Brokenness

11 03 2011

This Tuesday, I began volunteer training to become a CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate).  I knew from the beginning that it would be a tough process: CASAs are appointed to represent the best interests of children in foster care, typically those who have been badly abused.  I’ve quickly learned that “the best interests” of these children doesn’t mean that we will find a happy, fix-all solution for any of them.  The stories are convoluted and sad; and the best solution, obviously, would be to go back in time and prevent any of the abuse from ever happening.  It is overwhelming to try and wrap your mind around how many kids — just in our city! — who have lived with abuse and neglect as their norm.

On Tuesday night, after training, I opened up my Bible in search of some Scripture that might possibly speak to this 21st-century reality.  And I ended up in the 9th chapter of Ezra.  At this point in the story, Ezra has just returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to oversee the rebuilding of the Temple.  He’s probably dreamed of this moment all his life.  He is returning to his people’s homeland…to the most holy place in all of Judaism. But shortly after he arrives, he learns that the returned exiles have disobeyed God yet again.  Here is his reaction:

“When I heard this, I tore my clothing, pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked.  Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel came and sat with me because of this unfaithfulness of his people.  And I sat there utterly appalled until the time of the evening sacrifice.  At the time of the sacrifice, I stood up from where I had sat in mourning with my clothes torn.  I fell to my knees, lifted my hands to the Lord my God.  I prayed, “O my God, I am utterly ashamed.  I blush to lift my face to you.  For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens.  Our whole history has been one of great sin…and now, O our God, what can we say after all of this?  For once again we have ignored your commands!” (Ezra 9:5-7a, 10, NLT)

Of course we sin.  Of course we fall short.  It’s in our very nature, and it is written across every page of human history.  But there are moments when we catch a glimpse of just how broken we really are, and we can’t help but become overwhelmed by it.  At this point in the story, Ezra might as well be a visitor; he’s new to Jerusalem, and he certainly hasn’t had the chance to get married yet!  But instead of placing himself on a pedestal, he feels the burden of his people and takes on their guilt before God.

Ezra’s prayer is a one of brokenness, of communal confession, of compassion in the truest sense of the word, and of repentance.  As we enter into the season of Lent, I hope and pray that I would keep his words close to my heart.

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