But we have this treasure in clay jars… – 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NRSV)
One of our sons makes it easy for us to tell how serious his injuries are. If he rolls around clutching himself, wincing and moaning like a pro soccer player looking for a foul call, we don’t worry. If, however, he goes pale, quiet, and compliant, we’re almost certainly headed to convenient care or the ER. Small hurts leave space to make elaborate behavioral demands: for restitution, for apology, for an Oscar nod. Serious hurts leave no room for performance, only need.
I don’t for a minute believe that we were “designed” to be fragile in order to be reminded by our breakages to be humble. But a certain correction of attitude and perspective has been one of the rough blessings of my own breakability.
Bumped elbows and minor offenses can leave me screaming bloody murder. But when I’m reduced to white-hot pain, or desperate need, or encompassing fear—when my clay has gotten well and truly cracked—it’s hard not to get quiet and become very clear, for once, that I’m not as perfect as I try to project or as powerful as I like to pretend or as independent as I usually insist.
Absent the histrionics that accompany hangnails and traffic cutoffs, I can hear the voice of God whispering. When I’m not wincing dramatically and peeking out the corners of my eyes to make sure I’m having the desired effect, I can see the face of God in the faces of those who come to meet my need. When I’m not worrying about how my outsides look, I get a glimpse of the glory of God placed inside the jar for moments just such as these.
Listen. I’m probably never going to thank you for my breakages. But for the ways I meet you in them: thank you.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.