My eyes were drawn to a picture hanging above my sister’s head as we video chatted several weeks ago.
“Are those teapots?” I asked her as I tried to make out the artwork more clearly.
“They’re actually vases,” she responded, placing her phone up to the picture as she continued to tell me about her homemade piece of art. She had set three segments of gold-colored paper in a row then had cut out the shape of vases from patterned blue and green paper. After making three paper vases, she cut each one into several pieces to somewhat resemble a puzzle. She then meticulously pasted the patterned pieces back together on top of the gold paper, leaving just enough room for thin, golden lines to be seen between the cracks. Below the vases hung the Japanese word 金繕い, carefully written by hand.
My sister believed that the English transliteration for the word was kintsugi*, and it was the term used for the ancient Japanese art form of repairing broken pottery with gold, thus adding greater value and beauty to an object. Having been through several hardships of her own, my sister liked the symbolism of this Japanese practice. It was a vivid reminder that our brokenness can lend to something more beautiful once we have been mended.
We ended our conversation shortly after, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what my sister had told me. As the day came to an end a few hours later, I tucked my little one into bed for the night, then I grabbed my phone and got cozy under the warmth of my own covers to research about the art form on my own.
In one video, a restorer named Hiroki Kiyokawa shared about how broken pottery is pieced back together using lacquer, a sap taken from a native Japanese tree which essentially sucks the life out of the tree.1 After the pottery goes through the process of being glued back together and is given the proper time to dry, the crack lines are then coated with gold to accentuate each piece, not only highlighting the pottery’s history but also giving the object greater worth. Although this process may seem fairly simple, repairing objects requires a lot of time and patience. It can take up to three months to restore a single piece of pottery.2
Kiyokawa shared a similar sentiment to that of my sister’s—kintsugi is often seen as a comparison to life itself.3 Everyone experiences brokenness, but we don’t have to remain in that state. We can be restored.
The next few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about this Japanese art. It really struck a chord in me, and I wasn’t quite sure why. I was soon able to recognize, however, that I felt broken at the time. I couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason as to why I felt this way, but I could see how the last two years had taken a toll on me, first due to personal health issues within the family, then because of the global pandemic and varying degrees of loneliness that these two situations brought me.
I felt broken, but in the midst of that, God was offering me hope by giving me a metaphor for my own life through learning about kintsugi, and He kept reminding all the while that He was the potter.
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8
As I have continued to consider what I’ve learned about kintsugi in light of the gospel, I recognize all the more that beauty is not found in the breakage. After all, pottery is not displayed in its broken pieces, nor does it have any use in this form. No, what makes an object beautiful is its restoration, and highlighting the parts where it was once broken only emphasizes how magnificently it has been made whole.
The same is true for us as human beings. We are born broken due to our sinful nature, and there is nothing beautiful about that. We are inherently broken, and we also continue to experience further breakage in life as a result of living in a sin-filled world. But God has made a way toward restoration. Much like the Japanese tree that gives up its life when its sap is extracted, Jesus gave up His life for us, shedding His blood on a cross. Through Him, God has provided the opportunity for us to be made whole from the brokenness of our sin. Furthermore, He continues to offer us healing from any and all other wounds.
The One who created us is more than willing to pick up our broken pieces. He knows the greater story that our lives can tell when we surrender our brokenness to Him, and He can mend us if we are willing, giving what once was broken great value and beauty because of the work of His hands. The story of our scars, therefore, really becomes the story of His restoration and redemption.
Like the sap that is used to piece pottery back together again, the One whose birth we celebrate this month is more than able to hold every broken piece and every single aspect of our lives together. After all,
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17
So, in our brokenness, let us draw close to Him and ask Him for His healing, trusting that all our broken pieces can ultimately become a display of His splendor in us, something far more magnificent than anything we could have dreamed.
*Since writing this blogpost, a friend from Japan read it and noted that the word my sister wrote on her picture is actually transliterated as kintsukuroi. Fortunately, both this term and kintsugi refer to the same art form.