I’m not a fan of winter. Except for the beauty of the occasional snowfall, I find winter to be drab, colorless and, quite frankly, too long. This past November, I added a little outdoor color inside while I “suffered” until spring. Thanks to Pinterest, I found some ideas to spruce up my house with containers filled with artificial greenery. There’s nothing like a little “fake” foretaste of spring when the tree limbs are bare, and the temps are frigidly cold.
While online, I stumbled onto the Old Time Pottery website. What started out as an “I’ll just pop on and take a quick look at what they’ve got” turned into an hour or more of scrolling. I saw pottery that was cylindrical, egg-shaped,apple-shaped, pear-shaped, bell-shaped, hexagonal, standard, small, stout, short, tall, medium, large, Bohemian, urban, rough, refined, and natural – you name it that store has got it! Who knew pots could come in so many shapes, sizes, and styles?
Browsing the online pages of pottery made me recall a time years ago when I sat next to a married couple on an airplane who were both pottery makers. They were flying home to Michigan, where they had sold their wares.
Confession time: the first thing that came to mind when they mentioned pottery making was the steamy scene from the movie Ghost. If you’re from my generation, you probably know the movie. Picture Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze seated at a pottery wheel…the Righteous Brothers singing “Unchained Melody” in the background… and…well, you know the rest. Back to my story…
The sweet couple shared the how-tos of making pottery with me. When they were done, I realized that a lot goes into this craft long before I see a finished piece on a store shelf.
Here is their simplified explanation:
First, a potter starts with an idea of what they want to make. Then they decide what type of clay they want to use, begin centering the clay on the wheel, and then form and shape it with their fingers and hands. Next comes the drying process (which can take up to a week or more) followed by sanding, and finally, firing the piece in a kiln. Each step of the process is as important as the next.
We Are All On the Potter’s Wheel
Our pottery conversation lasted almost the entire plane ride home and ended with them sharing their website and contact information. As I recalled our conversation later that evening, I couldn’t help thinking about a few of my favorite verses in the Bible.
But now, O’ Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay, and You our Potter. And all we are the work of Your hand. (Isaiah 64:8 NIV)
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. (Jeremiah 18:5-6 NIV)
I rarely think of myself as a piece of clay being worked over on a potter’s wheel. I know He calls me beloved, chosen, redeemed, forgiven, and a child of God. But clay? Yes, scripture says I am clay. So are you.
Let me explain…
All Good Things Start With An Idea
Before a potter even sits at the wheel, they have an idea of what they want their finished product to be. They have a purpose (aka intended use) in mind. Will it be a vessel? A platter? A jar? Big? Small? Ornate? Plain? It’s the same with God. God knew what we would look like, what type of personality we’d have, and how we would be used by Him long before we were born. He had a purpose (intended use) in mind for us.
So what is our intended use as humans? Primarily it’s to reflect the image of God. Our lives reflect His when we bring hope to those without hope. When we “shine” in the darkness around us. When we walk with those, who suffer and offer them love. When we stand up for His truth. Simply put: We are to be his hands and feet here on earth and make a difference in His name.
How about our personal intended use? You and I are not here by accident. Our birth was orchestrated and planned.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:14-16)
I think the word purpose (aka intended use) has become a watered-down buzzword. Many people get caught up trying to find their “purpose” (I know I did for a long time). We research, we ask others, we read self-help books, we take strengths assessments, all seeking to find out. While none are bad, we often “miss the forest for all the trees” as we seek to find out what “it” is. Perhaps the answer is found by simply asking God, “What is my purpose?” or “What do you want me to do?” or “What is my assignment for today?”. He doesn’t play games with us. He won’t ignore us. Ask Him. He will tell you!
Spoiler alert! It’s not always just a one-thing answer, either. Sometimes (most of the time), He has many intended uses for you. The way he used me in my 30s and 40s is a lot different from how he’s using me in my 50s, for sure! And here’s the “kicker”: He will not tell you everything at once. If He did, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to handle it (I wouldn’t!).
