I wrote this story to describe why our common responses to life’s challenges don’t always work as well as we would like.

There was a young man named Tom who lived in a small village.

He was an angry young man, over-reacting to every offense and keeping others at a distance.

In desperation, his parents asked Tom to go and see the eccentric old priest who lived in the village.

The priest was renowned for his unorthodox methods that somehow worked.

When Tom saw the priest, the older man told the youth to go away and come back with two lumps of clay.

He returned a few hours later and then was told to make a vase out of one of the lumps.

The young man thought that this must have been part of the therapy, so he threw himself into the task with enthusiasm, believing that the opportunity to create art would help him with his temper.

He made the vase, decorated it and put it in the kiln to harden it.

Upon completion, Tom presented the beautiful vase to the priest.  He was proud of his accomplishment and believed that he was now cured of his anger issues.

The priest smiled approvingly and gave the young man a hammer.

“Now hit the vase with this hammer,” the priest commanded.

“But it will break my beautiful creation!” Tom protested.

“Hit the vase with this hammer,” the priest insisted.

“Don’t you like it?  Isn’t it good enough for you?”

“Hit the vase with this hammer,” the priest continued.

Annoyed, the young man snatched the hammer from the priest and tapped it firmly.

The vase immediately smashed into pieces.

“Now look what you’ve done, ” Tom said angrily.  “You’ve wasted all of my hard work.”

The priest ignored the outburst and left the room for a moment.

He returned with the second lump of clay and placed it on the floor next to the young man.

“I suppose you want me to waste my time by making another vase?  Well you can forget about it!” Tom said rudely.

The priest looked at him with kindness and said, “Hit the clay with the hammer.”

“With pleasure!” the young man responded.

He swung the hammer with all of his might and it hit the clay with a thud, leaving a large mark.

“Happy now?  What was the point of that?”

The priest picked up the broken pieces of the vase and held them in his hands before the young man.

“See this vase?  This is like your heart.  You think that you need to be hard to cope with the inevitable disappointments that happen in life.  You respond with anger, bitterness and violence, keeping people at a distance, but it doesn’t work.  Your hardness makes you more fragile.  Adversity breaks your spirit too easily.”

The priest then picked up the lump of clay, it had a mark where the hammer had hit it, but it was still in one piece.

“You need to soften your heart and be more like this clay.  It is still impacted by what happens to it, but it can be restored easier.  A soft heart forgives, loves and uses soft words.  It understands that pain and suffering is a part of life and instead of fiercely resisting, it absorbs the blow. It still feels the pain, but isn’t broken by it.”

The young man nodded thoughtfully, but wasn’t sure if he could change.

The priest looked at him with kind eyes, placed his hand on his shoulder reassuringly and prayed a blessing on his new friend.

“Lord, bless Tom with the patience and courage required to change and help him to be kind to himself when he inevitably gets it wrong.  Amen.”

Is your heart so hard that instead of protecting yourself, you are shattered when life’s disappointments come?

Are you impacted by outside influences more than you need to be?

Do you need to soften your heart by forgiving those who hurt you?

What can you do to better cope with life’s challenges?

Previous post – Cynics Need Not Apply

Next post – Why We Have Hurdles