The Potter and The Clay
When I accepted the price God paid to buy me back from sin, and He slapped a “SOLD” sticker on me, I was a complete mess!
They say God is the potter and we are the clay but life had taken this chunk of clay, steam-rolled over it until it was paper thin then spread it on the ground, covered it in dirt and stomped all over it until there was nothing workable left of me.
I can remember who I was back then.
I was so filled with rage I used to go for walks at night, alone, in the hope some man would try to rape me so I could kill him. If I saw a man walk past my house I would be consumed by hatred and fantasize about dismembering him slowly and painfully.
When my infant son urinated on me because that’s what infant boys do if you are not careful when changing their nappy I took it as a personal, deliberate, insult and went ballistic. My frequent bursts of screaming rage resulted in neighbours regularly calling the police to come and check on the welfare of my son.
I was trying to be a good mother but I was failing miserably and I didn’t know how to change that.
Back then I didn’t sleep much because every time I tried to sleep I would have awful nightmares. I tended to stay awake during the night and sleep during the day to avoid the terror of waking from a nightmare to a dark and silently menacing world.
I was ignorant and self-centered too. I thought I had to wait until my son got his teeth before I could feed him anything but milk so, after a few months, he was demanding a feed every two or three hours. This meant he would invariably wake me when I did manage to go to sleep and I would punish him every time he did because I thought he was doing it on purpose to harass me.
Anger, anxiety, cowardice, depression, dishonesty, fear, hate, ignorance, mistrust, paranoia, promiscuity, resentment, self-pity and selfishness. These were my constant companions in those days and they ruled me and ran my life from one crisis to another with unrelenting savagery.
I hated men but the only time I felt in control of my life was when a man was begging for my body so I went from man to man to man giving only my body, never my heart, and never being stupid enough to believe their lying offers to love me. I made them use me by rejecting any attempt to love me and then I hated them for using me.
I see so clearly now but back then I just hurt a lot and hated even more.
When I gave my life to God I did so because it was useless to me. I didn’t want it any more but I couldn’t kill myself because that would mean leaving my son to the mercy of a world filled with paedophiles! I had to go on living until my son could survive without me. I didn’t really believe in God but there was nowhere else to go so I handed myself over hoping for the best but expecting nothing. As far as I was concerned, if God really did exist, He had a lot to answer for anyway since it would mean He had allowed all the awful things that happened to me.
Any earthly potter would have dumped the clay straight into the bin. I was giving up on myself, dumping myself into the bin of religion, surrendering my life to a God I thought probably didn’t even exist and who, if He did exist, didn’t really care about me or He would have given me a better life already.
If I was God I would have been offended by my attitude but, fortunately, I am not God and He was not offended. He simply rolled up his sleeves and went to work!
He took that lump of dried up, flaking, impure clay and he massaged it! He worked on it with incredibly gentle hands and the first thing he did was remove the rocks of sleep-deprivation and nightmares! Nobody can function well if they are tired, ill, or terrified. God knew that, even if I didn’t, so he didn’t even try to do anything with me spiritually until he had dealt with my physical need for sleep. For details about how He did that see this blog entry titled “Lesson One“.
The next thing he had to deal with was the lack of moisture in the clay. I’m no expert on pottery but I’m pretty sure dry clay will just crumble to dust if you try to work it without adding moisture. In human terms that meant dealing with my closed-minded resistance to learning. If anyone tried to change me in those days I would take instant offense and immediately back away from them. God had to open my stubborn mind to the possibility that what I “knew”, or what I believed, might be wrong, harmful, or in need of revision and he had to do it without making me FEEL criticised or offending me!
In those days I could feel criticised, or be offended, just by being looked at let alone if anyone tried to tell me I might be mistaken about something! God had to negotiate the minefield of my chaotic self-defence mechanisms and open my mind to learning new ways of being, doing, and becoming before he could do any real work with me spiritually.
He had to add moisture to the clay. Spiritually he did this by massaging me gently and continuously until the very oil from His hands, the tears from his eyes, and the blood of Christ itself had penetrated and moisturised the clay making it soft and malleable.
In human terms, he worked with me on my level, at my pace and in ways that worked for me. See the blog entry titled “You can’t believe everything you tell yourself” for an example of how he got me to open my mind and be willing to learn and change.
Over the past thirty three years God has worked tirelessly on this lump of clay. He has patiently and lovingly removed rocks, stones, dirt and grit. He has gently shaped me into who I am today and, as a psychologist, I know it’s nothing short of a miracle for someone to change from who I was to who I am now without some kind of help.
