In the Middle of the Mess Study Guide: Strength for This Beautiful, Broken Life

In the Middle of the Mess Study Guide: Strength for This Beautiful, Broken Life

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In the Middle of the Mess Study Guide: Strength for This Beautiful, Broken Life by Sheila Walsh

The trials we face in this life can feel overwhelming. Life often seems broken—shattered into a million pieces—and at times we may wonder if our mess is “too big” for God. We can convince ourselves we are too far away from God’s grace for it to reach us where we are.

Sheila Walsh knows this feeling all too well—and the hiding and shame that result from it. But in this six-session video study, she shows how using spiritual disciplines such as confession, prayer, and meditation on Scripture helped her break free from this cycle of despair and experience newfound joy as a child of God—fully known, fully loved, and fully accepted. She reveals that while we will never be completely “fixed” on earth, God’s power can be made perfect in our weakness. He is waiting to accept us—having already promised to love us, heal us, and carry us through to the end. Our brokenness can be the beginning of something beautiful, and accepting the fact that we are broken can be the key to finding God’s strength in the middle of the mess.

This study guide includes video discussion questions, Bible exploration, and in-between session study materials that will help you practice the spiritual discipline Sheila is discussing each week as she leads you and your group members through the journey of brokenness.

Sessions include:

  1. Brokenness Is the Beginning
  2. Brokenness Is Hard
  3. Brokenness Is Loud
  4. Brokenness Is to Be Shared
  5. Brokenness Is the Path to Healing
  6. Brokenness Is Temporary

Designed for use with the In the Middle of the Mess Video Study (sold separately).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310089438
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Edition description: Study Guid
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 103,129
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Sheila Walsh is a powerful communicator, Bible teacher, and bestselling author with more than five million books sold. She is the author of the award-winning Gigi, God’s Little Princess series, Peace for Today, Loved Back to Life, The Storm Inside, Five Minutes with Jesus and The Longing in Me. She is cohost of Life Today with James and Betty Robison. Sheila lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, Barry, and son, Christian.

Ashley Wiersma is a freelance writer of spiritual books and curricula. She and her husband and daughter make their home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Read an Excerpt


Brokenness Is the Beginning

Grace and Radical Acceptance

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:32 ESV

Session Overview

It's there to greet you first thing in the morning, through an unkind word from your spouse or child. It's there again as you merge onto the highway, via the other guy's blaring horn, causing your unwanted swerve. It shows up in your friend's phone call ... there's an edge there — you can hear it. Things aren't as they should be. News stories shouted at you all day long only confirm what you suspected to be true: things are not okay in this world. Life is broken — deeply broken — shattered into a million pieces. The question isn't so much, "Is there brokenness in this world?" for that response would be yes. The question is, "What will we do with this brokenness in the world ... and also, in me?"

In this opening session, we'll journey through the Word of God to take a look at both the expected and unexpected nature of this brokenness that so marks our existence. What did God promise would be true of our earthly lives? How did those whose lives are detailed in Scripture move through seasons of trial with wisdom and grace? And, if we believe God truly can bring beauty from ashes, as the prophet Isaiah so boldly declared (see Isaiah 61:3), then how are we to find our way from here to there, from the bleakness and desperation that marks brokenness's beginning to the longed-for victory that we are promised?

Come. Sit with God. Soak in His Word. Let His ages-old perspective and promises sink deep into your sea-tossed soul. There is a marvelous end game to this brokenness that we're just sure will do us in. Brokenness is a necessary beginning. This is where our discussion begins.

Opening Thoughts

Take one to two minutes to open your time together with prayer. Then, have each group member answer the following question before watching the video segment:

How have you seen "brokenness" show up in your life? Describe for your group a recent encounter or exchange from which you walked away thinking, Things here aren't as they are meant to be.

Video: Brokenness Is the Beginning (20 MINUTES)

Play the video for Session 1. Use the following prompts to record your thoughts as you watch.


Secrets don't keep us safe

God's rock-solid promise

Six truths

Where true transformation comes from

The great distance between our head and our heart

Imprisoned to be set free

Two benefits to coming to the end of oneself

The usefulness of "radical acceptance"

Everyone who calls on God is saved by God

The one-word prayer "Jesus"

Letter from a devoted daughter

Group Discussion

Spend the balance of your group time answering as many of the following questions as you have time and energy for, being sure to give equal opportunity for each member to share.

1. Briefly review your video notes. Given your present circumstances, what word, phrase, sentiment, or concept feels most relevant to you? Why?

2. Sheila noted the six sessions of this study. Which of the following holds the most promise for you? Which one makes you feel anxious the first time you read it?

Brokenness is the beginning ... the truth of our situation, as bleak as that truth may be, can set us free.

Brokenness is hard ... even on the darkest night, we never walk the path of grief alone.

Brokenness is loud ... even in our noisy world, we can learn to live in the stillness and quietness of God's presence.

Brokenness is to be shared ... there is strength to be found in confessing our sins to one another.