We were made to reflect God. We are his representatives here on earth. Ask Him what He wants to do with you and through you, and He will tell you; I promise.
Next comes the clay. The connection between a potter and our Potter is a simple one. A potter takes clay (originally from the ground) and breathes life into it. Likewise, God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NIV)
Centering clay on the wheel is one of the most crucial steps to making pottery. A potter wants his or her piece to be as symmetrical and perfect as possible, so they put pressure on the clay with their hands as it spins on the wheel to distribute it evenly. God loves wholeness and symmetry. He wants us to be as perfect as possible, so He pressures us to center ourselves.
I don’t know many people who like to feel pressured. God knows that if He doesn’t put a little pressure on us while we’re on the wheel, we will become wobbly and drift from side to side. We follow the ways of the world, we desire acceptance, we fall into temptations, we misplace our priorities, we harbor resentments. All make us wobbly. God centers so we can stay focused on Him.
Forming and Shaping
Next comes the forming and shaping step. This is when the potter presses, pinches, squeezes, and pulls. All of this pressure put on the clay is a necessary part of making the piece look the way the potter wants it to.
We need to be shaped into the image of God. We have the potential but still aren’t “there” yet. We must go through this process. We need to be pinched, pressed, pulled, and squeezed from time to time. Selfishness. Anger. Jealousy. Gossiping. Pride. All need to be “pinched” off so we can be the person God wants us to be.
Once the piece of clay has achieved its shape, it’s set aside to dry. This is the waiting part of the pottery-making process. To prevent pottery from exploding in the kiln, the piece needs to be bone-dry. Drying is a very important step.
Potters call clay that is not yet suitable for firing greenware. We often use the term green when describing someone inexperienced (i.e. She’s very green and immature.). Same thing with us as Christians. When we start out as “baby Christians,” we are green too. Our faith is weak, we have little knowledge of scripture, we lack discipline, we have a worldly perspective about life with a little Truth mixed in, and we often still have unhealthy influences in our life. We take baby steps until one day, we are a mature, “bone-dry” Christian.
When a potter sands their work, they’re getting rid of the rough edges. A piece may not be as even as it should be. It may be a bit wonky and in need of straightening. Same thing with us. We’re often a little rough around the edges too. We judge we gossip, we lash out in anger, we’re selfish. Our Potter “sands” us down from time to time and reminds us of who He created us to be. *Sometimes the sanding process is done during the greenware stage, not after.
While each step in the pottery-making process is important, none are as important as firing. If you skip this step, your piece will be fragile and susceptible to cracking. Firing makes the piece stronger.
I’m not particularly fond of pain, but if I had to choose, I think this step just might be my favorite out of all of them. I‘m positive that when I go through trials (fire) I’m always stronger afterward.
There are countless situations and seasons I’ve been in that have been fiery and uncomfortable for me. My eating disorder, the infertility problems my husband I went through, broken relationships and hurtful words spoken to me, and the deaths of my parents are just a few that come to mind. Each experience was painful, some were filled with almost unbearable grief, and a few shook my faith, but in the end, I know that I experienced them for a reason. When my heart ached in pain when I believed I was unworthy, when I struggled to find rest, when I cried tears, when I was lonely, God was right there with me. He never left my side. Ever. When you’re in the fire, He’s there with you too.
When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2b)
A Few Thoughts on Refining
Trials, pain, and affliction are rarely seen as something good, but God places a high value on them. The purpose of affliction or trouble is to refine a person. Refining is necessary and makes us stronger.
Here’s what happened to me in each of the situations above:
In the process of overcoming an eating disorder, I learned that I was perfectly loved by God. That nothing I had ever done or could ever do would ever separate me from experiencing a beautiful relationship with him.
After our infertility problems, my husband and I came to fully realize that birth is a miracle orchestrated by God. We fully embraced that our future was in His hands-with or without children.
