Monday, December 26, 2011

Brokenness and Blessedness

My sister sent us the movie “Soul Surfer” for Christmas, about teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm in a shark attack. What an inspiring story!

At the beginning of the movie, Bethany attends a beachside worship service with her family, and joins in with the singing, “You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be your name.’” At that point, Bethany didn’t know what was soon to be taken away and the responding choice she would need to make. The “sun was shining down on her,” and her life was full of potential and surfing competitions.

In a personal interview included in the special features of the DVD, Bethany shared how at 13, she and her Mom had started praying about her future and about the plans God had for her. Losing her arm in the shark attack, soon after those prayers, was God’s answer.

Her influential youth group leader shared with her Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She said she believed that somehow God would use Bethany’s loss for His glory. And how He has! As Bethany has made the heart choice to continue to sing, “Lord, blessed be your name,” her life has been an inspiration to many. My six year old niece Molly dressed up as Bethany for Halloween this year.

Through the incredible support of her family and community, Bethany learns how to surf again with only one arm. She considers giving up competition as she faces difficulties in her first attempt, but then realizes how much her life has impacted others with an outpouring of letters from around the world. The movie ends with Bethany successfully competing against the world’s best surfers. Questioned by reporters afterward, Bethany declared that she can embrace the world better with one arm than she could with two. Wow.

I loved seeing the joy in Bethany’s face as she surfs (most of the surfing footage in the movie is actually her, while the acting was done by AnnaSophia Robb). Clearly, surfing is at the very core of who she is, and when she is surfing, she feels most alive. Her joy reminded me of Eric Lidell in the movie “Chariots of Fire” when he tells his sister Jenny that God made him fast, and when he runs he feels God’s pleasure. Bethany said she is happy because she can still surf and compete, and because of her accident she has many opportunities to tell others about God’s love.

Henri Nouwen said that our brokenness is an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us. We have the choice to befriend our brokenness and put it under the blessing, lifting it away from the shadow of the curse. Then in the light of God’s blessing, “What seemed intolerable becomes a challenge. What seemed a reason for depression becomes a source of purification. What seemed punishment becomes a gentle pruning. What seemed rejection becomes a way to a deeper communion.” (Life of the Beloved, p. 98)

“When we keep claiming the light, we will find ourselves becoming more and more radiant.” (ibid, p. 62) Bethany is truly a living example of this kind of radiance.

Her life is not focused on herself and what she can’t do, but on how God will enable her to overcome her challenges and be a blessing to others. “In the giving it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed, and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its significance in its being lived for others.” (ibid, p. 105)

Her attitude and example inspire me and echo Mary’s response to the angel who brought her the shocking news that she would be the one to birth the Savior of the world. The angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Mary believed and replied, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.” (Luke 1:38)

Today, Bethany’s life sings along with Mary’s Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant…He has performed mighty deeds with his arm…” (Luke 1: 46, 51)

Blessed Be Your Name  (words by Beth Redman and Matt Redman)

Blessed be Your name in the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name
And blessed be Your name when I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I’ll
Turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name when the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s “all as it should be”
Blessed be Your name
And blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

For Jesus said, “The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies, it will be alone—a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)

He went on to say, “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from what lies ahead’? But that is the very reason why I came! Father, bring glory to your name.” (v. 27-28a)

Blessedness through brokenness. Jesus showed us how.

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