Perfection. We want it. We admire it. We aspire to it. If we purchase something that is broken, we return it. If something we already have breaks, we fix it or throw it out. And according to some social media profiles, some of us appear to have achieved perfect lives. Everywhere we look, there is the assumption that if something is flawed, it is unworthy. So what does that say about us? If we are not perfect, are we unworthy?
Sitting on a quiet doorstep, on a quiet street, there was a vase. It was made by hand, and with love, many years ago. Someone carefully painted it a beautiful robins-egg blue, and it shone and sparkled beautifully in the sun. It sat in a place of honor on that doorstep, proudly proclaiming itself to the admiration of all. One day a woman was walking down the steps, and she lost her balance. In an attempt to regain her footing, her hand carelessly shot out and knocked the vase over. The impact caused a large crack to form down the side of the vase. The woman tried to fix the crack, but she couldn't. The woman put the vase back on the doorstep, but since the crack was clearly visible, she placed it so that the crack was facing the wall, and only the still-perfect side showed to the world.
The vase continued to delight the passersby, and the woman was relieved that no one seemed to notice the crack. As far as everyone else knew, the vase was still perfect. But she still worried that one day someone would notice the hidden flaw. So she checked it every day, looking at it from every angle possible from the street, to assure herself that no one would be able to guess the truth. She knew that if her neighbors were aware of that crack, they would no longer admire her vase. Over time she became obsessed with keeping up the illusion of perfection. It appeared to be working, as people began commenting that the vase seemed to be even more beautiful. One day, as she was completing her daily check, she noticed someone was watching her. An elderly gentleman was walking her way, and had observed her behavior. He walked right up to the vase, and stood staring at it contemplatively.
After a moment, he gently turned the vase around so the crack was facing him. The woman immediately tried to turn it back, explaining that she had wanted it positioned so the crack was hidden. But the man just smiled, and told her that he knew it was cracked before he turned it around. "How did you know?" she asked. She had been so careful, she knew he couldn't possibly have seen it from where he had been. "Because," he explained kindly, "the vase glowed as if lit from within. A light like that only comes from something that has a crack. Something that has been broken, and now has a way to let the light in. Perfect things can't let in the light. Only broken things can do that."
We talk about brokenness as if it is a bad thing. The very word "broken" has negative connotations. I work with a lot of families that would appear on the surface to be broken. When I sit down to meet with someone, I focus on strengths. I find what they are already doing well, and build on that. Often people are completely unaware of their own strengths. The single mom who is working hard to create a beautiful life for her family--she sees the house that isn't what she imagined. I see how she carefully and lovingly arranged pretty pictures and artwork on her walls. The couple that is struggling to provide for their children--they see how hard things are. I see the love that shines through everything they do. Because I am on the outside, I can look beyond the cracks and see the beauty. But the beauty isn't there in spite of the cracks. The life of the single mom, the struggling couple, your life, my life, life itself is beautiful because of the cracks. We are all cracked vases, and we spend our time turning our cracks to the wall, hoping that no one will see them. But our cracks aren't something to be ashamed of. They are what make us beautiful. They allow the lights of love, compassion, grace, strength, and faith to shine through us and illuminate us, making us into something so much better than surface perfection.