earthen vessels with the potter!
Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Woe to anyone who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’
Thus says the Lord,
the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Will you question me about my children,
or command me concerning the work of my hands? – Isaiah 45:9-11
There is an old story about a water bearer who had two clay pots he used to carry water from the stream back to the house. He balanced each pot on the end of a long pole that he carried on his shoulders. One of the pots was in perfect condition, but the other had a crack in it.
Each day, the water bearer would go down to the stream, fill both pots to the brim with water, and hoist them up on the pole for the walk home. As he walked, the cracked pot slowly leaked, so that by the time he returned to the house, it was only half full.
The other pot was always very proud of himself and his ability to do what he was made to do, but the cracked pot felt ashamed. Because this is a story in which clay pots both have feelings and also can talk, the pot said to the water bearer, “I need to tell you that I am sorry.”
“Why is that?” asked the water bearer.
“Every time you go to collect water, I am only able to bring back half my load. I have failed you over and over again, and I am ashamed.”
The water bearer simply smiled and said, “The next time we go to collect water, I want you to pay attention to the beautiful flowers growing along the path.”
And so, on the way down to the stream, the cracked pot took note of the many flowers lining the trail—and they were indeed beautiful. They warmed his heart a little, but by the time they got back to the house, he had again leaked half his load and again was feeling ashamed.
The water bearer said to the cracked pot, “Didn’t you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path? That’s because I knew about your so-called ‘flaw’ and took advantage of it. I planted seeds along your side of the path, and each day, you watered them as we walked from the stream to the house. For years now, I have been able to decorate my table with these beautiful flowers, all thanks to you, the cracked pot.”
I have always loved this story, and I love it even more as I reflect on it with our passage from Isaiah. This is a story about flaws becoming assets, but first it is a story about one who strives with the maker.
This passage is kinda funny when you think about it: Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? If Isaiah had been written today, it might have used the image of a backseat driver.
Isaiah calls us to trust that the driver knows where he or she is going and that the potter knows better than the clay how to make a pot. More than that, Isaiah calls us to trust that God made each of us the way we are, on purpose—that God doesn’t make mistakes.
This is not always easy to swallow. I read a gut-wrenching article the other day by the mother of a child with autism. She talks about how Jack was fussy and difficult to bond with from the day he was born, how she has heard countless explanations for what causes autism and yet nothing seems to make sense.
Most of all, she wrestles with the idea that this condition needs a change or a fix. It implies that there is something wrong with her Jack, that he needs fixing. She says that although she would probably like to know if she should avoid plastics or non-stick cookware or automotive exhaust, she doesn’t want that to be her focus. In her words:
“I don’t want to focus so much on the what and when and where and how that I forget about the who.
Because I don’t care where it came from.
But I am kind of curious.
It doesn’t matter to me why Jack has autism.
But it might be good information to have.
There’s nothing wrong with him.
Maybe there’s a little something wrong with him because he just spent the last 45 minutes talking about all the different kinds of gum that Walmart sells.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
I might change a few things.
I celebrate autism and all of its spectacular wonder.
I hate autism because it makes my son talk about gum and Walmart so much.
He is broken.
He is whole.”
This mother recalls a time when the mother of one of her son’s classmates approached her to say that her daughter said someone in class called Jack weird. But this little girl, Lily, stood up for Jack, saying, “Jack isn’t weird. …he is exactly the way he is supposed to be.”
“He is broken.
He is whole.”
"He is exactly the way he is supposed to be."
Thanks to our bass player, Pat, I recently learned about a Japanese art form called Kintsugi. It starts with broken ceramics—a cracked pot, if you will. The broken pieces are put back together using a special lacquer mixed with gold or silver. Instead of covering up the cracks, kintsugi emphasizes them and makes them part of a bigger design. The brokenness is on display, and it is beautiful.
True healing depends on the brokenness not being hidden. The Sufi mystic poet Rumi said this in a poem that I wonder if Leonard Cohen knew:
Flies collect on a wound.
They cover it,
those flies of your self-protecting feelings,
your love for what you think is yours.
Let a Teacher wave away the flies
and put a plaster on the wound.
Don’t turn your head.
at the bandaged place.
the Light enters you.
Let the maker wave away your self-deception and your shame. Look at those places of brokenness, really look at them, and you will see something incredible: every wound is a place of healing. Every crack is an opening for light. When we trust that the driver knows where he or she is going and that the potter knows better than the clay how to make a pot, then we will get to where we need to be, we will become who we were meant to me, even if the way remains to us a mystery.
When we cease to question the work of God’s hands and trust that whatever failures an earthly parent might have, God’s care for God’s children is perfect and loving, then we can begin to love ourselves, cracks and all. We can stop comparing ourselves to others or to our parents’ expectations or to our own ideas of how things should be, and we can rest in the truth that we are enough. We can start to truly heal instead of always trying to fix.
Glennon Doyle Melton is a writer and speaker who shares a lot about her own brokenness. She speaks about her struggles with bulimia, addiction, Lyme disease, marital problems, and more. She manages to do it in a way that invites others to share their own brokenness and to seek healing together.
And this is what she says about the evolution of her understanding of her own brokenness: “I used to say: I’m broken. Fix me. Then I grew up a little and said: WAIT A MINUTE. I’M NOT BROKEN. And now I’m a real grown up so I say: Of course I’m broken. And I love, love, love myself that way.”
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in (Leonard Cohen)
We are broken.
We are whole.
We are exactly the way we are supposed to be.