The Beauty in Our Brokenness

Holiday sadness and a favorite ceramic knick-knack lead to a lesson in transforming suffering into something beautiful.

By Kathryn Slattery, New Canaan, Connecticut

With a weary sigh, I put the finishing touches on the dining room centerpiece, a wicker cornucopia overflowing with plump mini-pumpkins and lumpy gourds, resting on a bed of bittersweet branches with bright orange-yellow berries.

As I move around the table placing a foil-wrapped chocolate turkey at each place setting, a familiar sadness washes over me. It’s been years since my mom passed away, and now, with the approaching holidays I’m feeling blue once again. I shouldn’t be surprised. It happens every year at this time.

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In the living room, I glumly fill glass bowls with assorted nuts and candy corn. And that’s when I see my favorite bibelot, a winsome ceramic figure of a smiling, kimono-clad Asian boy. Broken.

His right sleeve hangs loose and empty, and his little fist rests on the coffee table, still clutching his slender bamboo pole and tiny lantern. Along with Mom’s love of “oriental décor” (Translation: knick-knacks), I had inherited the little fellow from her.

With his barefoot purposeful stride and cheery cherubic countenance, he had been her favorite, too. At Christmastime, she liked to tuck a sprig of holly in his lantern; in springtime, pink cherry blossoms.

Gently, I gather up his small broken body and carry it to the kitchen table to repair. Alas, I am no expert when it comes to repairing ceramics, but with my trusty tube of superglue, I try my best. I spread the pieces out on a clean dishtowel and examine them carefully.

Broken at the wrist, the figurine’s chubby fist is pierced with a hole designed to carry the weight of his pole and lantern. Thankfully, it’s a clean break.

I line up the tiny broken hand with the green-glazed kimono-sleeve, and apply a thin layer of glue to both surfaces. Then I press the two pieces together and hold, according to instructions, for five minutes.

As the kitchen timer ticks away the seconds, I close my eyes and my thoughts drift from the task at hand to the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi.

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Dating back to the 15th century, kintsugi or “golden joinery” is the art of repairing cracked or broken ceramics with pure gold with the purpose of showing how something broken and fixed can be more beautiful and stronger than the original.

In kintsugi, the shining golden cracks, unashamedly illuminating and exposing the damage, are the aesthetic focal point. Perfect in their imperfection, golden-veined kintsugi pieces are not only more beautiful and stronger than the original unbroken pieces, they are more valuable.

What a lovely idea, I think, that beauty and strength can be revealed in brokenness.

In the Bible, human beings are referred to as “earthen vessels,” and God as our “Master Potter.” Is it possible, I wonder, that beauty and strength might be hiding, waiting to be revealed in our brokenness, too?

For example, I’ve often wondered why, when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, his new, heavenly body was not “perfect,” but still bore the marks of the wounds suffered on the cross.

Could it be that, it is through the marks of Christ’s brokenness that his strength, beauty and power are most fully revealed?

And what about our invisible brokenness? I wonder. Our everyday silent concerns and struggles? Is it possible that beauty and strength might be hiding, waiting to be revealed in them, too?

My Friend Jesus book coverKathryn “Kitty” Slattery is a longtime Roving Editor for Guideposts, and the author of several books for children, including her latest, My Friend Jesus: The Gospel for Kids (Tommy Nelson). She is also the author of If I Could Ask God Anything: Awesome Bible Answers for Curious Kids (Tommy Nelson), Heart Songs: A Family Treasury of True Stories of Hope and Inspiration (Guideposts Inspiring Voices), and her memoir, Lost & Found: One Daughter's Story of Amazing Grace (Guideposts Books). To learn more about Kitty’s work, visit her website and her Facebook page.