This ‘Fragile Clay Jar’ Contains Great Treasure
“I’m getting older,” I told my dermatologist even though it wasn’t necessary. He was doing my annual skin check and had started to look at my face.
“It doesn’t look that way to me,” he said, pausing, “but, then again, I’m getting older and my eyesight is fading.”
Years ago, I was swimming at the health club pool in the lane next to one of my former journalism professors, now retired. He swam a length of the pool and rested before starting another, while I literally swam circles around him.
That day, I finished my workout with a final stretch at the wall of the pool before exiting.
“I’m off to work!” I told Les.
“Man, I wouldn’t want to hire you,” he said. “You must go to the office already tired.”
He didn’t understand that exercise energizes, motion is lotion for my joints, and I will work this aging body in the hope I can remain energized, pain-free (or feeling less pain), and healthy.
Of course, I have a bad back, a left thumb joint that’s swollen and painful, a right shoulder clicking and catching instead of working smoothly, a hand that goes numb while I’m driving, brushing my teeth, doing dishes, swimming, etc.
And yet I keep working my body as if I’m not getting older and less carefree. More than fighting the aging process, I take care of my body, what the Apostle Paul called a “fragile clay pot,” because of the great treasure inside it. (And, no, I didn’t mean my gift for writing, but thank you very much.)
A Side Effect of Aging?
When I went to my doctor for a checkup, we talked about aging. (It seems my hot flashes inspire flashes of insight into the decay of the human body. Hot topic.)
“Aging isn’t a bad thing,” my doctor said to me. “You get older and you stop caring so much.”
He said this as if it were a good thing.
“I’m not sure I like hearing that come from my doctor,” I said.
“Oh, I didn’t mean not caring about my patients!” he said. “I just meant I could travel down the road driving 25 MPH in a 45 MPH zone and not care when people honk or flag me down with that one finger.
“I can see myself happily waving back in return — with all my fingers,” he concluded, smiling, clearly envisioning this scenario. “That’s what I mean by not caring so much.”
I’m not old enough, I guess, because I still care. (I’d be the one honking behind him.) But he’s got a point. Choose what you care about, right?
A Balance of Care
I care about my health. I awaken daily and get to the gym before I can talk myself out of exercising. Some would say I exercise religiously because the habit is so ingrained.
I had been taking a low-dose anti-inflammatory because of my shoulder issues, but since my shoulder started feeling better, I thought I should stop taking the medication. It didn’t really seem to help my shoulder, and it was only intended to be temporary. I think.
Now everything hurts. My knees, my hip, my back, my thumb, my shoulders. Not excruciating pain, not paralyzing pain, just enough discomfort to make me aware that I’m not 20 anymore. I’m not even 49 anymore, and I can feel the difference.
I was considering sending my doctor a message to ask if I should continue taking the medication forever, but when I mentioned it to my yoga instructor (who just turned 71 and is fit and flexible and finds that moving every fascia keeps her pain-free), she reminded me that the medication merely masks the problem.
Sigh. Resuming popping a pill seems much easier than figuring out where my fascia are and how to move them all to get pain-free.
As I consider all I do for this body of mine — attempt to eat a (moving target we call) healthy diet, exercise aerobically, lift weights, stretch, follow my physical therapist’s exercise regimen — I realize my body is wasting away.
(Slower, I hope, than it would if I were not making all those efforts.)
But I further realize that while I inhabit a body that will break down and die (if Jesus doesn’t return first), I won’t cease to exist. I will experience eternal life in a glorified version of my current self.
My aging body makes me feel like the “fragile clay jar” that the Apostle Paul declared we were in his second letter to the Corinthian church. But Scripture reminds me that I much more than flesh and bones. Though I may be a fragile clay jar, I am holding a great treasure inside me — the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Check this out:
For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.2 Corinthians 4:6-7
If you had to use a fragile clay pot to contain something precious, wouldn’t you take the utmost care with it, if not for the sake of the pot but for the sake of what it contains?
If I take care of the fragile clay jar that I am, then I may have more days or more stamina to share the great treasure I contain, and God will receive more and more glory.
So I will do what’s best for my body, all the while realizing that “bodily training is of some value” but more so that “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
“The life to come” makes it easier to handle the aches and pains and limitations that come with age. (Not easy, but easier!)
I love what Paul tells the Corinthians later in his letter:
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.2 Corinthians 4:16-18
In yoga, I take off my glasses so they don’t fall off when we’re doing certain poses in which my head is face-down. I can see enough to follow the instructor through the day’s practice, but I see differently.
When I look at the mirror, I see a thin me and my thinner classmates because we’re rather like stick figures with colored clothes. If I were an artist, I would try to capture the feathery way I see in class, because I feel I am seeing the essential me (which, apparently, doesn’t include extra poundage or cellulite bumps).
As we complete balance poses, I look (in my feathery, sans glasses way) at a spot of reflected light on the floor. It enables me to block out my classmates and my teacher, who might cause me to fall if I were looking at their fidgety attempts to balance. I softly focus my gaze on the patch of light and then balance my fragile clay jar the best I can. I am usually successful.
That focus in yoga is a good reminder to me. May I be as focused on Jesus, not distracted by my aging body. Yet, may I take good care of this fragile clay jar to better host and share the treasure inside it.
My former professor, who I see in the pool most days, has to stay out of the water as he heals from cornea transplant surgery. In his absence, I am not swimming circles around him, of course, but I am circling him with prayer — that his body accepts the transplant, that the surgery restores his vision.
Funny, that. A few months ago he told me that I should be a “poster child” for success at the health club. He thought I looked rather fit for someone of my age. I thanked him, of course, and felt rather prideful.
Until I realized that, as my dermatologist indicated during my visit, his vision might not be telling him the whole story…