New York Times best-selling author Ann Voskamp describes how her painful past has helped shape her spiritual journey and find a richer, more fulfilling relationship with God in a discussion based on her book The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life.
John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family, Ann Voskamp describes how you can find abundant joy in brokenness and your host is Focus on the Family president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And today, Jim, we’re in Washington, D.C.
Jim Daly: We are, so people will hear sirens, maybe other noises.
John: Airplanes, helicopters - who knows?
Jim: Don’t panic. You haven’t lost your keys if you hear a beeping. It could be us.
Jim: So, we are going to have a great discussion today. John, this is something very close to my heart. It can be hard to maintain a sense of joy when it feels like every day we’re confronted with a broken world. And it begins to overwhelm us, whether it be a national headline, an adverse health diagnosis, maybe a wayward child. That you have that prodigal child, and you’re praying every day for the Lord to intervene - perhaps a difficult marriage. There is a list of things that really weigh us down. It can be hard to see God...
Jim: ...In the tough stuff. But guess what, everybody? He’s there. He knows the pain. He’s walked with us. He walked as us. And here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you grow. We want to help you connect these dots that in Western culture, it’s not about comfort and leisure. It’s about deepening your relationship in Christ so that no matter what the world throws at you, you can stand with joy in Him. And we’re going to cover that topic today.
John: And Ann Voskamp is mom to seven. She’s a speaker, a very popular author and blogger. And her books include The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into The Abundant Life. This other note - she lives and farms with her family in Ontario, Canada.
Jim: Ann, welcome to Focus.
Ann Voskamp: Aw, it’s a grace and honor to be here. Thank you for the...
Ann: ...Warm invitation.
Jim: Oh, yeah, I’d love to have you in Colorado, but we’re here in D.C. (laughter), so we’ll pretend that we’re in Colorado.
Ann: I like that, too.
Jim: Another time perhaps. Ann, millions of people follow you on your blog and what you communicate. I think the obvious question is, why? Why are people in that kind of, you know - 2, 3 million coming and wanting something. What are you saying that’s resonating with them?
Ann: I think, um, I think people are searching for authenticity...
Ann: They’re searching for raw honesty. They’re tired of wearing masks, and they want to - they want to step into a space where they can be real and it’s safe. I think people are hungering. Augustine said that all of humanity is - our ultimate desire is to find joy. How do we find joy in the midst of a broken world? So I think my blog and the writing online is about wrestling out, how do I find joy in the midst of brokenness, in the midst of the mundane, in the midst of the ordinary, in the midst of hard things that happen?. I think we are drawn to beauty.
Ann: Beauty is irresistible because ultimately he who is ultimately beautiful is Christ. So, I think the world in general - there can be, sort of, this epidemic of cynicism...
Ann: ...Because there’s just so much brokenness, and it gets so discouraging. Can we find a safe place to be real and authentic that doesn’t grow into cynicism, but can turn us towards hope?
Jim: Yeah. Ann, as you’re saying that, I’m thinking of the phrase you used, “beauty in brokenness...”
Jim: ...And so many people, we nod, “oh, yeah, yeah,” but we don’t really know what you’re saying.
Jim: It’s the right thing nod to. You know what I’m saying?
Ann: (Laughter) Yeah.
Jim: Mentally, we get it.
Jim: Intellectually, we get it. “Yeah, beauty in brokenness - sounds great. What scripture is that?”
Jim: But what is it or what should it be in our heart? What does it mean, beauty in brokenness?
Ann: I think, um - I think it’s going to the psalms, God invites us to lament, to be honest about the brokenness and hold that in one hand and be real with God about how broken and busted things are. And in the other hand, can I still think - see that which to praise him for, that which is beautiful and that which is good, that which God in redeeming in the midst of the brokenness? I write in The Broken Way about - I’m a farmer’s wife. I’m, like, seventh generation of farmers (laughter).
Jim: In fact, you call your husband the farmer...
Ann: The farmer.
