Earthen Vessels

My name is Renee.  I’m a 52 year old, married, working mother of 3.  As I reflect on 2020, I am amazed at what a meaningful year it was for me, so full of God’s loving kindness during two hard things: the pandemic experience and my Mom’s death this past summer. For me, this was a year of seeing God’s light shine through my broken places, and I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:7-12:

“But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down but not betrayed, always carrying in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are constantly given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.” 

Entering into a new year, or into a season like Lent, it can be a natural time to step back and make changes. While it is good to want to be more like Jesus, I want to recommend a shift in perspective: to meditate more on God than on correcting our own faults. 

I heard a talk in my 20’s given by a faithful older brother in Christ, who was reflecting that in his 20’s, he thought that by the time he was 50, he would be much more loving, merciful and wise.  He surprised me by saying that he wasn’t.  It was his peace about his apparent lack of growth that struck me. He went on to describe that while he wasn’t more merciful, he was more aware of how unchanging God’s love, mercy, and wisdom is, and that he was largely unchanged, except for the awareness of that reality. He realized this profound reality: that he is fairly broken, and God is not. Yet this perfect God loves us no less, and this is actually enough.  It’s what we need to live our lives well in faith.  He was essentially translating the scripture of the earthen vessels.  

At the time, the lesson I learned was to spend less time striving and more time meditating on who God is.  In my early 20s, I spent much more time looking at my cracks, and the darkness of this picture.  As I mature in faith, I realize that what I look at in this picture is a choice.  There are gaping holes, darkness, and cracking flesh.  AND, there is the most radiant life bursting out, and color, and beauty.  What am I choosing to spend my time and attention on? My failures, or God’s grace shining through the cracks? 

What am I choosing to spend my time and attention on? My failures, or God’s grace shining through the cracks?

This lesson that I take with me into the new year is one that was written all over my past year. There were so many broken places – places of loss, and frustration, but at the same time I saw God’s light shining through clearly.

 My Mom died in July, about 3 months after her diagnosis with brain cancer.  God revealed such love and tenderness to me in her death.  My Mom had a beautiful death.   Her cancer diagnosis gave her a definitive end date – which is a gift.  It was at the end of March and the beginning of lock down.  For the next 3 months prior to her death, she had all of her children and grandchildren around her, caring for her in shifts, and working from home in shifts.  

It was like a big family reunion for weeks with so many beautiful little moments of love, and thankfulness.  It was a gift from the Lord.  We had one sibling that had struggled and separated herself from the family.  Months before my Mom’s diagnosis, I had a conversation with my Mom that long after she is pushing up daisies, my husband and I would still be reaching out to that sibling with love.  My Mom’s frustrated response was, “I want to see her reunited before I die!”   With news of my mother’s diagnosis, that sibling walked into my mother’s house, where the extended family was seated for dinner, and sat down and made a choice to start new.  I got to see the light of God’s love for my Mom, catering to her last heart’s desire for her family – unity.  As my Mom’s earthen vessel broke apart, God’s radiant love burst through until that jar was broken, and she was set free.  

The pandemic restrictions have also been a source of faith lessons.  I recently finished a long graduate program.  During that time, for about a decade, I had to join in remotely to many faith gatherings.  As you all have experienced, we lose something, to be sure with virtual connections; nothing replaces in-person connection. Just as I finally finished with graduate medical education and residency, the pandemic happened. Here I was finally ready to jump back in physically to participate in community – and this?  Seriously, now this?  And yet… God was shining through the broken places. 

As the pandemic went on, and my Mom got sick, I was struck by how connected I felt to my faith community through my amazing women’s group. In all of the little miracles that I experienced in my mom’s death and dying, I felt the love of my sisters’ prayers holding me up, and making those miracles and my ability to see those miracles and experience them possible, riding on the grace of those prayers.  There were offers for food, weeding my garden, fresh honey delivered to my doorstep, and baked goods from my friend and her sweet 4 year old’s face dancing on my front porch. There were flowers from another sister, and a memorably delicious meal and a bouquet from another friend’s garden. These are moments that came out of the pandemic.  

How do we choose to look at the broken vessel of our virtual community life?  All of these moments happened in the context of our virtual community. It was a reminder to me to fix my eyes on the bright light shining through the gaping holes. God has given us as a gift to each other, and the gift is still there.  It was never the physical building, or the live strumming of the guitars.  It’s the invisible bonds of the Holy Spirit knitting us together, working in us and shining through us.

God has given us as a gift to each other, and the gift is still there.  It was never the physical building, or the live strumming of the guitars.  It’s the invisible bonds of the Holy Spirit knitting us together, working in us and shining through us.

I did finally catch the Coronavirus. I expected to feel really sick, and I really didn’t.  My greatest challenge was sharing the internet with 4 other people while working from home.  I am thankful for a robust immunity. My 1500 square foot house was quarantined for 10 days.  When I was tempted to complain, I felt challenged by the Lord.  “Are you open to the gift I am offering you?”  With the exception of some moments of grumbling – I made a choice for God, that I am open to whatever lesson I need to learn from this. 

By the grace of God, it was a blessed time, with laughter and cheer.   I got to see my son’s online education, and have more compassion for his new reality.  I got to hug my husband and kids at lunch and coffee breaks.  I thanked God for my work that I am able to do from home, collect a paycheck from home.  I got to appreciate my husband who is such a wonderful cook, how much thought, and time and preparation goes into his delicious meals for our family.  I also started an advent quilted table cloth using my Mom’s scrap fabric which was a wonderful blessing this first Advent without her. God’s light, His grace, His love, His gifts, were still shining bright and available to me in my broken places.

Finally, I’d like to share my own rewrite of this passage.  Maybe you can fill in your own from this past year: 

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, in our dying bodies, and the broken vessels of our churches, faith communities, marriages, and our individual selves, to show that this surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, with glioblastoma, divisions in our family, unemployment, underemployment, and neglect, we are constrained and perplexed by virtual community, but not crushed or abandoned, we are struck down but not betrayed, always carrying in our body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are constantly given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may shine through the cracks of our broken vessels. So even though there is earthly death at work in us, the radiant, glorious beautiful life of God is shining through the cracks.”   

As we face our broken places from this past year and move forward in this year, let’s choose to spend our attention on His shining light, His unchanging love, and His never-ending mercy.


This article (c) by Renee B. was first published in The Lois Project. Used with permission.

The Lois Project is a group of Christian women from various cities, countries, and church backgrounds who feel a common call to be disciples on mission in all seasons of life. Most of us find ourselves in a season of care-giving as mothers, grandmothers, mentors, or teachers.

Many of our writers are part of an international, ecumenical Christian community called The Sword of the Spirit. Although we come from Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant traditions we seek to foster unity among these groups and work together.www.loisproject.com
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