Broken Crayons Can Still Color

Like most kids, when I was young, I was always so excited to get a new box of crayons for school. I loved opening the box top and seeing all the bright, beautiful crayons with their sharp points.

My wife, a retired Kindergarten teacher, had a tub of hundreds of old crayons—all of them broken and worn down. I asked her, “What are you going to do with all those crayons? Are you going to get rid of them?” She responded by saying that there are many ways to use broken old crayons and that they can still color. One suggestion was to remove the paper wrapping in order to expose the color of the crayon.

When we transfer this concept to humans,  we know there are a lot of people who, like the crayons, have been broken by tragedies, betrayals, loss of health, disappointments, broken dreams, and so on. Many of them have given up on themselves, thinking that they have nothing to offer. Not only do some people who have been wounded feel this way, but also those who have been worn down by life and age. Some of the elderly may also believe that they have nothing to offer. Both of the groups may believe that they can no longer color.

What stops us from coloring—from using our gifts and making a difference?

When a crayon is broken, we have to remove the paper covering in order to see the color. In regards to ourselves, the coverings could represent our belief that we have nothing to offer. This belief can keep us from seeing that we can still color. When we are broken, we cannot hide behind a covering created by some false belief about our ability. There is a saying: “We cannot heal behind a mask.” The covering has to be removed.

What stops us from coloring—from using our gifts and making a difference? Did we believe and take to heart someone else’s criticism of us? Did we stop coloring because we did not get the response we had hoped for? Did we stop because what we offered did not turn out perfect? Did we stop coloring because we believed we were too old to color?

Just like a crayon, we do not lose our ability to color or make a difference because we are broken or worn down. We may not be as sharp as we used to be, but we can still make a difference.

Parker J. Palmer, in his book “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life,” summed it up beautifully: “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”


By Dr. Bill Austin

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