Without thinking, I reached for the chipped bowl. My mother and grandmother used it extensively years before, and now it is my favorite too. Despite the hair-line crack, it remains my go-to container for meal preparation.
I knew it was clean because I’d used it just a few hours prior. In fact, it was still in the dish drainer, having never returned to its place on the shelf. As I think about it, it spends more time in use than it does in the cupboard.
I do have other pottery, including a gold-etched piece from Japan. My father-in-law originally bought this handcrafted porcelain for his new bride during the Korean War. I feel fortunate to own it now, and I showcase this piece with lights in the dining room. I never touch it, much less use it, unless you count the annual dusting it gets from necessity.
Most kitchens have their assortment of dinnerware, both formal and casual. Even the Bible talks of vessels of gold, silver, wood, and earthenware. It seems that even the earliest peoples made a distinction between the elegant and the useful.
As I stand here with a chipped bowl in my hand, I smile to realize that I too fit into the earthenware category. Of course, as a new Christian, I desperately wanted to be God’s silver platter or gold tea service. I threw myself into the effort of perfect actions and flawless attitudes hoping for that treasured spot behind glass and lights.
Yet, daily life has had its way of pitting and cracking my best aspirations. Despite my good intentions, I still tend toward impatience, anxiety, and control. Yes, I’m a cracked pot, after all.
But, as I think about it, aren’t the earthenware vessels the ones most fingered by the Cook? Maybe I’ve misunderstood the valuation of being a container for honor (2 Timothy 2:20-21). Pragmatically, a useful and versatile dish, which is ready “for every good work,” receives plenty of chips and chinks. Gold-etched china has its value, but the Chef rarely touches it.
Despite my preference toward a china cabinet life, God has chosen to leave me a very earthenware vessel. I’m prone to flake and crumble, but within this terra cotta life of mine lies a treasure of unfathomable value (2 Corinthians 4:7). Honestly, I’m not the kind of container that should be housing such a fortune. But, somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter to God.
I am a paradox. Although I encase a brilliant value, I am easily damaged. One moment I’m strong in faith, and the next moment I’m wavering in doubt. Today, I can encourage you, but tonight I may cower in fear when alone. I confess that I struggle with my earthiness.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Yes, that about sums up my experience. But, this tension doesn’t worry Him. He specializes in mud. He sent His Son in earthen likeness, and now He leaves His Spirit within our clay. Our weak vessel is just the contrast He needs to showcase His vast treasure.
His entire church consists of broken clay vessels. In the past year alone, we’ve all had a bit more surface glaze chinked off our exterior. All of us seem a little more pitted under scrutiny.
Yes, we are all earthen vessels with a decaying exterior, so let’s stop focusing on each other’s misshapen containers. As Watchman Nee says, “The whole question is one of the quality of the treasure, not of the quality of the vessel that contains it.” It’s the inner glow within us that makes us worth knowing, not our beliefs about that fire.
I’m glad my favorite bowl is chipped. As I hold it up to the bulb, I’m reminded that the wider the crack, the brighter the light. Maybe we can boast of weakness after all.