“Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.”
David’s admission in Psalm 51 that his heart is unclean and his spirit disordered cuts to my heart. I’m a sinner. I participate in a culture permeated by systemic, institutional sin and, like St. Paul, am myself drawn to repeat toxic behaviors I pray to avoid. There was a time, some years ago, when I felt trapped in this cycle. On the outside my life appeared to be normal. I had a job, a family, a home. But that was just a front. My interior landscape was painted all in shades of gray. I felt defeated, depressed, and broken. I had been numbing the pain of sin and the discomfort of ordinary daily life with alcohol. While I had convinced myself this behavior was normal, I knew it really was not. But even at my lowest point I kept hearing a quiet voice deep inside nudging me to stop drinking. I knew I couldn’t. I knew I was lost. Fortunately, things got worse.
Overwhelmed by shame and grief, my heart just shattered. My smile was false but the tears were real. There were times I just couldn’t stop crying. One evening, sitting alone in my study, a friend called and asked if I wanted to do something about my drinking. I’d had my usual amount that night, and was in no mood for a lecture. He didn’t give a lecture; he just asked a question. I then heard the word yes come out of my mouth. I was as shocked as he was at my response. Looking back, what happened in my study that night was a miracle. God touched my broken heart and showed me a way out. I just had to say yes—and God even supplied the word.
Now, after over 14 years in recovery, I’ve met a lot of people with similar stories. Their addictions may be alcohol, drugs, food, or sex. But it was when they hit the wall, when their hearts were shattered, that God made a move in their lives. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) God uses those places in our lives that we most want to keep secret as the portals to our healing. When we embrace our weakness, God provides strength. Through our brokenness God works to make us whole.
(Written by JB Burtch)