How do you know when something is really broken?

Because “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” right?

When I drove to work, it was 73 degrees outside. Yet the “auto” setting for my air conditioning blew hot air from the driver’s side vents and cold air from the passenger side’s vents. No one was sitting in the car except little old (hot & flashy) me. Sitting in the driver’s seat.

I wasn’t happy. Surely, this mixed-up air conditioning meant my car was “broken” beyond repair (well, beyond the cost of repairs worthy of a vehicle nearly two decades old).

Meanwhile, I was staring at traffic through a crack in the windshield that formed a nice J just where my left eye would like to see clearly. I had a horn that wouldn’t blow, passenger doors that only unlocked and locked manually from inside the car, and an ignition that started my car only when it wanted. And the way it started (or hesitated to start) was my only indication that my car would randomly die while running.

If my car has a rough start, I’ve learned to turn it off and restart it. If I don’t, it has the tendency to force a restart by dying on its own sometimes before I moved out of my parked position, sometimes a mile down the road, without warning. If my car has a normal start, it purrs like a cat, running smoothly and expertly the entire ride. But — similar to the sentiment in my blog’s title — how do I know when a start is rough? The number of seconds it takes the engine to turn over? The sound it makes as it starts? What? What is the threshold that dictates I must turn it off and try again?

What constitutes “broken,” exactly?

‘Broken’ is subjective

I find that question applies to my body as well. My shoulder has been wonky since Christmas. It hurts — sometimes. It doesn’t work — sometimes. For instance, when my alarm sounds in the morning, I can’t reach over and shut it off. My arm won’t move that way. Instead, I have to roll out of bed and then reach with my other arm to silence it.

In those first few minutes upon awakening, I can’t use my arm normally. I use my left hand to help my right arm take my robe down from its hook. My right hand tries to brush my bedhead and can’t. My left hand has to do the job.

But an hour later I can carry loaded bags into the gym, swim a mile or do an hour of yoga, and afterward handle both a brush in my right hand without a problem as I blow dry my hair. Quite the contrast from my earlier experiences.

Is my shoulder broken? What is the threshold that dictates it’s time for me to see a doctor’s help?

Years ago my sister told me her philosophy for such determinations.

“Wait,” she wisely said. “It will either get worse or get better.”

For the most part, I follow that. But isn’t it possible for something to get worse in such tiny increments that I fail to recognize “worse” until it’s completely broken?

If you can boil a frog alive by slowing heating the water, I can imagine that incremental brokenness can so distort your perception of normal that you miss the “get worse” part.


In addition to my breaking car and my breaking shoulder, my hand keeps falling asleep. Years ago, I noticed that my hand would fall asleep while I was driving. The chiropractor told me a crack in the neck would set it right. It didn’t.

Then my hand started falling asleep while I was swimming — sometimes both hands. I tried adjusting my stroke, varying my strokes — and I’ve had some people advise I stop swimming.

Now I notice that my hand falls asleep when I’m sleeping, when I’m eating, when I’m applying mascara, when I’m washing dishes. What’s more, if I’m mixing a batch of brownies or scrubbing a pan, I actually get electrical sensations in this sleepy hand. (Yet nobody has advised me to stop baking or washing dishes.)

The increasing frequency and the fact that my sleeping hand keeps the rest of my body from sleeping scared me enough to see a doctor.

When I told my friend Rachel that I had finally made an appointment with the doctor, she responded with this inspirational tidbit:

“I think I’m going to stop seeing doctors,” she said, “because when I finally see one, he just says, ‘Yeah, that stinks. Live with it.’ Basically, they just make their best guess.”

“I figure I need to get a verdict as to what this is,” I told her, “but I’m nervous because I’m afraid he’ll then send me all over town for costly tests before issuing me a verdict.”

Plus I was afraid he would tell me to stop swimming or otherwise do some sort of treatment I didn’t want (i.e. surgery).

The problem with advice

“When you invite someone to care, they have a certain level of expectation that you’ll do what they suggest,” I had lamented to Rachel when we were walking. “What if I don’t want to?”

[I’m not asking you to care or give advice, by the way. (I mean, I hope you care, but that isn’t why I’m writing.)]

The morning of my conversation with Rachel, at a caring advice-giver’s insistence, I’d hung myself from a pull-up bar for 30-second increments — in the middle of a group of people on mats working out together. I had woven my way through the gym and through these individuals wearing a cover-up dress over my bathing suit. Awkward. I hadn’t particularly wanted to hang myself on a bar on any level, especially in the middle of a crowd.

