Standing on the Holy Ground of Brokenness {Book Club}

“Sometimes the holiest ground is the emptiest”.

I have not known poverty to the extent Alia Joy describes in chapters 2 and 3 of her book Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack. I grew up the daughter of a farmer, so there was always garden-fresh or canned vegetables and eggs available, milk straight from the cow. I didn’t know completely about the stressful days when money was extra tight.

But I do know a little about scarcity, at least the mindset.

Believing there’s not enough space in Kingdom work for my meager contributions. Wondering if I have enough strength to go out and talk to people again tomorrow, when second-language conversations with strangers drains my energy. Stressing over the 9-hour bus ride to the capital city and grocery stores, and will I remember everything we need to stockpile for the next 2 months.

In these chapters, we learn more about the time Alia and her family spent as cross-cultural workers in Nepal, and the season following her illness and their return to the United States. At the beginning of chapter 3, Alia describes her mother’s experience at a Bible study and the result of her honest answer. Her perspective is that people don’t want to hear about the realities of overseas life. They want the highlight reels and the amazing stories of victory and transformation. They don’t want to hear about the struggles, the every day trips to the market or visa office (for the one hundredth time).

Alia said, “My mom’s eyes dropped to her lap. There were no more words to be said. It was as though all my mother’s battered soul was just passed by, and so she learned not to speak up in groups. She learned not to share our stories because no one understood.”

I remember returning home last year and being asked about the political situation in Cambodia at a gathering. As I described it, I looked around the table and realized, “This must sound so crazy. What a weird life I lead!” It felt isolating, despite the care and attempt to enter my world, to understand.

In many ways, this can mark us as overseas workers. We are changed by our time overseas in ways we can’t even understand ourselves sometimes. We will never truly become like the people we live among in our host culture, but we cannot go back to the way we were in our passport culture either.

This can feel empty, can’t it? It can feel like weakness or lack. When we pile on daily culture stress, team conflict, illness, family crises back home, it can feel like a crushing burden.

At first when I read these chapters, I thought, “Goodness, how depressing!” Alia’s story is raw and broken, and we haven’t gotten to the hopeful part yet. The brokenness, the hurt, the suffering, the things she believed about God and herself, breaks my heart and I know that she isn’t the only one that has had to experience these things.

But then, the last paragraph of chapter three was the thrill of hope that I didn’t realize my own heart needed.

She said, “I don’t yet know our lack leads to God’s abundance. Barren places long to be filled. Sometimes howling at the moon in the wastelands with our fists raised to the heavens is our most honest prayer for Jesus to come down from the high and distant places we’ve relegated him to and walk with us on scorched and humble feet. Sometimes the holiest ground is the emptiest”.

It’s not an ending, not a all-tied-up-with-a-bow and everything-is-fine conclusion. I don’t think that’s what we want anyway, someone telling us how they “arrived” and we can too. Honestly, there will still be struggles, still be brokenness in us and in the world around us. BUT. We are loved by a God who does fill up our empty places, who gives us strength for one more day. He delights in our every day trips to pay our electricity bill, the ways we fight for hope as we mop floors and run after little ones. He meets us there in our hurt and sees all that breaks our heart. HE is the very best and perfect ending.

Is there a part of your life that has felt barren? Have you seen God bringing signs of life to those areas? Are you able to find ways to share your stories from overseas in ways that connect with people, or do you feel more like Alia’s mom and keep those stories tucked away?

We aren’t done with Alia’s story! Here’s the schedule for the rest of the book:

October 22: Chapter 4

October 29: Chapter 5

November 5: Chapters 6 & 7

November 12: Chapter 8

November 19: Chapter 9

November 26: Chapters 10 & 11

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15 Comments

  1. AM October 14, 2019

    This book is wrecking and refreshment to my soul. I can’t put it down. …….I definitely feel like an alien in my own “place”. I don’t want to talk bc the questions are too much, too painful, too raw. I completely relate—as of now to to Alia Joy’s mom. We are most assuredly in the barren but surrounded by love.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann October 16, 2019

      So glad you are joining in and I love hearing the impact this book is having on you! It is such a painful place to hold back because your story feels too raw or doesn’t fit the context. You are always welcome to share your heart here! ❤️

      1. Abigail November 4, 2019

        Sarah, thank you for your welcome to share honestly in this space.❤️The quote about howling to Jesus really hits me. Though I know in my head that this isn’t true, sometimes my heart can feel like “This is how You treat your kids?!” with the pain of 3 pregnancy losses in such a short time, including the last one requiring laparoscopic surgery, with a recovery of about a month. I believe there is power in sharing from the in-between, when longings still aren’t met, and it’s messy. Of course we long to pass through it to the other side of healing and fruitfulness and life. But it touches my heart when others are also in the heartbreak of not yet having a rainbow baby.

  2. Rachel Kahindi October 15, 2019

    These chapters were hard! There is some irony (or is it coincidence?) that, even as I related to Alia Joy’s mother, that no one wanted to hear her difficult stories, I found myself not wanting to read any more difficult stories. When I turned the page and saw “part 2: Hope,” I thought, ok, I can continue reading this book.