The season I experienced a broken relationship with many hurtful words spoken taught me to rely on the help of the Holy Spirit. To shut my mouth from saying hurtful words in response and let God be my Defender.
The loss of my parents, while still painful to this day, made me extremely grateful to have them in my life for as long as I did. The loss of them both has made me even more grateful to God for giving me parents that raised me with strong values of right and wrong, who showed me how to be kind and generous, how to be humble, and to have a love for the land.
Everything we go through in this life, including our time spent in the “fire,” contributes to who we are. Fire is part of God’s plan for us right up to the day when we take our last breath and move on to spend eternity in heaven with Him. Now that’s a happy ending I’m looking forward to!
We Are Unique and Valuable
You know what I love about wheel-made pottery? Each piece is made one at a time and is 100% unique from the next. Oh sure, there may be similarities between pieces, but no two pieces are exactly alike. It’s the same with us. Some of us may look similar to each other. Some of us may have personalities that are sort of the same. There are a lot of blond, medium-height, brown-eyed women (who like to talk a lot) in the world, but no one is exactly like me. The same goes for you too. The swirls on our fingertips are unique to us. He knows every hair on our heads. God didn’t create cookie-cutter humans. Nope. Each of us was tailor-made by God Himself with an intended use in mind. Now, if that doesn’t make you feel special, I don’t know what will!
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Luke 12:7a NIV)
You know what else I love about wheel-made pottery? There’s a value to it (much more than the manufactured assembly line kind). There are so many variables to value. Before putting a price tag on a piece, a potter has to figure in the cost of the materials, the man-hours it took to make it, the packaging, and the overhead. Not only that, but they also have to figure out what someone is willing to pay for it.
When it comes to us, we are of the utmost value! How do I know? The Bible tells me we are!
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew. 10:29-31)
God’s Son, Jesus, paid the price for our sins and made us free. Yes, God has forgiven us. (Colossians 1:14)
“Today the Lord has proclaimed you to be His special people.” (Deuteronomy 26:18)
Our youngest son took a pottery class in high school. He made two vases and a tissue holder. Both vases are a bit lopsided, and the tissue holder is too small to hold a standard box of tissues. None of these things matter. I love them all the same.
Because my son is dear to my heart, those pieces are prominent on my office shelf. I smile every single time I look at them. I’ll never get rid of them. Ever. They are very valuable to me because I love my son. Period. It’s the same with us. God loves and values us so much that He was willing to pay the highest price ever when He paid for us with His life.
You were bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20a NIV)
Even though the firing process strengthens a piece of pottery, it’s still susceptible to being broken. So are we. A little squirt of Gorilla Glue can be the antidote for broken pottery. We can be fixed, too; just not with glue.
Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18).
The thing about Gorilla Glue is that no matter how carefully we apply it, we can usually still see traces of it on the repaired object. Not so with God. In the book of Revelation (21:5a), He tells us, “He is making all things new.” We can trust that one day it will be as if we were never broken in the first place because when God fixes us, we are healed (restored) completely.
Friends, we’re both going to spend a lifetime on the wheel. It’s not a one-and-done process, We’ll continually be centered, shaped and molded, sanded, put through the fire, and repaired. This side of heaven that’s just the way it’s going to be. We can trust Him because He’s a good Father (the best!), and He believes we are worth His time and effort. No matter what’s happening in our lives or how much we can’t make sense of it, God has our greater good in mind. Let’s yield to God and let Him reshape us into valuable vessels. Okay?
Before I go, I’d love to have you ponder a few questions:
- What does being made in God’s image mean to you?
- What does it say about your value?
- Looking back on times when you’ve been through the fire, can you see God there with you?
- How has God shown up to “fix” you when you’ve been broken?
- When was the last time you asked God what He wants to do to you and through you (your purpose aka intended use)?
Feel free to get back to me with your answers. I’d love to hear from you!
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