Jars of Clay
I had a hard emotional breakdown when I received my first insulin pump, at the age of 29. I had been a brittle type 1 diabetic for four years at that point, and the insulin pump was a definite upgrade to the three to four shots a day I had previously been giving myself to control my blood sugar levels. But with the shots, I only had to think about being a diabetic three to four times a day. In between, I tended to slip back into “normal” mode, forgetting my health issues until time to check by blood sugars at the next meal. In contrast, I wore my new insulin pump all day every day. Now that I’m used to it, I don’t even realize my pump is there half the time. But in the early days of using it, I felt its weight against my waistline 24 hours a day, 60 minutes an hour, 60 seconds a minute. That constant reminder that my body wasn’t normal, that I had a life threatening condition, undid me emotionally for a bit.
But God spoke to me clearly through His revelation of Himself to His children. Through John 9, He reminded me that our illnesses aren’t punishments, but conduits of God’s grace to us for the praise of His glory. And through 2 Corinthians 4, He reminded me that the reason God’s glory can be so clearly seen through individuals is tied to the fact that this glory is housed in broken conduits, in jars of clay.
I was at Edisto Beach Baptist Church two weeks ago, and the interim preacher told a poignant story of his mother’s last days battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. When she could no longer speak, she’d hold up four fingers. And when she could no longer hold up four fingers, she would blink four times. He knew what she wanted. She wanted him to read to her 2 Corinthians 4.
5 For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake. 6 For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; 9 we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. 10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life in you.
That preacher’s story was poignant for me at the time since my own surgery for uterine cancer was scheduled 12 days later.
Clay jars. Broken pots. Earthen vessels. Given over to death.
Light of knowledge. God’s glory. Face of Christ. Extraordinary power.
The contrast in these two lines is the very point.
I had my surgery Friday, and though there was a 40% chance that I had more cancer than the original precancerous cells they found before surgery, tests during the surgery showed I did not. We are still waiting the final official word, but it seems I am cancer free in this area at least. I thank God very much. But my vessel is still very much made of deteriorating clay. I’ve had three abdominal surgeries in 9 months, 5 total counting my two c-sections. My abdomen looks like a gaming board. And, I still have that insulin pump. And I still had breast cancer that spread to a lymph node. I am moving forward, but it will forever be with a limp.
The neat thing in all of this is that God didn’t leave me as an orphan to figure out my illnesses for myself. He didn’t leave me to come up with a strategy on my own to make my peace with it. In my regular reading of the Scriptures, God taught me how to think about my various illnesses and how to hope for a future with them, even if my body was compromised by them. He did for that pastor’s mom as well. He did it for Paul. And He’ll do it for you or your loved one who is wrestling through such things.
We have deep treasures in Christ, but the temple of the Holy Spirit housing these deep treasures is breaking down. Every one of our temples is returning to dust even if some are further along that continuum than others. There’s a lot implied in that contrast between the eternal treasures and the broken down temple that houses them. The contrast itself is important. And though we fight against deteriorating bodies, rightly resisting death as the abnormal phenomenon that it is, it is good to stop and marvel at the eternal light we house IN those deteriorating bodies. The more your body deteriorates, the more the contrast with that light is heightened. The glory of the light becomes clearer, and the path toward death and decay loses its sting. Some call that the thinning of the veil. I feel more settled after it all. It hasn’t been a bad thing in my life. Maybe that’s the real miracle.
Originally written and published by Wendy Alsup of Theology for Women.