Ann: Actually, in his family tree, they can’t go back far enough to find somebody who’s not a farmer, so - so I know - I know dirt, and I know seeds. And you look at it, a seed - and for it to grow anything beautiful, it actually has to be broken. It has to break open. Can I trust that in the midst of broken things, God is making beautiful things?
Jim: Yeah, well how do we become better in trusting God?
Ann: I think (unintelligible) I have chronic, soul amnesia.
Jim: Chronic, soul amnesia, that sounds like a song.
Jim: And I’m not singin’ it!
Jim: (singing) I’ve got chronic, soul amnesia
Ann: That’s good, that’s good!
Ann: I forget all of the time may know the truth on Sunday morning and claim it. I run up against hard things with kids and family and life on Monday morning, and I forget what I knew on Sunday. And it - God has - he’s so gracious and lavishly kind to keep teaching me over and over again. I think, I think in the midst the brokenness, we need to go back to the word. Without the word, our world warps. So we have to keep going back to the world and preach gospel back to ourselves, not listen so much to all of those fears and anxieties in our own head. But can I go ahead and preach the truth back to myself?
Ann: Can I trust - this is who God is. Look at what he’s done all throughout scripture, how he is a redemptive God bringing about abundance and shalom and wholeness out of brokenness. I can trust him again today.
Jim: I love that word, shalom. Uh...
Ann: Actually, we have a daughter named Shalom.
Ann: One - and then the daughter - our daughter that we adopted from China - her English name in China was Shalom.
Ann: So when we adopted her, my 12-year-old daughter said, I’ll give up my name, and she can stay Shalom. And you can name me something else.
John: Oh, that’s sweet.
Jim: Oh, wow.
John: Oh, my goodness.
Ann: And we said no. So our last daughter from China - she’s named Shiloh Shalom. So, we have a double-fold measure of shalom at our house.
Jim: (Laughter) Well, of course for those that may not know, shalom means God’s peace.
Jim: And in that regard, Shalom, your daughter - I’m not sure which one now...
Ann: Well, the 12-year-old always says, my name is Shalom, and I try to be peaceful. So...
Jim: Yeah, that’s good. But she taught you a little lesson....
Ann: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: ...With a little paper exercise, a paper heart. What happened?
Ann: She cut out a heart in the morning - about 5 years old at the time. It was after breakfast. And had been talking to the kids about being kind to each other. And so she wanted me to tape this heart right onto her. And I thought, oh, this is great. She’s taping this on to remind herself to be loving and kind, and she’s listened to her mother’s little mini lecture after breakfast. And as I was taping the heart on, it ripped. And I thought, oh, dear. And then she said, “Mama, I’m taping this on to know that God’s love is everywhere.” And it - which was not at all what I thought she is doing.
Ann: And as the heart ripped, she had said to me, “it’s OK, Mama.” I thought she was going to cry. And it ripped, and she said, “it’s OK, Mama. Maybe the love gets in easier where it’s ripped.”
Ann: I thought, oh, can I trust - my heart is broken, but God’s love is more intimate, more tender, more close then than it could be in any other situation.
Jim: Isn’t that so true? I mean, folks, this is a profound statement that your daughter, at 5, was making.
Ann: At 5.
Jim: I mean, I love that.
Ann: I mean, I was just sort of slack-jawed, yes.
Jim: Yeah, that God’s love can get into the places that are torn.
Ann: Talk to people...
Ann: ...Who have gone through deep suffering.
Ann: And their most profound intimate experiences with God happens in those suffering places.
Ann: In those valleys, we really see that the valley is un-cupped hands. I’m held by Jesus so close.
Jim: Yeah. And it’s hard. We’re in our environment - in the Western culture, particularly Canada, the U.S., we’ve got it pretty - pretty nice, you know, with food...
Ann: We do. We do.
Jim: ...Plenty of everything. And yet suffering occurs. I mean, there is still poverty. There are still things that happen to us. When you were growing up on the ranch, you had your sister...
Jim: ...Die right in front of you and your family.
