We’re Supposed To Get Broken

I had a bit of a revelation in the park the other morning a few weeks back.

My husband was away on another training weekend in the UK and I was TIRED, I was trying to put sunscreen on my five year old, while keeping half an eye on my toddler, who was climbing a baby staircase to a small slide – which he is capable of doing on his own now.. but, he fell and lay on the sand screaming. I ran to him thinking/praying/crying in my head, “Oh, no, not again, please I can’t do this again, not another trip to A and E, with the driving and the heat and the language and the parking and the cross-cultural stress, not today, not while daddy’s away, please.”

I know it comes with the territory, small kids, lots of things happen (and ours are “busy” kids). And I know I can’t wrap them up in cotton wool, but sometimes, like on this particular morning, when I’m tired, I wish I could guarantee myself a carefree hour or two with no mishaps.

After I picked the baby up, had him sit on my lap crying for a bit and fed him some snacks and he calmed down, I was standing in the shade (35 degree heat adding to tiredness) watching him play and having an in-my-head/half muttered aloud conversation with God. “You see, God, I don’t trust you, I’m exhausted and I can’t have a break, you can’t even protect me from these sorts of things. What’s the point of all of this?”

And it occurred to me, or God said to me:

“You know what? You’re supposed to get broken! You’re not supposed to be super-human.. Humans get tired and broken, and if you do too much for too long that’s what happens.”

I sort of actually understood: if I didn’t get tired from doing too much I’d be God, not human. And there wouldn’t be a “too much” that’s the finite/infinite distinction!

So, not being able to concentrate, and breaking things, and locking myself out of the house, and not feeling like I can take one more “toddler falling off something incident,” shows I’m overloaded and need rest and support.

I guess I know that really.

But my tendency is always to think “I’ll have one good night’s sleep and I’ll be fine.” Or “one hour off,” or “one girly evening with a friend.” But you know what? Fatigue doesn’t creep up from one night of bad sleep, or missing one hour off, or not having an occasional night with girl friends. It comes from lots of gaps over a long period of time.

I knew this two year period with my husband traveling regularly abroad with me at home with a five year old and then adding a baby into the mix was going to be hard. So I shouldn’t be surprised at the end of it if I feel frayed. I have tried to put things in place for support. But, with the best will in the world we can’t predict all the work and other stressors that will happen in any given time period. Things got more crazy than we could ever have expected. Maybe I “should” have taken more breaks, but I’m not sure how.

It’s okay to be broken. When things have been too much, when our cross cultural work burns us out, even when we’re trying for it not to, we’re supposed to get broken. I did what I knew how to do. Now there’s the long (accept it, accept it!) long, not short, process of trying to recuperate. Feed good stuff in, get good introvert time regularly, re-charge. It’s okay to be down and tired, to take time. To start this process again of “living life to the full”.

Where do you need permission to be broken? 



  1. Laura October 6, 2015


    Thank you for your words today! If only we talked more in training for serving overseas about how we’re supposed to get broken. Its a reality we tend to overlook, and I love how you reminded us of this truth. Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Ellie October 7, 2015

      Thanks Laura. Yes, you’re right, maybe we need more stuff on this in our training. Although I think we did have some on this sort of thing but in a way it’s not until it happens to you that you (eventually) realise “ah, this is the kind of thing they meant!” – maybe I’m a bit slow on the uptake but it took me quite a while to work out I was exhausted 😉

  2. Jodie Pine October 6, 2015

    What a great conversation you had with God! It’s so true that He didn’t make us to be super human but to be dependent on His strength. Because of struggling with migraines I have come to peace with not being a high capacity super woman. But I sometimes still fight my feeling of brokenness and weakness because I want to get more done in my day or want to feel like I’m making a more of a difference for Him. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Ellie October 7, 2015

      Thanks Jodie, I guess it was a great conversation with God although I felt quite cross at the time and probably didn’t recognise that 🙂

      I know that feeling of “wanting to feel like I’m making more of a difference for him” it reminds me of a conversation with a friend yesterday when were just chatting about how so often it seems that God uses us in the areas we’re not “trying to be useful” in, but in totally different unexpected ways. And, surprisingly (to us) when we’re most broken sometimes we reflect God’s working in a broken world and make him much more accessible to others. (“But I want to be “strong” God and show what you’re like” “Ah, but my power is made perfect (displayed?) through weakness”) Scary thoughts…?!