That was my physical therapist’s advice. I knew he would ask if I’d tried it, so I obediently (albeit reluctantly) did.

My yoga instructor also cares. She generally meets me a few minutes before class to check how I’m doing and suggest stretches and exercises. She also corrects my posture, caters classes to aid my ailments, critiques my swimming form and otherwise advises me.

A nurse who swims commanded me to make an appointment to see the best orthopedic specialist for shoulders and hands — and to do it now because I’m already behind the eight ball. She told me about her own experience — surgery — and said I can get back to doing what I love sooner.

I appreciate these advice-givers, but I can’t follow everyone’s advice. They are often at crossroads with one another — or with my own inclinations.

The day the nurse in the pool advised me, strongly, that I should see an orthopedist surgeon and see him now, I mentioned my “if you mention an ailment and make people care then they have a certain level of expectation that you’ll follow their advice” experience to my friend Chelsea.

“Have you considered acupuncture?” she asked, immediately advising me. “You can close your eyes so you don’t see the pins…”

Note to self: Stop telling people about your brokenness. Or that you might be broken — because how do you know when something is really broken?

Recently, a friend in the locker room asked me a question.

“Do you know anyone who’s had a partial knee replacement? Or have you even heard of that procedure?”

“Do you need to have one?” I asked her.

“Well, my doctor has been suggesting one for seven years,” she admitted, “but I don’t know if my knee is broken enough to have the surgery.”

“I can definitely relate to that!” I responded.

Find the ‘fix’

That day on my drive home, as I was considering my broken state and my need for a fix (or multiple fixes), the DJ on the radio read this Scripture:

“Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Instantly, I knew that was the “fix” that I needed.

I was driving and didn’t want to forget my thoughts, so I called myself and left a message:

“Remember that we are all kind of broken,” I said to my voicemail. “When we look at God instead of our circumstances, it has the tendency to make us forget about all that ails us.

“We are always going to be broken, have broken parts and broken things, but God is so much bigger than that.”

The next Sunday, my pastor was speaking about Joshua 9, an odd little story following the battle of Jericho in which Joshua and the leaders failed to ask counsel of the Lord and so fell prey to deception.

The main takeaway of the sermon was that we need to “pause, think, and ask the counsel of the Lord.” Not overly profound, by timely.

My takeaway was that God cares about the details of my life — my car, my shoulder, my hand, my whatever will go wrong tomorrow. And He can direct me. If I ask.

I’m not suggesting that I look at Jesus and do nothing for my shoulder or my hand or my car. I’m suggesting that instead of bringing my brokenness to the attention of a lot of caring people, I bring my brokenness to him.

As I do, I may find that the things of earth — broken car, broken body, if they are broken — “grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace,” or less significant. I may recognize that I view brokenness from a first-world perspective. I may realize that my actions contribute to my body’s ailments, and I can adjust what I do and so aid my healing.

As Rachel suggested, doctors aren’t the cure-all.

Vain imagination of pain

I fancy myself so tough that when I get an ailment worthy of whining, I figure I’m close to breaking. I imagine myself in the doctor’s office (or emergency room) with my severely broken shoulder attached only by my skin. The doctor is exclaiming how bad it is and how high my pain tolerance must be.

And, of course, I’d have insisted on finishing the dishes before I left for the hospital.

In reality, I’m sensitive to what feels good and what doesn’t, and what feels like a torn rotator cuff or broken shoulder so severe that my arm is surely hanging by threads of ligaments and skin is just a little swelling of the bursa and tendons.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, the saying goes.

Well, it’s all broken. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and then ask Him what to do with your brokenness.

By the way, I did see a doctor. He did suggest I stop swimming — at least the strokes and intensity I had been doing — because I have a shoulder impingement and carpal tunnel. So, my shoulder hasn’t broken completely, and I’ve wowed no one with my supposed pain tolerance.

But the car — that’s another story! I’ve purchased a new-to-me car!

And that will be the topic of another blog post. Of course.

4 thoughts on “How do you know when something is really broken?

  1. Bless you!☺😊Don’t swim for an hour! Get the carpel tunnel repaired! With binding on it, you can still do things. Glad you have a ‘newer’ car. 💘 Love & Prayers, Antique Claire. P.S. Our Aunt Edna, she was 101+ passed 7/20! A blessing! I visited her June 19th!


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