Jim: What happened? And what impact did that have on your family?
Ann: Yeah. I was - it’s actually my first memory, Jim. I was 4 years old standing at the kitchen sink with my mama. I was on a chair. We were washing dishes. And my 18-month-old sister had wandered out the back door and across our farmyard. And a farm service truck, delivery truck, came into the yard. My parents hadn’t called for a truck.
He was in the wrong place, the wrong farm. And he drove over and killed my sister in front of my mother and I standing at the window. As a 4-year-old girl, um, you will see the world as a terrifying place that at any moment, something catastrophic can happen. So um, by the time I was 7, I was hospitalized with ulcers.
Ann: And by the time I was in my teens, I was cutting. And by the time I was 18, 19 years old at university, I was having a full-blown anxiety attacks and was diagnosed with agoraphobia. Um, so I was terrified of the world, where horrible things can happen at any moment. And I think - I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. I met Jesus at a Good News Bible Club.
Jim: Oh, my wife did too. That’s great.
Ann: But, I mean, I was just - I never get over the amazing grace of Jesus finding me and holding on to me. But I think in my head, Jim, I knew that God was good and he loved me but I - that had - that idea of God loving me hadn’t really migrated from my mind to my heart. And I think in my thirties, someone dared me to go ahead and write down a thousand ways I was - a thousand things I loved. And I realized, this was writing, I mean, I took the dare.
Um, so as I was writing down a thousand things that I loved, I realized I was really counting all the ways that God loved me. In the midst of hard places and broken places, could I look for - I called it the ugly-beautiful. Things that look like they’re ugly, could I see the face - God in them? Could I see where he was working redemptively through those broken places? So slowly, I started to understand that God is always good, and I am always loved. Can I take that as the framework...
Ann: ...Into every single situation? Not just sort of like a broad brushstroke of my life that I’m just sort of grateful for everything. But can I literally start the habit of giving thanks for things? That’s picking up a pen and using it as a sword to fight for joy and writing down the things I’m grateful for. And then realizing - when I - once you realize how many gifts you’ve been given, a gift is never meant to be clasped and held on to.
A gift is meant to be given. Jesus took that bread and he passed it on. So now, how do I live just like the bread there at the last supper, broken and given out to the world - taking all the gifts that I’ve been given and now extending that living cruciform with my hands outstretched into the world. And not just - it’s easy to think, I can do that with all the good gifts that I’ve been given. But can I also do that with my broken heart?
Ann: Can I give my broken heart to people in a place of vulnerability? Because, I think sometimes we think that if I’ve experienced brokenness in my life, I’m disqualified from being a world changer. I’m disqualified from speaking into other people’s lives, ministering in any way. As opposed to seeing that, God sees the wounded as world changers. He sees the best in the broken through Christ. That we look at - Hannah cried those salty tears over her infertility.
David asked why his soul was so downcast. Those people, though, were so brokenhearted. God uses them for great good. So can you look at your brokenness and say, how can I see my broken heart as a way I can give out into the world other people who are brokenhearted? I have the deepest empathy for people who are broken like I’ve been broken.
Jim: Yeah. And I want to come back to something you mentioned. And it’s pretty tender I think. As I was watching you talking about your childhood and what happened to your sister and then your teen years, I think you referenced in terms of cutting.
Ann: Mhmm. Yeah.
Jim: That is something that many parents with...
Jim: ...With their teen daughters, their teen sons.
Jim: Help us better understand...
Jim: ...What is taking place there. And you’re talking from your own experience.
Jim: What need are you trying to fill...
Jim: ...In doing that?
Jim: What emotional need are you trying to fill? I think most parents are lost ‘cause they don’t understand it. It’s...
Ann: Yeah. And for a long time, I mean, I’ve gone and tried to revisit, what was that about? (EMOTION) And there was such a - ah, this is difficult to talk about. There was such a release of pain in that cutting. and I think it - my parents were carrying so much grief from my sister’s death, I didn’t know where to process my grief and didn’t feel it was - I didn’t want to burden them with my own feelings. And I needed a release for all of the pain that I was feeling. And I think that’s where the cutting came from. And I think there was a sense that I needed, um, a sense of perfectionism...
