“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”
2 Corinthians 4:7
As I write this I’ve been trying to retrace the pattern of my life, to sort through the busyness and the mess, to find that tipping point. That point of no return which led me to this place, this place of cancelling all my plans and spending the weekend lying on the sofa. Trying to rest and rewind the damage, worried it may be too little too late. You see, I can see now there were signs along the way, signs that other people warned me of, moments where I could have applied the brakes and didn’t.
I think I had begun to think I was made of something more than clay, forget a jar of clay, I fancied myself to be made of something tough like steel or iron, enduring and hardy. My body was mine to direct, I could choose when or if I rested, I could exceed my limits. I’d started to take my health for granted to let the boundaries I’d place in my life be eroded.
And then the stress built up. I’ve started a new job, a job which I think I’ll really enjoy in the long-term, but at the moment there’s so much to learn, and inevitably I’m getting a lot of things wrong. My inner perfectionist was struggling to embrace the mistakes that come with learning, and allowing myself to take it on board as stress. At the same time I’d bitten off more than I could handle with church, and every little drama was getting to me. Then I got some bad news about some friends down south which got me worrying. My mind and body were exhausted and seemed to have decided that enough was enough. I made it through four full days of work and one hour of Friday before I had to admit defeat. Pretending that I was tougher than I am wasn’t getting me anywhere.
I’ve been forced to admit that I am a jar of clay after all, hard-wearing enough to do the job most of the time, but in need of care and attention every now and again. I am not as indestructible as I would like to be, sooner or later the cracks will show.
It’s got me thinking a lot about the above verse in 2 Corinthians and why God made us so fragile. Wouldn’t we be better witnesses if we could be constantly on the go, running around fixing the world’s problems? Why aren’t we tough enough to handle all the knocks and collisions of the world?
I suppose put simply the answer is to remind us that we’re not supposed to do it on our own. We are ‘jars of clay’ to show that it is God’s power at work in us that makes us strong. If we were made of metal then people wouldn’t look any further than our skin for the source of our power. It is in our weakness that God shows His strength. We are not the all powerful ones.
I don’t know many people who are good at resting. We tend to take our value from what we can achieve, all the things we can do. We prefer to be human doings rather than human beings. God gifted us a day of rest in the Sabbath, but somehow as Christians we’ve decided that resting is just doing Christian stuff instead of our regular jobs. Sundays are for serving the church, right? We can fill our Sundays with as many jobs and activities as any other day of the week, only it’s okay because it’s the kind of work that makes God happy, isn’t it? How often do we actually stop? How often do we acknowledge that we are jars of clay not titanium? Are we prepared to admit we can’t do this messy thing called life in our own strength?
In reality our bodies are incredibly clever and sophisticated, they are very good at telling us what they need. The problem is we’re not very good at listening. The wants and needs of our bodies often don’t feel as important as the other demands placed on us by other people or the world we’re surrounded by. And if we don’t listen then your body will only shout louder, until it refuses to cooperate any more.
So maybe you can learn from my mistakes today. Maybe it’s time to put on the brakes in your own life, to find some time to relax and unwind. Perhaps you need to remember that you are a jar of clay, filled with precious treasure, but still as vulnerable as clay. It’s okay to need to rest, it’s okay to take a deep breath and prioritise your own needs. Ultimately our strength comes from God, but that’s not an excuse to plough on ahead with reckless disregard for our own health. Sometimes we need to stop.
The wonderful thing is, we’re united in this struggle to balance life with our humanity. We need each other, we have been blessed with communities, families and friends to help us to stand in our weakness. We may be jars of clay, but we’re jars of clay together. And today I take comfort that God is in control, and will lead me through whatever is going on with my health into stronger times. When it has passed I will have another chance to get the balancing act of life right, to hold my humanity with the demands of life, and make sensible choices. In the mean time we can be reassured thinking about all the wonderful things clay can be moulded into, when held in the hands of the master potter. Maybe being a jar of clay isn’t too bad after all.