The story is told of an old man bearing water with two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and never delivered more than half its load from the stream to the master’s house, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.
For two years this went on each day. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, fulfilled in the design for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection; it felt miserable that it could not accomplish what it had been made to do.
After two years of enduring this bitter shame, the cracked pot spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself and I apologize to you.”
“Why?” asked the water-bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“All this time I’ve been able 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 must make extra trips to fetch more water, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The water-bearer felt compassion for the old cracked pot, and so he 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 noticed the sun warming the beautiful wildflowers along the path and was cheered somewhat. But at trail’s end, all the old shame came back; nothing changed—the pot had leaked out half its load. Once again, the pot apologized for its failure.
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The water-bearer said to the pot, “Did you not notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, and not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we’ve walked back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I’ve been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you, being flawed as you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”
Each of us has flaws. We’re all cracked pots or fragile jars of clay and earth, but our flawed and fragile nature serves God’s purposes. As the Apostle Paul put it, “We have this precious treasure (the good news about salvation) in unworthy earthen vessels of human frailty, so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be shown as from God and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul goes on to further explain: “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:20-21).
Whether you are made for some special purpose or for common purposes, whether for many or few, you are useful in the hands of the grand Potter and Maker of us all. In either event, through flaws in our personality the Living Water leaks out, and through cracks the Light of Christ shines through. That which makes us vulnerable and transparent is what connects us with others in nourishing, fruitful, even transformative ways.
I enjoy a relationship or two in each of my church circles where we are becoming more vulnerable with each other, to the point of honest-to-God connection. As masks and walls come down, cracks in our logic are revealed. As heart-felt emotions are shared, mistakes are owned and forgiven. As we confess sins and flaws to one another, apologies are offered and accepted, second and third chances granted. You know who you are to me—and not just to me. Thank you, and thank God, for such brothers and sisters.
In that very weakness, God’s strength is made manifest: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, Paul concludes, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
And so I conclude, if we let go and let God have his way with us, as a Potter with a malleable pot, he will use our flaws to grow and extend “flowers,” as it were, in us and to others. In God’s economy, nothing goes to waste. Don’t deny or hide your flaws. Acknowledge them, and you, too, can bring something beautiful to the table.
Rev. Dietrich Gruen is a pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus and Bethany Presbyterian of Randolph.