How do you feel if something that they regard as important gets broken or damaged? Sometimes, when something in our life goes wrong, something important to us breaks or someone lets us down, we want to respond by throwing a tantrum, sulking or crying. Sometimes, things can feel very bad! It’s natural to feel angry and disappointed when things do not go as we want, or when something breaks or lets us down. Sometimes, we can become angry and disappointed in ourselves if we don’t manage to achieve the things we set out to do. In fact, we may find ourselves wishing that we could turn back time and do things differently. But the Bible shows us that there is another way to respond. What if we accepted, embraced and even valued brokenness? What if we sought to see the good in situations that did not go exactly to plan? What if we decided to accept that not everything, including ourselves, needs to be perfect?
Consider the (admittedly non biblical) Story of the Cracked Pots
A water-bearer in Japan had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across the back of her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, whereas the other pot was perfect. The uncracked pot always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, whereas the cracked pot arrived only half-full.
This went on every day for two years, with the water-bearer delivering only one and a half pots of water to her master’s house. The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect for the end for which it was made. But the poor, cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been intended for.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream. ‘I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you,’ the cracked pot said.
‘Why?’ asked the water-bearer. ‘What are you ashamed of?’
‘I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,’ answered the pot.
The water-bearer felt sorry for the old, cracked pot. In her compassion, she said, ‘As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.’ Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old, cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it a little. But at the end of the trail, the pot still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, so again, it apologized to the water-bearer for its failure. The water-bearer asked the pot, ‘Did you notice that there were flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?’
The cracked pot looked confused. That is because I have always known about your flaw,’ explained the water-bearer. ‘I took advantage of your imperfection. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path and every day, as we have walked back from the stream, you have watered the flowers so that they could grow! For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not have been these beautiful flowers.’
The story makes the point that none of us are perfect. We often make mistakes and things go wrong. In fact, you could say that each of us is broken. But it’s the cracks and flaws that we each have that make our lives together so interesting and rewarding. It is from our problems and mistakes that we can learn and grow. But what about objects that get broken? Most of us are fairly attached to our gadgets, or other possessions. When things that we value get broken, how can we respond in a way that doesn’t involve anger and frustration? Perhaps we can learn something from an ancient Japanese art form called kintsugi.
Kintsugi is the art of repairing a broken piece of pottery in a way that makes the flaw or the break obvious by highlighting the join with molten gold. In this way, the story of the piece of pottery is celebrated. The brokenness and damage is part of the pot’s history and it is not hidden; instead, it is celebrated. When things go wrong, or something important breaks, there is an opportunity to accept it and learn from it. It can become part of our experience and the journey of our lives. It can be a chance to learn from the difficult emotions of disappointment and frustration and to grow into a wiser and more mature human being as a result. So, for people of many faiths, when they experience problems or get things wrong, they turn to God in prayer. Psalm 147.3 tells us that God is close to those who feel broken. Perhaps its only when we pray that we realise that, (for some of us more than others, maybe), we are all, to some extent, cracked pots!
Your friend and vicar David