An ancient Japanese story tells about a Sakai tea man who found a brilliant Chinese tea jar. He was so pleased with his find that he invited the famed tea man Sen no Rikyu to a gathering of friends to show off the beautiful piece.
But to the Sakai man’s amazement, when he served tea in the lovely piece, Sen no Rikyu paid no mind to the jar.
Once Sen no Rikyu left, the Sakai man threw the tea jar against a wall, shattering it into pieces. His friends gathered the fragments and took them home where they mended the jar back together with gold lacquer.
The same friends then invited Sen no Rikyu to a gathering of their own where they offered him tea in the mended jar. When Rikyu saw the mended tea jar he exclaimed, “Now the piece is magnificent!”
Patch With Gold
Some link this story to the birth of “kintsugi”, an ancient Japanese art which translates, “patch with gold.” Kintsugi artists mend broken pieces of ceramics and pottery using gold lacquer, making the pieces more striking and unique than when they were pulled from the wheel or kiln.
The art of kintsugi rests in the truth that vessels are stronger and more magnificent because they have been made whole from brokenness, not because they are without imperfection.
Broken and Beautiful
The parallel for us is self-evident. Each vessel—and every one of our lives—can tell a unique story if we no longer feel we must hide the scarred parts of our lives.
When we release ourselves from the standard of perfection and instead view our path to wholeness as a kintsugi artist would—as an opportunity to accentuate the unique beauty marks that bear our story—we shift our perception of life’s struggles. We see value emerge from our brokenness, and distinction from the fragments of ourselves that have been healed, as if we are living vessels bearing the kintsugi beauty.
Isn’t this the wholeness that we truly seek? We want to be restored to health, but we don’t simply want what we once were. We want to be better, stronger, wiser for the pain, struggle, and sacrifice. We want our scars to shimmer and tell a beautiful story: namely, that what is broken can be whole again, and more beautiful than before.
But there's something else in this story that's not so plain.
What about the friends of the Sakai man? They possessed the vision to see that something beautiful could be made from the shards. They also possessed uncommon humility to present the broken jar to Rikyu.
This strikes me.
We so often personalize stories like this one, seeing ourselves as the broken jar. We look at ourselves, our own pain, our own brokenness, and seek encouragement in the redemptive moral of the story. I am not saying we shouldn't find consolation in a story like this.
But what if we shifted our eyes off of ourselves for a moment. Is there something supremely incarnational about this act of vision and selflessness? I think of Christ's mission upon the earth. He constantly deflected glory and status and pointed the people toward the will of his Father. All the while, seeing opportunities to heal brokenness.
Even in his utter brokenness, he looked to the brokenness of his captors: "Forgive them, they don't know what they are doing."
How I want to watch the nails going into my own hands, and cry out. How I want to lash out at the unrighteousness in the world. How I want to satisfy my own longings for peace and restoration in my own life.
Am I gathering pieces lying on the ground? Am I seeing beyond my self and working toward making others whole? Am I working at beautifying something besides my self?
Daily Breaking, Daily Building
I wake, and confess my brokenness.
I move from the shards, toward the gold of my restoration.
I am a gold-laced jar of broken pieces.
I am anonymous, in the gathering of friends.
I wait in quietness, asking for sight.
To see broken things, that I may contribute to the mending.
I dig for gold, and give it away.
Applying it to those who need it.
I want to hoist up others, showing the world their worth.
I want not to linger in front of the mirror,
Ogling my scars.
I want to build with gold.
I want to live in rebellion of this ordered self-help world.
And build a stronger magnificence.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.