Ann: ...That I was trying to - I couldn’t go ahead and be real about what I was feeling. I needed to present that I had this all together. But behind closed doors, I did not have it all together. I talk about in The Broken Way. When you think about Elijah and him citing about who has a real god, Baal or our God? And you look at those who worship Baal. To get Baal to respond, they were all cutting themselves.
Ann: And I realized that if I’m cutting myself, I have some kind of false god somewhere, that I’m not believing that Jesus has named me as beloved, that his grace covers all of whatever I think is broken, I need to break a false god somewhere. And I think for me, it was perfectionism. And I needed to find a safe place to talk about what was happening behind the mask.
Jim: When you say perfectionism...
Jim: ...Is it that idea that the shame and guilt of not being perfect?
Ann: I think so. And I think in my own family because there was so much grief after my sister’s death, I didn’t want to be more of a burden to my parents in any way at all.
Jim: Your mom suffered.
Ann: Deeply throughout my teen years – even, I guess, the first hospitalization when I was in grade two. She had long stretches, three-plus months in mental institutions. So, I would be - become sort of the pseudo mom at home to take care of younger siblings and dad in the house and my own school and try to manage everything as a child. And I think - so I just felt like I needed to be strong and didn’t have a place to talk about, “gee, this is all really hard.” And I think the cutting is this desperate sign of something is happening deep inside that I don’t even know how to find the words to express. So we need to go ahead and press pause on things and say, we will create a safe space for you to talk about what’s really going on.
Jim: That’s profound.
Jim: When you assess the people - again, millions of people are listening to you. And this is very unscientific, maybe even a little unfair. But, when you look at believers, Jesus followers, how many are grabbing this - this idea that we’re his beloved...
Jim: ...And embracing it?
Ann: I think we have, again, that chronic soul amnesia. We think this cerebrally. But then, what does that actually - but how do we incarnate that and believe that moment by moment, because we’re beating up on ourselves all the time and falling short. And passing that thought process down to our children that they’re not good enough, they’re not achieving enough, they’re not striving hard enough. And then they start self-punishing also. And self-punishing not look like cutting. There’s other ways that we...
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Ann: ...Use addictive behavior that - it’s a way of self-harming, too. So if we can go back again and again to, who is my - what is my identity, my identity is in Christ. That’s something - actually, for years, I had written it out on cue cards at the sink and at the mirror, at a window there by the stove - writing out what was my identity in Christ and going over it over and over again day after day, so I knew who I was, so the accuser of the brethren could no longer lie to me.
Jim: That’s powerful.
Jim: I mean, that’s work.
Ann: It is intentionality to go ahead and say, I’m going to know who I am in Christ, because if I don’t, I’m going to lose my own soul.
Jim: Yeah, wow. That is so, so strong. I’m thinking of the mom.
Jim: Is the picture in my mind...
Jim: ...Who is that perfectionist...
Jim: ...Who’s trying so hard...
Jim: ...Always in her mind falling short - maybe not the folks around her, not her husband, not her kids.
Jim: They think, wow, mom is awesome.
Ann: Mom’s doing great.
Jim: She’s doing great.
Ann: Mom doesn’t feel that way, though.
Jim: But mom doesn’t feel that way.
Ann: No, mom doesn’t feel that way.
Jim: How - practically, if that mom that’s listening is in that spot...
Jim: ...How does she take that step? How does she say, “I’m hearing what Ann’s saying”?
Jim: “I like and identify with it.”
Jim: What could she do today that’s going to make a difference for her to begin to take hold of that?
Ann: I think, um, a couple of things. I - joy is a function of gratitude. Gratitude’s a function of respect. Can she go ahead and pick up a pen and start to write down all of the things she’s thankful for? She’ll start to realize, God loves me. God loves me. God loves me. Look for the little things, small things, the way grace is meeting you moment upon moment, to start to - she might know she’s beloved, but - theologically, in her mind, but she needs to know in her heart - to start to write down - for me to me still, at the end of every single day, I go ahead and write out 10 things I’m grateful for.
