s call for me to minister to the spiritually wounded through pastoral care. I chose to take up my own cross and follow Christ willingly and lovingly. 



 


It has been a decade since I have answered God’s call and I have had my full share of rejections and disappointments along the way. However, life has never been more meaningful, and I have not had a single regret since then. My wounds have been healed and my scars remain as a precious sign of God’s everlasting compassion and mercy. 


Through the valley He made a way for me to find and live out who I am made to be. Now I see the truth in what Saint Louis Marie de Montfort insists in his writing of The Love of Eternal Wisdom, that “True Wisdom - that is Jesus Christ - is not to be found in the things of this world nor in the souls who live in comfort… except in the Cross… that in all truth we can say: Wisdom is the Cross, and the Cross is Wisdom”. 


During this season of Lent, let us not forget that Christ Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. (cf. 1 Peter 2:24). 


The rabbi is right, I had to be broken upon so that the power of the Cross and the Word of God can enter my being and set me free. This makes our brokenness truly worth celebrating!


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