    In chapter 2, she said, “We learn to accept our weakness but never ask for God’s strength.” It’s one of those things that we know, we talk about in platitudes, but struggle to put into practice. A few months ago, I was reading Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray. There’s a chapter devoted to this concept: “We Cannot. God Can.” He says, “Many people have learned half the lesson: it is impossible with men, so they give up in helpless despair and live wretched Christian lives without joy or strength or victory. Why? Because they do not humble themselves to learn the other lesson: with God all things are possible.”

    1. Sarah Hilkemann October 16, 2019

      That’s such a good point, Rachel! It made me think how I know I’ve come a long way in being able to admit my weakness. But does that then move me to trust God’s strength and faithfulness? Or do I just stay stuck in seeing my weakness? Hmm, I definitely need to ponder that. 🙂 Thank you for your wise insights!!

    2. Michele October 20, 2019

      Good old Andrew Murray! Thanks for this quote- it says well, what I’ve been wanting to express to a few people around me who have gotten very good at the first part, but seem stuck there.

  3. Katherine October 15, 2019

    This quote is very meme-able : Missions is.”…ordinary life but with less electricity and running water.”

    Joy, Alia. Glorious Weakness (p. 66). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann October 16, 2019

      Haha, yes! It’s ordinary days and laundry and getting meals on the table and often all that is done with less electricity and running water. 😉

    2. Abigail November 4, 2019

      Haha, true.

  4. Beth October 16, 2019

    There was a part in chapter 2 on page 55 (paperback) where she talks about her mom always being the dutiful servant and how that along with missionary narratives, it shaped her view of God. She said, “her [mother’s] tendency toward service and doing, always up to her elbows in everyone else’s needs taught me that our worth is found in what we have to offer, what we accomplish for God…..We learn how to settle. We learn to accept our weakness but never ask for God’s strength…We pray to God as if we don’t know him at all; we live with bastardly longing—because a true child would ask. A true child would crawl right up into God’s lap and ask for a better story.”

    This really resonated with me! This may sound crazy, but sometimes I feel the temptation to idolize suffering and sacrifice as if the more of that we have in our lives somehow the closer we are to holiness. Or perhaps it’s a way to find meaning in the suffering because of all the WHYs: why did the provision not come, why is my child sick, why is this church closing or ministry ending after all the sacrifice?

    For me personally, I find that when my eyes turn towards my own suffering, I forget to be thankful for all God is doing in the midst of it. It’s so easy for me to miss his goodness because I just want to know why. Not that it makes it all better or ends the suffering in any way, but somehow I find that when I focus on saying thank you to God, it gives me peace. Not peace because my suffering suddenly has purpose but peace because I see his love and goodness still there. And that’s so comforting. And when I count the blessings, even the small ones, it somehow makes it easier and more okay to ask for more—to ask for goodness and love because he’s already given it in so many other little ways. There’s peace for me in knowing it’s okay to ask for love if he’s already given it.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann October 16, 2019

      Thank you so much for sharing, Beth! I really appreciate your honesty and it doesn’t sound crazy. 🙂 I’m not totally sure why, but in our line of work sometimes our sacrifices and suffering can almost become a badge of honor. And then like you said, we can get stuck there. It’s SUCH a good reminder to turn back to Jesus and be grateful- which doesn’t make our suffering go away, but pushes us back toward peace. I was reading in Habakkuk 3 this morning, the last verses in the chapter where it talks about even though all these things are going wrong, even when nothing is working, YET we can rejoice in the God of our salvation who gives us strength. So, so true. ❤️

    2. Abigail November 4, 2019

      Beth, thank you so much for sharing this perspective. It’s such a good, encouraging reminder that even when we can’t see it, His love is always there. ❤️

  5. Phyllis October 19, 2019

    Not to discount how truly awful Alia’s story was, but I found myself wondering why the poverty and being left out affected her so incredibly deeply. Those were the only parts of her story that I also experienced personally, and as a kid they just didn’t phase me. It just didn’t bother me that there wasn’t money, or that I didn’t have stuff other kids did, or that I wasn’t in the cliques. So, I wonder, will our children have such deep scars from the shabbiness and “strangeness” they live in now? What makes the difference?

    And I will say that as an adult I struggle with trying to understand scarcity and abundance. One of the quotes I marked was “Being a secondhand kid in a department-store world can make you start to believe that God has only scraps for you. It’ll teach you envy and bitterness if you let it. All you see is what’s lacking. I let it spoil all the good things God had for me…. I faithfully worship the god of scarcity, a stingy and mean god, a secondhand god who is always holding out. A god who turns the other way.” I heard myself saying these ideas out loud a few years ago, when we needed something, and a friend wanted to know if we had asked. (We had.) “People are so generous,” he said. And I actually answered, “Yes, but not for us.”

    Anyway, this is an amazing book, and i have so many thoughts going with it. These were just the few that I am articulating now.

  6. Jenny November 7, 2019

    As I read the story of Alia’s mom sharing in the group, I thought of how exhausting it has been for me to recount stories and experiences because it’s necessary to give so much backstory to people who haven’t been there. And there are people who only want the highlight reel, but there are also people who care about the hard, messy details. I find that in one-on-one talks, I can share hard things with friends. But it’s also hard when I’m so far away most of the time to keep in regular contact with those people who I want to share those details with so that when I do see them again in person, I don’t have to go allllll the way back to give all the backstory.

    1. Abigail November 8, 2019

      Good point.

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