Sitting on my desk as I type these words is a neon green pencil holder. I would describe this piece as priceless and perfect. It is a true one-of-a-kind masterpiece given to me by my daughter when she was six. Without understanding the purpose and provenance of this piece, it would be easy to see some issues. The sides are not perfectly smooth, or even, or (in one case) even present. There is a significant lean to the holder as well. I do not care. It is still perfect to me, not despite the imperfections, but because the supposed flaws show the effort and work my daughter put into this gift.
Looking at this pencil holder makes me reflect on the idea of beauty standards and flaws. Who decides what is pretty or ideal? Our culture values youth, conventional beauty, and seeming perfection over all else. These standards create unrealistic expectations and unhealthy attitudes that poison relationships and stifle honesty and creativity.
That is why the concept of kintsugi is so powerful. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery. Where we might see pot shards that used to have meaning when they were all still one pot, a skilled potter would see an opportunity to not just restore, but to enhance beauty. Using a liquid resin that resembles gold, the skilled craftsperson mends the pieces back into one piece. Instead of hiding the cracks and scars, in kintsugi they are highlighted and celebrated. What a powerful concept!
I find this to be such a meaningful metaphor for life. Note that the broken pieces are not simply left in a pile and called beautiful. In their broken state, they cannot function as they are called and are less than what they should be. These pieces are lovingly mended by a skilled artisan who not only restores their purpose but makes their formerly broken places as beautiful. How often do we find the pieces of our lives broken and how quickly are we tempted to pretend perfection and hide our flaws?
As a Christian, the practice of kintsugi serves as a perfect symbol for God’s redeeming work in my life. The jagged edges broken by my own wrongdoing have been rejoined and made new through the grace and forgiveness I have found in Jesus.
The most astounding thing I see God do is to use the places of my previous breaks as opportunities to influence and minister to others. God continually brings to my life those who need to see the mended places (now highlighted like the kintsugi gold) where God has remade me. I find ways to continually break my pottery through my own selfishness and my desire to rule my own life. What a blessing it is to serve a God who will always take my broken places and make them new.
As a lifelong perfectionist, I have wasted untold hours attempting to convince people that there were no scars or cracks in my life. I have tried to imply that everything was put together and that I had complete control over all aspects of my life. It was exhausting and futile. My Christian faith reminds me that I am broken. I must face the reality that I am unable to be perfect on my own because I will always have the struggle of sin in my heart and life. Trying to project perfection merely distances us from those who could carry our burdens and help mend our broken places.
In his song “Anthem”, musician Leonard Cohen states, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” What if the scars and cracks we have experienced in our lives are the opportunities for grace, love, joy, and peace to get in? What if they are the way that we can truly shine and tell our story to the world? What if my daughter had it right with her pencil holder all along? Plain and perfect is boring, people are drawn to the real, the flawed, and those with scars to show. Maybe the sides are not perfect, maybe the flaws can be seen. It does not matter. Those that are broken and mended are the true masterpieces. The broken and mended places shine and serve as inspiration for all the broken places that still exist in our lives. What story does the pottery of your life tell? How will you show the masterpiece that is you?
Patrick DeVane, senior pastor of College Parkway Baptist Church in Arnold, can be found at patrickdevane.net.
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