The Potter and the Clay
O Lord…we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Is. 64:8)
I have always admired beautiful pottery. While I appreciate and enjoy simple hand-building with clay, the potter’s wheel especially intrigues me. At craft fairs, I usually end up at the potter’s booth. There I’ll watch in amazement as skilled hands form something beautiful and useful from a plain lump of clay. And they make it look so easy!
I appreciate potters’ slow, patient labors: adding water to keep the clay soft and pliable, applying light pressure to certain areas, adding or removing clay to create the shape they envision. As their feet control the wheel peddle, their hands never leave the clay. They skillfully mold it into a vessel of beauty. Simple clay from the earth is transformed, reflecting the intentions of its creator.
Years ago, I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon with my sons learning to use a potter’s wheel. Our teacher, Valerie Eilor, taught me more that day than how to mold clay.
I quickly learned that the first secret to using a potter’s wheel is centering the clay. The wheel flows out in concentric circles from the middle and it appears simple to set the clay in the center and begin. Yet if the clay is even slightly off-center, the result will not be symmetrical. It becomes warped and lopsided, no longer the intended perfect and useful vessel.
I imagine my life as a large wheel with many spokes. Too often I spend enormous amounts of time and energy running around the rim attempting to connect with everyone. But God’s way is to stay in the middle hub, to live from the still center. In God’s way, I stay connected with all the spokes without having to run so fast!
Twice that long-ago afternoon I grew impatient and rather than wait for the touch of the “master’s” hands to help center my clay, I moved ahead. Both times I produced a lopsided pot. At the end of the day, I dumped them into the “reject” bucket to be recycled for another class. An immigrant from Chile, Valerie commented, “Only in America do people throw away that which isn’t perfect.” She observed, “Americans want pots that are slick and perfect and all alike.”
In her background, potters admired the unusual and valued creations which were different. For example, if the rim on a vase is irregular, she sees it as nature’s rolling landscape and appreciates its uniqueness. Valerie said that Japanese potters are especially known for enhancing irregularities. If a pot is cracked, they sometimes pour gold into the crack to call attention to it all the more.
I returned home wondering what else I was rejecting and tossing away in my life as “imperfect.” As a child, I rarely attempted anything that I might not win (talent shows, academic or leadership competitions, sports). It was critical for me not only to “make the team,” but to be the best. Obviously I missed out on many opportunities and some valuable lessons on coping with failure. But God is faithful and what we don’t deal with at one stage of life comes around again!
In the years since my experience on the potter’s wheel, God has shed light on several areas of my life. There were times when I communicated rejection, or at least impatience, when my children didn’t “measure up.” When their unique personalities saw life differently from mine, I didn’t always celebrate and enhance those differences. Too often, I tried to make them, in Valerie’s words, “slick and perfect and all alike.”
I had similar experiences with the church, showing little tolerance for those who thought differently from me. Now I am part of a church which celebrates diversity and seeks common ground in spite of disagreements on doctrine or political issues. The body of Christ is made up of many parts and each person’s contribution is valuable.
In my own life, there are parts that don’t “measure up.” I build a wall around those parts of myself and reject them – or desperately try to change myself to be more acceptable and more pleasing to others. For example, I speak poorly. It is rare that I leave a conversation feeling I have been able to express what is inside. Words don’t come easily; they are frequently jumbled and confused, all the more so now that I am experiencing “chemo brain.” As a result, I often choose to stay quiet. “If I can’t say it perfectly, I won’t say it at all.” Rather than taking the risk, trusting that God is able and willing to take my weaknesses and make them into something useful for His sake, I protect myself and keep tight control over what I say and do. But Jesus promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
God calls us to accept ourselves and each other completely—the cracks, the flaws, the imperfections, the brokenness. In the hands of the Master Potter, we can be molded into someone of great beauty and usefulness in the kingdom of God.
So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “…Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” (Jeremiah 18:1-6)
God is the Potter, we are the clay. How pliable are you to the gentle, firm pressure of God’s touch? When was the last time you truly surrendered your will as the chorus to this song suggests?
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou are the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.