  3. Elizabeth October 6, 2015

    “If I didn’t get tired from doing too much I’d be God, not human.” I LOVE this. I haven’t heard it in quite that way before, and now that you say it, duh! Of course I have limits, I’m not God! Obvious, right? But yeah, not always so obvious in regular life 🙁 

    “Now there’s the long (accept it, accept it!) long, not short, process of trying to recuperate.” Yes. Yes yes yes, the lower you are, and the longer it took to get that low, the longer it’s going to take to recover. I think Robynn Bliss and Susan Eenigenburg, co-authors of “Expectations and Burnout,” use a stairway as a visual explanation of that truth in their book. Again, so simple, but so easy to forget. If I’ve been sleep-deprived for a long time, say with a nursing baby over the time period of a year or so (or even  months), it’s going to take a while to recover that sleep deficit and feel normal again.

    These things are so simple, yet so hard to remember. Thank you for sharing them in a memorable way. 🙂

    1. Ellie October 7, 2015

      Thanks Elizabeth! I know, it’s like “how did I not get this?!” The staircase is a good image to check in with ourselves, I might go back and re-read that chapter. You’re right, I think we really don’t give ourselves enough grace to recuperate after the drain of sleep disturbance with small ones. Again, feels like it should be obvious – where did I get this “superwoman” costume from??

  4. Lydia October 7, 2015

    “Now there’s the long (accept it, accept it!) long, not short, process of trying to recuperate.”

    So true…. we didn’t get to an exhausted point in a day. We aren’t going to recover in a day either. But a restful day does help! My husband and I are both so tired, especially him. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the gift before in that cycle of doing too much for too long, in a stressful environment, leading to brokenness. It feels like so much depends on us, but really it doesn’t. It all is depending on God, not us.

    I’m left wondering though, how do you persistently try to recuperate in a healthy way? The work we are involved in is at the point where most of the decisions and the action do seem dependent on my husband. He barely ever gets a whole day off, because his phone will ring or something will come up, or he will “try to get just one little step done before tomorrow”. And culture stress never stops… just driving somewhere is an experience in the time of Judges… when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

    1. Ellie October 7, 2015

      Hi Lydia, I’m so sorry it’s hard for you guys right now. I think your phrase “the gift.. in the cycle of doing too much.. leading to brokenness” is beautiful. Yes, it is a gift, and I think we have this “Protestant work ethic” often where you’re right, we think *it depends on us* but sometimes that is pride/fear.. not God.

      Also “how do you persistently try to recuperate in a healthy way?” Such a good question!

      I think the “Boundaries” book by Cloud and Townsend was crucial for me understanding how I don’t have to give everything all the time, in fact it’s bad stewardship of ourselves. (The practice of course is taking me years to work out! 😉 )

      And the other thing was just generally the understanding of the importance of Sabbath as instituted by God as a holy thing that we neglect at our peril. Difficult to do in the cross-cultural context. It sounds like you’re trying to look after yourselves. I hear in your comment the interruptions of time-off being a drain, and I totally get that. I think we need to find ways to protect time somehow to stop from going crazy.

      In our own lives I have tried a couple of things in the last year or two – one is to book in a family day once a month where we get out of the city – it always feels like a lot of work to pack up a picnic and organise the kids and we often feel like “is it worth it?” and then when we do it we’re like “Yey, such a good idea!” and I take one morning off a week as my Sabbath time. If it’s not routine and it’s not in the diary and “not optional” it won’t work. So I organised with my husband that he will have the kids that morning each week (when they’re not at school) and he will go out. I don’t look at my emails/answer the phone or do anything “work-y” and enjoy the freedom to just “choose” whether to read, pray, listen to worship music etc.

      I think having people you’re accountable to (who are friends who you trust) is really important for this. I can say to my close friends at home “check up on me whether I’ve done my exercises/prayed/baked a cake”or whatever I’ve decided is relaxing and good for me. And they do.

      We have had conversations at home about trigger points for us and what to do to fix them. (At least some of the time.) So for me eating meals together and having a conversation at least once a day is really important so we try to juggle things around to do that. And we won’t answer the phone during meal times. I think it’s easy to think things depend on us (see Boundaries book again 🙂  ) but we find when we set limits that things haven’t usually exploded every time we didn’t answer the phone but got back to it half an hour (or a day) later.

      Also I think if we don’t set limits it doesn’t show others it’s possible. I think of Jesus going away to a mountain to be quiet. How would we know we needed to do that if he didn’t show us?

      Looking forward to others chipping in on the conversation!

  5. kylie October 7, 2015

    Beautiful, Eluned! Thank you for sharing this. I just posted on my blog yesterday about my love of band-aids and the quick convenience of slapping one on a problem, and how God is teaching me these days to rest in the hurt and confusion and see what He’s doing, to not always just fix it.