Brokenness is the path to healing ... when we fix our eyes on God, we live a life of thanksgiving.

Brokenness is temporary ... what you are facing right now will pass.

3. In what way can you relate to Sheila's experience of raw emotions resurfacing long after you thought those feelings were dealt with and buried? Why is jagged-edge brokenness so terribly hard to "get over"? Do you believe it's possible to truly move past deep pain?

4. What thoughts came to mind when you heard Sheila reference this session's spiritual-discipline focus of radical acceptance? What does that practice involve? What would you gain from the practice of radically accepting your present circumstances and pain?

5. Sheila said one of her biggest motivations for putting together the content for this study was to remind people that "even in our brokenness, we can tell the truth ... we don't have to hide anymore." What do you suppose keeps us from telling our truth? What keeps us hiding from the reality of our lives?

6. What attitudes, actions, or habits might the group practice in order to encourage your honest participation in this six-session experience? What do they need to understand about you in this process?

Closing Prayer

Taking as much time as your group needs, have each member who feels comfortable complete the following prayer prompt as a way to close your discussion:

God, please let this present brokenness I'm dealing with be the beginning of ...

Between-Sessions Personal Study

Session One

Reflect on the content you've discussed this week by engaging in any or all of the following between-sessions personal studies. The time you invest will be well spent, so let God use it to draw you closer to Him. At your next meeting, share with your group any key points or insights that stood out to you as you spent this time with the Lord.

PART ONE: The Existence of Brokenness Is Expected

Where does it come from, that immediate regret you feel when you respond too harshly to a loved one or that sorrow over someone being harsh with you? Why is it there, that sense of insecurity when it seems everyone else has their lives together, that frustration that things haven't panned out like you thought they would? What do you call that anxiety over not having enough money to cover your obligations, or that fear that your kids aren't turning out right, or the resignation to the fact that three glasses of wine has become part of your nightly routine? The answer to these and a thousand more questions is found in a single word: brokenness. Brokenness is a declaration that all is not as it should be in the world, the realization that we indeed have fallen ... and are having trouble getting back up.


Take a few moments to revisit this week's teaching as it relates to your personal experience.

When you think of the word brokenness, what thoughts or images come to mind? What experiences or assumptions influence these associations for you?

As you survey the landscape of your life today, where do you spot brokenness in any of its forms?

What emotions bubble up to the surface of your mind and heart as you focus your attention on these aspects of brokenness you face?

If you were to focus on one particular aspect of brokenness for the purposes of this study, what would it be? Select one from the options that follow on the next page, or write in a one-to two-word phrase that describes the brokenness you feel. (You can go back and apply the practices introduced in this guide to additional aspects of brokenness you'd like repaired, but to aid your focus this first time through, consider choosing just one.)

[] Abuse

[] Addiction

[] Anxiety/anxious thoughts

[] Chronic pain

[] Debilitating fear

[] Depression

[] Distance from loved ones

[] Escapist thoughts

[] Family member's pain

[] Financial debt

[] God seems silent

[] Grief over loss

[] Grief over world affairs

[] Illness

[] Impact-hungry

[] Job dissatisfaction

[] Job loss

[] Lack of material resources

[] Loneliness

[] Marital strife/discord

[] Overwhelmed with life

[] Pain from physical accident

[] Parenting challenges

[] Post-traumatic stress

[] Prodigal child

[] Sorrow

[] Spiritual doubts

[] Substance misuse

[] Suffering

[] Suicidal thoughts

[] Tragedy

[] Trauma

[] Uncertainty regarding future

[] Unwanted health diagnosis

[] Other ___________________________

With this singular aspect of brokenness in mind, use the following prompts to describe the effect it is having on the various parts of your life:










Does anything shock you about the level of impact your brokenness is having on you? Which aspects have you just "come to expect" as being part of your life here on earth? Note your thoughts in the space below.


Read each of the following Scripture passages and reflect on the related questions.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — to be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone's account where there is no law.

(Romans 5:12–13)

Who do you understand the "one man" to be (see also Genesis 3)? How did sin first enter our world?

What accompanied sin as it came into the picture here on earth?

Who is affected by the "death" that has arrived?

Given that you and everyone around you are alive today, what type of "death" is ushered in through sin?

How does spiritual death lead to a sense that "things are broken" here on earth?

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

(Isaiah 53:6)

Who is tempted to go his or her own way, according to this verse?

Why is going one's own way considered going "astray"?

What is the connection between humankind's tendency to go its own way and the fact that brokenness exists in the world?

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death" or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

(Revelation 21:4)

What can you deduce about our present reality, given this picture of glory that John paints in Revelation?

What type of "death" is John speaking of here?

What confidence do you gain from John's vision of the future for those who are in Christ?


As a means for bringing the first theme to life — that of brokenness being an expected part of our experience here on earth — select one or more of the following to practice sometime today:

• Sit with the concept from Isaiah 53:6 about the link between going your own way and the existence of brokenness. What brokenness have you known in your past that could have been averted had you submitted your will and ways to God?