Ann: I know the presence and the closeness of God. And then I - this is always a much shorter list. So I had at the top of the list grateful and given. How did I live given today? How did I take all the gifts that I was given in some small way live broken and given like bread out into the world?
Ann: That’s a very small list. But it also says, look at - in the midst of your own brokenness, where you think you’re falling so short, look how God is still using you and working through you to be a gift out into the world. You - Jesus in you is making you into a gift. So doing those two things and then being really intentional - for me, it’s been taking a pen and drawing a cross on my wrist over the top of those scars.
Jim: I was going to ask you about this.
Jim: Yeah, because that’s a very practical...
Jim: It’s interesting.
Ann: For me, it’s not something I want to - so I’m not getting it permanently put on my wrist. I want...
Ann: ...The intentionality every day...
Jim: And it’s a cross.
Ann: ...Of taking a - writing a cross on my wrist so I see my identity every day. My identity is all in the cross. I am safe and hidden in Christ. Every - I think sometimes, for me, I can get really insular and myopic and pull in and - I’m not doing enough, and I’m not giving enough. And the enemy wants us to focus on self. So can I go ahead and focus on all the things...
Jim: That’s so true.
Ann: ...God’s given me - that’s focusing on God. And then, when I can go ahead and live given out into the world and give to other people, that takes the focus on me - and I’ve experienced deep joy.
I ran into a young girl this past week, and she’d experienced three miscarriages in a row. And she said, um, “I’ve stopped work because I just need time for my own heart, but I’ve been volunteering in all of these places and finding that, in the volunteering and giving, God’s healing my heart.”
And it seems entirely counterintuitive, but in the midst, can I go ahead and out of her brokenness, with her own broken heart, come alongside other women who are experiencing suffering and sharing that brokenness? It’s - again, it goes back to that book we read - there’s a kind of intimate communion, a healing communion, when we share our brokenness with each other, that heals us.
Jim: Yeah. I’m thinking, as you were describing writing those lists at night...
Jim: ...Before you go to bed...
Jim: I can - I can even hear the mom say - feeling guilty that she’s taking time where she could be doing laundry or, you know, doing something...
Jim: ...With that time...
Jim: ...And she’s using it on herself.
Ann: But it’s the act of - I actually write down thank you, Lord, for - it’s an act of worship to him.
Ann: And that worship comes along, and it’s a tender salve to our wounds. And then we think about, how can I live given, Lord? That, again, is my act of worship to him - to make my life a living sacrifice back to Him.
Jim: And this may sound like a really simple question, but I think it’s the question, which is where is Jesus in the - where is Jesus in the midst of suffering? - the age old question.
Ann: Yeah, it is.
Jim: Are you there God?
Jim: Do you see me?
Jim: I’m in the pit.
Jim: Where are you? I’ve been serving you. Now we start the scoreboard. You know, we...
Jim: ...We take out the checklist.
Ann: And we all do.
Jim: Do you know how much I prayed, Lord?
Jim: Do you know how many people I’ve helped in your name?
Jim: You know, I’m being a bit perhaps rough there, but...
Ann: No, but I think we need to - there’s (unintelligible) a series of the blog called (Brutally) Honest Psalms. We need to be brutally honest with God. God can take those - those brutally honest questions. We see that all through David’s psalms. I think for us to come to - first of all, to know who He is, He is Emmanuel. He is God with us. I think sometimes we want an explanation for the suffering. But if we’re really honest with our hearts, more than an explanation, we want an experience with God. We want his warm arms around us, because answers can be cold, but His presence is warm.
So, can we go ahead and trust that God is with me in the midst of this suffering? Can we trust that - this is painful to say because, not to be trite, because there are people are grieving over lost children and horrific experiences - but to trust that sometimes God allows what he can hardly stand to accomplish what we can’t understand?
