Last December I read a fascinating article about the Japanese art of Kintsugi (also referred to as Kintsukuroi)– which is the tradition of fixing broken pottery with a kind of lacquer resin that is typically mixed with precious metals to create something even more beautiful.
The image of something shattered and broken being made whole and even more valuable has spoken to me over and over ever since. Scarcely a day has gone by that I haven’t pondered on that thought.
You see, even from my earliest moments I have had the intense desire to succeed in life. I remember as a child being so excited for everything life would bring. I was going to seize each and every day, and do it perfectly.
I wanted to move mountains.
In fact, if you would have asked me at age 4 what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have even told you in complete seriousness that I was going to be a “mountain climber.”
Top of the world, here she comes.
Little by little my own weaknesses and imperfections began to discourage me. Each mistake made, every misstep inescapably taken, chipped away at my self confidence and unbridled enthusiasm. I became anxious and terrified of failure.
In all outward appearances I tried to keep things together, until everything came crashing down on top of me in the form of a decade-long battle with severe, crippling depression that began my freshman year of college.
Because if you chip away at anything long enough, eventually its structural integrity becomes compromised.
Even then, I stayed in complete denial for far too long and hurt far too many people in the aftermath. I never could admit that I needed help.
I could do this.
Until I couldn’t.
And at the bottom of it all, I did not even recognize myself anymore.
It wasn’t until I threw all of the broken shards of my hardened heart on the altar and invited the Savior to rescue me from myself that things gradually began to change.
Today I am actually thankful for the experience I went through, because of the countless lessons I learned along the way– as well as the deepened well of empathy for others I have gained. Yet there are times that the tiny perfectionist in my head starts berating me for all the ways I have fallen short through the years. The time that I will never get back. The moments where I totally blew it.
This is when I remind myself of Kintsugi.
And Romans 8:28.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.
In her signature insightful way, Sister Patricia Holland related her first experience while reading those sacred words:
I don’t know exactly how old I was, maybe fourteen or fifteen years of age, when I learned this truth. I only remember being old enough to think I had made too many mistakes in my life to be of any use to anybody… It was at that age—maybe fifteen—that I read for the first time in my life Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” I was struck dumb for a minute. Speechless! I remember that moment as if it were locked in time…
With my hands gripping the scriptures, I remember sort of looking up and saying, “Heavenly Father, do you mean that everything that I have ever done, silly or not, good or bad, happy or sad, will come together for my good if I—just love you?” I was incredulous. I can’t tell you the joy that filled my heart. At fifteen I hadn’t had too many such moments with what really was pure and beautiful revelation. The whole thing was wonderful. I already knew that I loved God; I just didn’t know how deeply until that moment. And at that very moment, at that very instant, I knew that God loved me. I didn’t know everything I needed to be forgiven of but I felt forgiven.
That moment in my life convinced me I could rise above sorrows or disappointments or mistakes or despair. I felt that day that God was an artist. He would use the very stone of my plain, even pitiful, little life, and refashion it, producing something far more redeeming and substantial.
(Holland, Patricia. “God’s Covenant of Peace” 1999 BYU Women’s Conference)
Indeed, He is an artist.
He takes the broken and makes it beautiful.
So if you find yourself discouraged along your path, wondering if you could ever rise from the ashes of fractured dreams and crumbled expectations, take heart.
Brad Wilcox once related a personal story from his time serving as a mission president in Chile, counseling a missionary who struggled with mistakes in his past. The young elder explained, “President, I look back and see so many flaws. I remember all I have done and feel so ashamed and hypocritical. I know Jesus takes the sins away, but it is the memory of them that bothers me.”
Brother Wilcox continued:
The elder nodded in agreement.
“What makes it beautiful is not that it is free from imperfections… The marble is beautiful and useful because of of the dark veins, not in spite of them. When we repent, our sins are gone, but the memories linger, just like these dark lines. However, as we keep our covenants and experience the sanctifying influence of the Spirit, it is as if those dark lines are polished over time. They actually become part of our beauty.”
I testified to this young missionary, “One day when you stand before Christ, you too will be beautiful– just like the marble– not because you have no dark, jagged memories in your mind, but literally because you do, and because through repentance… you are willing to let Christ and the Holy Ghost sanctify and polish them.
(Wilcox, Brad. The Continuous Atonement. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2009. Kindle file.)
So, when you feel that you don’t bring a lot to the table, remember just how beautiful you are in the eyes of the One who sacrificed all to bring you Home.
He won’t merely put the pieces back together again.
Carefully and lovingly, He will transform you into something greater.
You are His masterpiece.