Breaking Jars

Apr 14, 2021

There’s a story to be told of the least. 

Actually, most stories in the Bible seem to begin with the discarded, despised or simply forgotten. A stuttering Moses, an immigrant Ruth, a young David and a teenage Mary. The list could go on. 

A man named Gideon fits that list well. He was the youngest son from the lowliest tribe of Israel during a time when they were being attacked by neighbors. Their time of abandonment, starvation and fear was evident by the place in which Gideon thrashed his wheat. Instead of doing it out in the open where space and breeze could ease his work, Gideon hid inside a wine press, too afraid to be caught. 

But that place of fear and hiding was where God spoke to Gideon and called him to a purpose far greater than he could have imagined. God wanted Gideon to lead his people out of the oppression they had fallen into, and while Gideon battled his fears and insecurities, the Lord patiently waited for him to come to terms with the fact that he was indeed hearing God’s voice. After vetting the Almighty through physical signs and wonders (not once but twice!) Gideon finally agreed to listen and obey. He burned down pagan alters and formed an army of men ready to battle the neighboring tribes camped around Israel. But before setting off, God threw his brand new general a curve ball. 

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.” (Judges 7:2)

And just like that, Gideon’s army dwindled down by 22,000 men in a single day. 

With 10,000 willing soldiers left, I can imagine his panic began to rise. And yet God said, “There’s still too many!” so another 9,700 were sent back home due to their preference of how they drank water from a spring. 

From an army of 32,000 men, Gideon was stripped down to a meager 300. What a vulnerable place to be for a young, first time general! He was already frightened and insecure, about to face an army so large they looked like locusts descended on a valley. God saw his hesitation, even after the signs He had already provided, but He showed mercy towards Gideon’s fear and allowed him a chance to once again renew his trust in Him. 

With the cover of darkness on their side, the 300 men quietly gathered around their enemy camp – a ram’s horn in one hand and a clay jar in the other. 

Gideon had commanded his men to light a torch but cover its light with a clay jar, and upon his signal, the Israelites were to break the jars, free the light, and blast the sound of victory through the night. When the Midianites were jolted awake by the sounds and sights of blazing fires surrounding them, they became frantic and disoriented. They turned on each other in battle, and what was left of them scattered into the hills with the Israelites on their tracks. 

What hid inside the clay jars is what brought them victory. Three hundred men defeated an army too large to count.

We read stories like these in awe and wonder, but then what is it about us that makes us think we can guarantee anything by our own means? Time and again God deliberately wants to show us his power and glory, yet we say “Hold it! My problem, circumstance or heartache is something I need to solve myself.” 

Like Gideon, we’re scared of losing control and not being able to protect ourselves from the risk of trusting in a God’s whose answers and outcomes may not always align with ours. 

It’s hard letting go when you know the story doesn’t revolve around me. 

We live in a world where clay jars break. Everywhere we turn, suffering surrounds us. Whether it be a broken relationship, an addiction, a diagnosis or the loss of a loved one, this fragile clay surrounding our lives is going to break, and probably more than once. 

So if the time comes for your jar to break. 

When the time comes for your jar to break, what will you find inside? Will it shine the way those torches blazed through the night, declaring trust in a God who would show his faithfulness? Or will your light be dimmed by the fears and worries of this world?

When my fun loving, bigger than life brother was killed in a car accident 6 years ago, my first well-kept jar shattered. And as I learned to navigate my new life and find joy in the midst of continuous grief, I received a breast cancer diagnosis and went through a grueling year filled with scans, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. Another jar flew to the hardened ground, and I had yet to turn 34. 

The realization that this life I loved; this fragile existence of mine could topple again without any warning was enough to leave me doubtful and disappointed that God would continue to allow me such suffering. There’s no guarantee another jar might not drop, regardless of my youth, my faithfulness, or my increasing record of painful moments. 

I have no guarantee I won’t lose my husband or be told my cancer has come back before my youngest celebrates his 4th birthday. 

Fear can be crippling when you live in light of all the terrible things that could go wrong. Our limited view – our human eyes can only see so far, and those views are often clouded in fear and doubt of the unknown. 

See – the thing about living life inside a jar is that glory can’t be revealed. 

Light can’t shine; victories can’t be won, unless the jar breaks. 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

Dear one, God doesn’t cause our suffering, but He will allow it, and He will work through it. 

These past few years I’ve felt afflicted, perplexed and struck down. I was never promised a life without them. Yet does any of this – our spinning globe, humanity’s history, redemption’s story – does any of it really depend on our constant state of contentment? 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:1-4)

It’s the broken jars – the suffering – that produces perseverance, character, and hope. God loves us deeply. He’s a Father who gives good gifts, but he never mentioned ease and comfort as a spiritual goal.

Because what exactly is there to hope for if we’ve never known despair? God cares too much about our character and eternal state to leave us without a desperate, yearning hope for what He has in store. 

So whatever it is you’re facing now or may face in times to come; whatever broken jar you hold in your hands; I want to tell you that it’s not for nothing. I write these words at 4 AM, as I struggle through yet another sleepless, post-chemo night. I sit before you with a bald head and scars across my chest and heart remembering all that I’ve lost and all the sorrow I’ve walked through. And as tears fall from my face, once again for the thousandth time, I have to choose to surrender my will, my desires and my heartache to a God whose promises are worth suffering for. 

Because weak moments do not equate to a weak faith. Don’t ever let that lie sit with you.

You can choose to live a life like the Buddha, so disgusted with the idea of pain and suffering that he left his family, climbed a tree, and detached himself from any and everything that could ever cause him grief. Or you can choose to live like Jesus – the God who took the form of a man, felt hunger, pain and loss to the point of giving his very own life for the sake of a deep and unconditional love for us. He didn’t want heaven without us, and that was worth the ultimate price to Him.

So once again, we surrender all our hopes and plans, all our joys and pains to the God-man who justifies our faith through grace alone. And it’s that grace that produces endurance, character, and hope in a beautiful, broken world on its path to redemption. We’re waiting for Eden, and no matter what this temporary life looks like, our broken jars aren’t meant to be shards of sorrow. We hold vessels designed to be spotlights of blinding light, shining on the One who will take our brokenness and make all things new.

Hi! I’m Amy…

I am a stay-at-home mom with a passion for books, baking, gardening and homeschooling. My calling to write stems from the desire to share the depths and vastness of grief and suffering, and how to point it back towards an eternal perspective through Jesus. Called to live full and grace filled lives, I hope to acknowledge pain, inspire joy through brokenness and find purpose in the beauty, the ugly and the mundane of parenting day to day. 

My husband, Ryan, and I live in Charleston, SC with our 4 busy boys, 2 dogs and constant influx of tadpoles, frogs, crayfish and lizards.