• Write out the word brokenness on a sheet of paper. Create an acrostic based on your present challenges, forming a new word with each letter, such as "bleak days" for b, "repetition of previous mistakes" for r, and so forth. Read your acrostic aloud to yourself as a means of acknowledging the pain you've endured.

• Consider how brokenness sounds. What type of music, sound from nature, tone of voice, or other sound characterizes pain, in your view? Spend a few moments silently "playing" that sound in your mind. What emotions does the sound elicit from you?

• What are a few things you expect to transpire in a given week? A regular meeting at work, perhaps, or a child's school routine? The Tuesday-night neighborhood potluck, weekend worship at church, or book club on Thursday night? Jot down these events that occur each and every week. Now imagine what it would be like to actually slot "face challenges, obstacles, and pain" on your calendar. What would it be like to accept as usual, normal, and expected the brokenness that Scripture says we will undoubtedly endure?

• Go outside and find a few blades of grass, a small pile of leaves, or a stray feather. Toss one of these natural elements into the air and watch it float away in the wind. Thank God that someday, according to Revelation 21, every bit of brokenness we experience will fade, as though carried off by the wind. Imagine the future scene that John painted: no more death, no more crying, no more pain. What do you most look forward to about living in that new reality?

PART TWO: The Experience of Brokenness Is Unexpected

Even if we embrace the idea that general brokenness is to be considered an expected part of life — something that is just part of existing in a fallen world — the particular brokenness we face still always seems to catch us off-guard. As Sheila mentioned during this week's teaching, the death of her mother brought to the surface all of the brokenness and pain she experienced when her dad died more than five decades before.


In general terms, how have you responded to the various troubling situations you've faced? On the grid below, note a handful of the biggest trials you've endured and your reaction to each.

Take another look at the grid above. Which of the situations you noted was most surprising to you? Why?

In what ways did this particular challenge go against how you thought your life would turn out?

Why is it easier to accept the general idea of brokenness than to accept the specific ways in which it shows up in our lives?


Read each of the following Scripture passages and reflect on the related questions.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

(1 Peter 4:12)

Why is Peter's "encouragement" so difficult to follow about receiving trials without feeling surprised?

Peter acknowledges that our tendency when trials come our way is to act as though "something strange" were happening to us. Based on the information you wrote on page 24, do you tend to receive struggles as what's normal or as something strange?

If a close friend asked for your advice on how to stop pushing against a current trial as though it were "something strange," what would you say?

What assumptions or attitudes most often get in your own way when it comes to living out the advice you would offer your friend?

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

(2 Cori nthians 12:7–8 ESV)

What types of challenges do you think this "thorn" of Paul's might have represented?

Why did God ask Paul to face such an arduous challenge?

Do you think that any of the challenges you've faced have been "given to you by God" for a specific purpose? Why or why not?

What does the fact Paul begged God to take away the thorn reveal about Paul's level of expectation regarding that thorn?

How does your own resistance to the struggles you encounter reveal your expectations of life? If you had to name these expectations, what words would you use? Expectations of comfort, perhaps? Or of good health? Of financial resourcefulness? Of life-giving relationships? Of grateful children? Of peace?


To help activate the theme of receiving instead of resisting struggles that come your way, select one or more of the following to practice sometime today:

• Carve out two or three minutes when you can sit still in a quiet spot, alone. With your life's most significant struggle in mind, shift your posture so that your arms are outstretched and your hands are upturned to heaven. Imagine yourself physically "receiving" the struggle into your hands, sensing the weight of it, the gravity of it, the force. Consider how it feels to draw it near instead of pushing it away — what emotions rise to the surface for you? What images does the burden bring forth? Sit with this present reality for a few moments. Ask Christ to be with you in the middle of the mess before leaving your seat and reentering your day.

• Spend some time journaling about your present pain. What expectations of your life does this challenge violate? What aspects of it feel totally unjust? In what ways does it feel like a "thorn" in your flesh?

• Read the full text of 1 Peter 4, noting the evidences of brokenness you find there as well as the stated purpose for the existence of pain. What encouragement can you take from Peter's words regarding the universal nature of pain?


Excerpted from "In the Middle of the Mess Study Guide Six Sessions"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Sheila Walsh.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

How to Use This Guide, 7,
SESSION 1 Brokenness Is the Beginning: Grace and Radical Acceptance, 9,
SESSION 2 Brokenness Is Hard: Honest Prayer and Grief, 39,
SESSION 3 Brokenness Is Loud: Confident Confession, 67,
SESSION 4 Brokenness Is to Be Shared: Safe Community of Truth-Tellers, 103,
SESSION 5 Brokenness Is the Path to Healing: Gratitude in the Middle of the Mess, 131,
SESSION 6 Brokenness Is Temporary: Worshiping Christ Our Light, 157,
Leader's Guide, 183,
About the Author, 187,

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