I was on hike recently with a group in the North of Israel. It was an easy trail, but rocky. I wore my hiking shoes that I had for a few years and they looked almost new, even though I used them a lot. Half way along the trail, I felt something was wrong with one shoe and it felt like I was walking with flip flops. I looked down and saw that part of the sole of one shoe was coming apart and was almost completely torn. I removed the loose part, thinking I could fix it somehow later, so I kept walking. A few minutes later, I stopped again and this time saw that the entire sole was detached and crumbling. That is not something I wanted to see in the middle of a hike, especially in a rocky and thorny terrain. I stood in the place where I stopped, waiting for some people who I thought might have the gear to help me out. Amazingly, two guys at the end of the group had some special tape so they “bandaged” both my shoes, as the other one was coming apart by then too. They commented that the shoes were on their last hike and that there is no way to restore them. We all hoped they would last until the end of the trail. I couldn’t help but imagine myself continuing the hike with my socks and just prayed God would prevent the shoes from falling apart until the end of the hike. When we reached a stop, some people looked at my shoes and joked how silly they looked with the two kinds of tape on them but also how odd that the shoes would crumble like that, especially with how new they looked. We eventually shortened the hike because of something else, but I was grateful that my shoes held until the end, as with every step, more pieces separated and fell off. What an experience!
I told my mom what happened and sent her pictures of my shoes, which gave her a good laugh. It really was funny and I also laughed as I verbally expressed what happened. But, the more I thought of it, I realized there was much to learn from these perfectly looking shoes that were falling apart.
How often do we look to others who seem to be holding it together, who appear not to have a care in this life – as if the vessel of their life is intact, “complete”, without any “visible” fractures. How often do we feel embarrassed when we know of our own brokenness and cracks? How much more are we aware of them when we’re around those who seem to be “complete”?
Watchman Nee, in his book “The Release of the Spirit”, encourages us, as believers, to look at the broken vessel in a good way. The brokenness enables the treasure within it to flow out. If the vessel is never broken, the contents remain inside. Many times we try to keep the vessel from breaking and focus on the vessel itself, instead of what it contains. What he said resonated with me as it is something I wrote about a lot in my blog. He added, “Many think that their outward man is more precious than their inward man. This becomes the problem confronting the church. One will treasure his cleverness, thinking he is quite important. Another will treasure his own emotions, esteeming himself to be more advanced than other people. Others highly regard themselves, because they feel they are better than others, their eloquence surpassed that of others, or their quickness of action and exactness of judgment are superior and so forth”. How true!
A friend shared that as she was working with others to prepare an event, each person contributed an idea, except for her. Then someone said to her that there must be something she can do. The way it was said hurt her, as she felt self-conscious and thought that others considered her as being incapable and not as talented as the others. In other words, like an incomplete vessel looking at the perfection, talents and wisdom of the other vessels who are better than her. She felt very discouraged and shared with me that she didn’t even feel she had any talents or gifts with which she could serve.
In another situation, someone who is very shy and quiet was thought to have something wrong with her, because she wasn’t as talkative or active like others. From my acquaintance with her, I know she was fine and had friends and that nothing was wrong. We are quick to judge others who are different from us, who don’t exhibit the characteristics we expect them to have. Interestingly, another person I know who is introverted spoke with me and shared that she felt something might be wrong with her for not being more outgoing. She felt she should be more like others, that she should try to change her personality to meet up with the expectations of others and be more socially acceptable.
Looking at people with the anticipation of them being or behaving a certain way and labeling them as “imperfect” because they are different from what we expect of them, is judgmental and harmful. It is like judging a book by its cover – looking at the outside instead of at the inside.
My shoes looked almost brand new. Yet, the falling apart occurred in seconds and without warning. Taping them up helped to keep the pieces together, temporarily. But, it didn’t take care of the real problem that was causing the shoes to crumble. Outwardly, they seemed good, when in fact, they weren’t. How many times do we as people “look good”, almost “perfect” on the outside when in reality we are near a breakdown? We might “bandage” ourselves so we won’t appear as if we’re breaking, but those bandages don’t hold for long. As Watchman Nee continued in his book, “We are not antique collectors. Nor are we ‘vase’ admirers. We should be those who desire to smell only the fragrance of the ointment”.
I was reminded recently of the fractures that may appear in life and how God gently puts them back together. Some people I know went through or are now experiencing severe health issues, others are recovering from emotional hurt. These are cracks that appear in the vessel and there is no need to hide them. There is a need to take care of them, but not to “tape” everything together to appear fine. God works in each of our vessels, in each person who is broken to bring forth a beautiful, sweet savor that will not only glorify Him, but also encourage others in the process. He doesn’t leave us in our brokenness, but rather He puts the vessel back together, so it is more beautiful than before it became cracked, the lines and the scars being a testimony to His greatness. We will never be perfect in this life. We don’t need to try to be “complete” for the world’s sake, because we already are complete in Him It is a different kind of complete, one that remains despite the brokenness through which the fragrance of the knowledge of Him is released in every place (2 Cor. 2:14).