Jim: Wow, that’s hard to fathom.
Ann: It is hard to fathom. But to trust that the one thing Christ is doing here - he’s doing a million other things at the same time. Can I trust in His sovereignty...
Ann: ...In the midst of this? To trust that even though I may not understand this side of heaven - why there is this suffering and this brokenness - there must be such warmth and value in it the God Himself is willing to experience it with me. He doesn’t abandon it - abandoned me in it. He catches every tear in a bottle. His heart breaks. So when our hearts is broken, we have to understand God’s heart is breaking, too.
Ann: So that - sort of the quantum physics of God that when - our broken heart breaks his heart in two. And to trust - to trust that He is writing, I don’t need to be afraid of the broken things. God is redeeming everything.
Jim: Yeah. When I read Romans - and we’ve - you know, in our own family, we’ve had our times of difficulty.
Jim: And Romans 8:28...
Jim: ...A go-to...
Jim: Many of our listeners would know it right now. But it’s, you know, all things - you catch that? “All things work for good to those who love the Lord and are called by His name.” There’s times, as a Christian, you’re going, I don’t believe that. How could he be in this? It’s all things but this thing.
Ann: But this thing. And then if you move a little bit further down in that same passage, Romans 8:32 says that if He has not withheld his only son from me...
Ann: ...Will He not give me everything that I need. I can trust if He gave me Jesus, if He died on that cross for me, He will give me everything that I need. I can trust Him in this dark place, too.
Jim: Wow. And you’re bringing the meat of the word of God to us right now, not the milk.
Ann: Well, I just...
Ann: I think that, too often, we come into our church doors wearing masks, saying that this is all perfect and good, and our hearts are broken. If we can take the masks off and trust that God wants that brokenness, and He wants to use that brokenness - we look at Jesus, when he breaks the bread for the 5,000, it looks like brokenness, but what does He make out of it? Abundance. The miracle can happen in the breaking.
Jim: I love it. Ann Voskamp, author of the book, The Broken Way. And, I would encourage you, if the happy way has not worked, try the broken way. I guarantee you that’s where the Lord is. Thanks for being with us.
Ann: Ah, thank you for grace.
John: That was really quite a conversation with Ann, recorded Jim back in Washington D.C. a little while ago. I appreciate her thoughtful perspective on growing spiritually with a broken heart.
Jim: We all, at one time or another will have a broken heart over something. In this world, you will have trouble, Jesus said it, but take heart I have overcome the world. He also said that, right out of the book of John. Focus is a resource for you and for your family, to help you be an overcomer in the midst of pain and trouble. We want to point you to hope in Jesus Christ, so let us help you. We have compassionate, caring, Christian counselors who can help you through whatever you’re dealing with. Call to set up a phone appointment, and for the rest of us who can help fund this great work, I hope you will be there for those who need to lean into Focus for that help. And also let me add, for a gift of any amount today, I wanna send you Ann’s book, A Broken Way, as our way of saying thank you.
John: Join our support team, or schedule a time for a counseling consultation when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or you can reach us online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. While you’re there, request a CD or get the free download of today’s program. Look for our mobile app as well, so you can listen on the go. Well, have a great weekend and join us on Monday for this broadcast. We’re gonna be covering conflict in marriage and this idea that actually the problem, might really be you.
Mrs. Leslie Vernick: We’re all so self-absorbed, we’re self-deceived, the Bible tells us, and so as we mature in life, getting married, those things don’t go away. They’re like deep roots, you know, they - you pull ‘em and they come right back. They - those self-oriented sins.
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Ann VoskampView Bio
Ann Voskamp is the author of several New York Times best-selling books including One Thousand Gifts, which has sold more than a million copies and has been translated into 22 languages, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, and The Broken Way. She has written articles that have been published in several major publications and was featured in Christianity Today as one of the 50 leading women who are most shaping the culture and church today. Ann and her husband have seven children. Learn more about her at her website, annvoskamp.com.