    Your post was such an encouragement to remind me from the very beginning that “we are supposed to get broken!” God made us breakable on purpose. I saw a quote the other day talking about how we are all a little broken, that’s how the light gets in (not exact by any means!)

    Thanks again for the encouragement, and I hope you find in God the time and grace for recuperation and restoration. Just prayed for you and your family!

    1. Ellie October 7, 2015

      Thanks Kylie! I love your blog post. I was just moaning to a friend the other day “grief and loss takes so much time” and I “want to be better already” and I have to fight my tendency to “get it together and cover up and move on” aargh! 🙂

      Love the picture about the light getting in.

      Thanks for the prayers.

  6. Emily Smith October 7, 2015

    “[fatigue] comes from lots of gaps over a long period of time”

    Thank you for this reminder. I’ve felt so frustrated that I’m not “better.” Reality: I’m repairing from a lot of gaps that have been there a long time. And it takes time. It is slow. And many times I have asked myself how I got here. How did I not do something sooner

    “I did what I knew how to do.” I think that answers so much. I was doing the best I could. My best led me to breaking. But the breaking and restoration are not wasted, not useless. God is using this breaking and following restoration in my life as much as he ever used my “put together” self.

  7. Ellie October 7, 2015

    “Reality: I’m repairing from a lot of gaps that have been there a long time.” So true Emily. And I think it goes back to that “somehow, don’t-know-how-we-have-it Facade” we were talking about the other day. Some of those gaps got there by us pretending/thinking we were fine when we weren’t and so maybe taking us down into tiredness and “can’t cope-ness” is one way God uses to be able to take away the facade and help us to get really more whole. Hope so 🙂

  8. Devi October 7, 2015

    I spent all of my married life in Switzerland and Sweden (so far, we are on the move again right now… to Australia) with a traveling hubby for work, and yes, I have found myself in these situations. Car keys lost, what do I do? Sick child in the middle of the night, then what? And then there is the run-of-the-mill insanity that comes with having two small boys and the way it leaves me limp on the couch in the evenings…. so much brokenness, sometimes I don’t think I need permission to be broken as much as I need permission to believe that the brokenness makes a path toward wholeness. Thanks for your words here today, you are definitely not alone. What a relief that is.

  9. Ellie October 7, 2015

    Oh Devi, it’s hard isn’t it? Sometimes I feel like the things *only* happen when he’s away. (Not true but I wish nothing ever happened when I was on my own!) “limp on the couch in the evenings” – oh yes, I hear you! 🙂

    “sometimes I don’t think I need permission to be broken as much as I need permission to believe that the brokenness makes a path toward wholeness” yes, it’s hard to hang onto but somehow we believe it, right? Blessings on you in this big move and yey for not being alone 🙂

    1. Elizabeth October 7, 2015

      “Sometimes I feel like the things *only* happen when he’s away. (Not true but I wish nothing ever happened when I was on my own!)”

      I so relate to that statement!! It does seem like more happens when hubby is gone, but then again I know in my head that a lot of stuff goes wrong when he’s home, too!

      1. S October 12, 2015

        That makes me smile.  Husband leaving is totally an invitation for a power line to fall, a baby to get sick, or the car to break down.

  10. Anna October 7, 2015

    I had this mistaken subconscious idea that I wasn’t really supposed to have limits in ministry- “I can do all things through Him…” Right?  But I did have to learn that God gives us limits- physical, mental, emotional.  One of the things I started to do was to be intentional about Sabbath rest.  Recently, my husband pointed out that it is one of the 10 commandments, but we generally just ignore it.

    1. Elizabeth October 7, 2015

      “But we generally just ignore it.” The way you said that just cracked me up!! So nonchalantly, sort of like the way we ignore it. LOL!

      I just heard Sarah Mae talk about limits in terms of “embracing your capacity” and she spun it like it was this positive thing. If you have a high capacity, embrace it, and serve as much as you can, but don’t look down on others with low capacity. If you have a low capacity, be ok with it, don’t beat yourself up, even embrace it. As long as you let it dictate your commitments and decisions. Her attitude about it was so positive that it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside 🙂

  11. Ellie October 8, 2015

    Yeah, I know, it’s amazing isn’t it – I read somewhere, I can’t remember where now, someone writing about how he thinks it’s one of the enemy’s most effective strategies in the West.. We wouldn’t think it was okay to murder or lie or steal but we think it’s okay to be so busy we can’t see straight – and yet it’s on God’s top ten of things not to do!

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