Perfection In The Flaws

Posted: July 25, 2014

Rural Pen

Sipping coffee in a handmade mug, I noticed a thumbprint on the handle. The potter I was with said that every time someone drank from that cup, they put their thumb right there, into the thumbprint of the potter.

It makes a human connection, he said.

Then, we looked at his pottery. He fired his pots in a Japanese raku oven built into the side of a hill. Picking up a large blue-hued vase, he pointed out the crack, formed in the fire, running down the side. I wondered why he chose to show me a mistake.

The beauty, he said, is in the flaw.

This did not compute. This potter knew what he was doing, so I tried to absorb this truth, that imperfection is attractive.

Perhaps it’s oldest child syndrome, but I was raised to be perfect. There was no grace for learning, no encouragement to keep trying until I got it right. It must be perfect. And so you go through life thinking, “flaw equals bad.”

For instance, one night many years ago, I was backing our van with a trailer down the hill on which we lived. Everything was going fine until it wasn’t. The trailer had jackknifed. I pulled forward to straighten it out, then began backing down again.

Again it jackknifed. And again, I cussed up a storm, raging mad — at myself.

That was typical, for me to get angry with myself for messing up, whether it was for baking a cake that fell apart, making a dumb purchase or saying something stupid.

In the book, “Beauty: the Invisible Embrace,” John O’Donohue writes, “It is a wonderful day in a life when one is finally able to stand before the long, deep mirror of one’s own reflection and view oneself with appreciation, acceptance and forgiveness.”

The turning point for me was during a sermon. The speaker said that when a child is learning to walk, she falls down. We do not ridicule the child for falling. Nor do we expect her to take her first step and walk perfectly. We expect children to fall down and to get up again.

Why then, should we expect perfection of ourselves while we are learning? And is learning not a lifelong endeavor?

It is at these points of anguish at our mistakes, our faults, our screw-ups, that we can cry out to God our Maker.

“For with a wound I must be cur’d,” wrote Shakespeare. In our flaws lay great wisdom.

We do need ideals to strive for, but we should not flail ourselves when we do not live up to them. It’s only natural, being human, yet aspiring for our better selves.

“Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter; we are all the work of your hand,” says Isaiah 64:8.

While not blind to our faults and shortcomings, God sees the finished product. We hear so much about having faith in God, but I believe God has faith in us. If we are clay — and we are, literally and figuratively — then our best route to perfection is not to fight the molding and making, but to let it happen.

All we must do is yield, let the potter gently mold us. And in that place where the maker’s thumbprint reveals a flaw …

Ah! This is where we connect with other humans.

Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at, on Facebook or care of the DN-R

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