These words penned by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth made little sense to me growing up. Having been raised in an achievement-driven culture – where (an extremely narrow definition of) success is celebrated and anything less is brashly swept under the carpet — I found Paul’s sentiment completely counter-intuitive and utterly incomprehensible.
At least in my family, gatherings served as opportunities for extended relatives (as well as for my parents, of course) to boast about their children’s phenomenal achievements –like a gold at a mathematics Olympiad or a distinction for a violin examination. I remember the abject fear I used to feel attending family gatherings on the back of a below par showing in an examination; clearly, boasting in our weaknesses was a notion that evaded me.
Seven years ago – on 10 January 2007, to be precise – I had a radical encounter with God and gave my life to Jesus Christ. I immediately plunged headfirst into my local church community with an enthusiasm that I believe was both God-given but also reflective of my personality in general. Rapidly I ‘rose through the ranks’ in my local church community, precociously undertaking various leadership positions that belied my young faith.
Much as my apparent zeal was birthed out of my love for God and His church, it was also (the extent of which I was unaware of) motivated by my performance-driven attitude. My environment growing up had forged in me the mistaken, but deeply-seated, belief that my sense of identity and self-worth were rooted in my accomplishments.
We had leaders’ meetings regularly in church, where members taking on various leadership responsibilities would convene to share reports of what God had been doing in our respective groups. Strangely enough, I began to feel pressure at these meetings not unlike the kind I felt when attending family gatherings: with all the other leaders sharing glorious stories of the amazing work God was doing in and through them, I felt the tacit pressure for my stories to ‘match up’ with theirs. Even though I was a teenager struggling with issues like insecurity and pornography among others, I was not comfortable talking about them with my friends from church. I was afraid of rejection and judgment. And perhaps, more than anything else, I was afraid of shattering and tainting the spiritual and godly image that I had painstakingly built, for I had thought my ‘godliness’ was the reason why I was accepted and valued in the church community.
About a year ago, through a series of events that seems serendipitous in retrospect, I met a local pastor by the name of Steve. My initial impression of him comprised mainly of fascination –he was a middle aged Chinese man, with an accent and a vocabulary that were eclectic mixtures of British and American. Steve had a demeanor about him that was determinedly casual, inviting, yet challenging. Our paths crossed because Steve wished to plant a new church in the city of Claremont, and our lives have been inextricably intertwined since. Yet, even though I have lost count of the pearls of wisdom he has given me, I would never forget one of the first conversations we had, when he told me, “Xuan, I’m not interested in what you do. I’m interested in who you are.” That sentence went on loop in my head over the next few days. I found the prospect simply incredulous: I had always seen myself as an asset to my community because of what I could do, the skills I had to offer. It was a simple revelation, but one that had completely evaded me: I am loved and valued just as I am, in all my frailties, weaknesses, and brokenness.
We all are, without exception, broken vessels. For years, I have tried to hide the cracks, plastering them with my own meritorious works, thinking that was how I could gain acceptance and approval. With the help of Steve and others who have come into my life in the past year, I have come to the counter-intuitive realization that God loves broken vessels; as we embrace and become honest about our brokenness, we draw closer to Him and to the people that He has placed in our lives. It was a difficult realization to arrive at, and one even more difficult to put into practice, because being open about our weaknesses inevitable leaves us vulnerable to being hurt.
Yet, as I started “boasting about my weaknesses”, admitting that I am as imperfect and in need of help as the next person, I have experienced firsthand the grace of God and the kindness of people in my community. Slowly but surely, Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are starting to resonate with me.
 I am unable to share about my conversion experience for the purposes of this article, but I will be more than happy to share about it with you in person.
 Serendipity is certainly a viable explanation for the occurrence of this particular series of events, although I am personally convinced that the hand of God was at work in orchestrating it. Again, I would be glad to discuss this in person.