By Jimmy Reed

The Pencil Parable



Storytelling takes many forms, but stories that endure, that remain popular down through the ages, have in common certain elements that cause listeners or readers to remain attentive from the first word to the last: They are simple, they impart moral and spiritual instructions, and they describe human transformation.


For many people, myself included, parables combine these elements best. Following is my version of a parable that illustrates them.


The Pencil Maker said to the pencil, “Before I send you forth into the world, you must understand that, in order to be the best pencil you can be, you must always be mindful of what I am about to tell you.”


The pencil listened attentively to his Maker.


“First, you must realize that you are capable of doing much good in the world, but only if you obey a guiding hand. Occasionally, you must be sharpened, and though you may find these occasions difficult to endure, you will come to realize that they are necessary.


“Because of your unique design, you have the power to correct your mistakes, but only if you obey the still, small voice that speaks from within.


“Though you are rather plain on the outside and because the hand will make much use of you, your exterior will become worn, nicked, and scarred as time goes by, but always remember: Your Maker designed you so that your best, most important part is on the inside.


“Your purpose is to do the best job of leaving marks on all surfaces you touch, and though doing this repeatedly may become wearying, you must continue writing, for this is what you were made for. Remain attentive to this duty, and you will be transformed, as your Maker intended. Now, go forth and complete your mission.”


As any reader can easily discern, the Pencil Maker’s metaphorical audience is humankind, and the instructions are clear and straightforward.


To complete the mission of their lives, all human beings, regardless of their abilities—intellectual, physical or otherwise—must constantly seek and accept guidance by the Maker’s hand, and though they may view their purpose as small and unimportant when compared to those of others, in the Maker’s eyes their purpose is equally as large and important.


The Maker did not intend for this journey through life, this transformation, to be easy. As pencils must be sharpened from time to time to remain useful, so must human beings be subjected to the honing that comes only with adversity—heartaches, loss, pain, and suffering.


Through these adversities, what is on the inside becomes more beautiful than what is on the outside, and the person—the pencil—becomes stronger and more capable of enduring until his usefulness is completed.


As pencils properly used leave meaningful marks on the surfaces they touch, people who accept guidance by the Maker’s hand leave positive influences on the lives of others.


By doing so, they complete their life’s mission and are rewarded eternally—the ultimate lesson of the pencil parable.



Oxford, Mississippi, resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, and retired Mississippi Delta cotton farmer Jimmy Reed is a newspaper columnist, author and college teacher. His latest collection of short stories is available via at 662.236.2262.