Lessons Learned from a Pencil

April 27th, 2017 | Community

An example of why Ecclesia cultivates spirit-filled community.


I recently learned a simple but astounding fact. To some it may be a seemingly unimportant bit of trivia but on the night I first learned this fact it struck me as profound wisdom.

Not one single person can make a pencil.


As the story goes, there are the people who know how to forge the graphite, there are the eraser-builders, there are the woodsmiths… but not one soul who can do it all. (I’m over-simplifying, but the concept is neatly outlined in a 1958 essay called “I, Pencil” – worth checking out if you’re curious on the detail.)

As a writer, I toggle between keyboard and paper, pen and pencil. I use these tools to create, but I never gave thought to how they were created. It’s especially interesting to me that it is the humble pencil that requires so many hands to make it. The pencil, oft-dismissed, takes a veritable village to create.

When I heard the story, thought about how the model of collaboration applies to work. As a seasoned professional, I may be a Jack (ok, Jill) of all trades. I’ve seen it all and done most of it all. But the reality is that I can’t really do it all without crashing into a heap. I need others to help me – whether that be to physically take some of the work or be my second set of eyes. Sure, this can be looked at with a sinister lens…. don’t give one person too much knowledge or power. Or it can be examined with rosier glasses: we cannot do this alone. We are not able to. We are not knowledge enough, not strong enough, not energetic enough to fly solo.

The same is true in the work of being a Christian. We cannot – I cannot – do this alone. I need my people.

But if I’m honest, this is one of those Tough God Lessons for me. I am and have always been a strong willed, fiercely independent, dig-my-heels in kind of gal.

And this is where I jump back to that night when I learned about this humble pencil-building situation. On that night I wanted nothing more than to be left alone. It was the night of our community group. I was tired, I was hungry, and I was surly. “I don’t want to host tonight,” I said. “I want a night off,” I said. “I don’t want people to come in to my house and have to talk about my feelings,” I said. I may or may not have stomped my feet.

And yet they were coming. In 15 minutes.

I stormed around the kitchen for a bit, then hid in the bathroom as the first people trickled in. I was both trying to conceal my tears and also to hold on to my independence. To be alone.

When I’m in rebellion – brought on by hunger or exhaustion, for example – my selfish desires get in my own way. My strong will makes me want to plan things MY way on MY terms. I isolate and push others away. Me, me, me.

But in actuality, the opposite of that – community – is exactly what I need.

As that night unfolded, God brought together the people I needed to see, who provided the words I needed to hear.

One of them told that story about the pencil.

There are several passages of the Bible that speak to this need for community, including 1 Corinthians 12: 12–27, where Paul instructs us that every body in the church has a purpose. There’s also Romans 12: 4–5, where we learn that each of us has a specific function and together, we form one whole. My favorite, however, my be Hebrews 10:24 – 25, where we learn not to go simply through the motions of meeting together, but to actively lean on and encourage one another. To bear burdens, good days and bad, alongside each other in community:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”
-Hebrews 10:24–25

That night at community group each person added their own layer to our community. The hours flew by, and by the time they left, I was energized and buoyed. I hardly remembered that I was upset in the first place. I felt alive.

And thus the simple, but humbling, lesson; We cannot and mustn’t go about life alone. We need our colleagues and friends. Much like a pencil needs a community to bring it to life, so do we.

Amy Duchene is a word-nerd by heart and profession. She's a marketing consultant and freelance writer by pay, and a bookwriter by play. She and her husband Nate try to get to the beach as often as possible to make up for all those days they previously spent in the Seattle rain.

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