People don’t just suddenly, for no reason at all, start to question themselves if they have never been known to do that in the past! It takes several sessions of patient, persistent, gentle therapy to get a person to do that and, in some cases, the person will just move to a new therapist rather than let go of their inaccurate perceptions of themselves and others. God did it for me with one gentle, casually spoken, question.
For the record, if any human being had asked me that same question, I would have taken offence. The only reason God got away with it was because He dropped it into my mind as if it was my own thought. I didn’t take offence at my own thoughts so I looked at the question with an open mind and saw the truth before my defences could intervene. I knew it was a question I never would have asked myself and that led to the realisation of who had really asked the question but it was too late by then. My mind had been opened and there was no going back.
When I became a Christian I didn’t have much to give God. I had no faith, no trust, no insight, no knowledge, no obedience and no self-discipline. All I had was a lack of interest in living. I didn’t want to hang on to my life or who I was. I wanted change and I was willing to let God change me if He could.
All I could give God was a chance. A chance to convince me he really does exist, he really does love me, and he really can change me and my life. He accepted that deal and he convinced me, loved me, and changed me.
My old companions were anger, anxiety, cowardice, depression, dishonesty, fear, hate, ignorance, mistrust, paranoia, promiscuity, resentment, self-pity and selfishness.
None of them left me without a fight but all of them grew weaker once God entered the picture. God took the helm and steered my life in a way that seemed chaotic but, looking back over 33 years, can now be seen to have been carefully and skillfully planned. He brought people, like my ex husband, into my life so they could teach me things He wanted me to learn. Like how to be a good mother. He arranged for me to go to places, like university, where I learned things he wanted me to know. Like how to get rid of my anger, ignorance, resentment, hate and self-pity. He led me to people, places, experiences, sermons, books, and quiet times with Him that helped me change from who I was then to who I am now.
I have been tried by fire twice and that is usually the end of the pottery process. Fire once to harden the shape that was created and again to add the glaze. I was fired in the kiln of a divorce court. The breakdown of my marriage was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life but it resulted in me realising I was a more capable and worthwhile person than I had previously thought.
The second firing was equally as traumatic but in a different way. I was attacked in my own home by five youths. I spent an hour with my back to the door whilst they threw themselves at it trying to get in. I sobbed and begged God for help but nobody came and I feared for my life. The coming of dawn drove them away but I felt God had forsaken me and that left me believing He did not really exist.
When I began to believe God did not really exist I stopped hearing Him and feeling His presence. A bottomless black hole opened up inside me at that point and it filled me with such horror and desolation I couldn’t bear it. It was more painful than my divorce, more terrifying than the attack I had just endured, more soul destroying and agonizing than anything else had ever been or could ever be.
It was then that I surrendered everything to God because I realised I could cope with anything that could come at me from outside but I could not bear to live without His presence in my heart and mind. I lost it, temporarily, during that last firing and it made me realise I could survive and be all right, somehow, if I lost everything and everyone else in my life but I could not survive or be OK if I lost my faith in God.
I guess this is where the pottery analogy breaks down because I know I am nowhere near a finished product. I still smoke, I still swear, I still eat too much, I gamble, I do not tithe or keep the Sabbath holy, I don’t honour my mother the way I should, I don’t go to church or try to save souls, I don’t exhibit “the joy of the Lord” and I am really not much use to God at all when you think about it.
But, as I write, God is speaking to me.
“After the first firing you were strong enough for me to begin using. That is why I led you to the job that resulted in you being registered to work as a psychologist. Then I was able to use you to help heal the wounds of those I brought to see you.”
It’s true. Before my marriage ended I was gaining knowledge at university but I really didn’t think I could ever work as a psychologist. I didn’t believe in myself or think I would be any good at the job so I would never have actually applied for a job as one.
Discovering I could survive without my husband convinced me I was stronger and more capable than I previously thought.
In the end God had to pull a lot of strings together to get me into the job then pull a lot more strings to get me registered as a psychologist. He made things happen without my help. I couldn’t help because I didn’t believe in myself the way He did so He sent people who did believe in me and they pushed me to apply for registration.
“After the second firing,” God said, “you were waterproofed. If someone were to come to you now with proof I don’t exist how would you react?”
If someone could prove to me God does not exist it would not matter to me any more because I would cling to Him even if I were sure He does not exist! The whole world could believe there is no God and it would not change me now. He would exist for me, he would be real to me, by virtue of my belief he is real if that was all I had left to work with!
Now I am confused. I know I am not a finished product so how can God tell me the potter has completed his work? God answers me.
“If I were to wait until every speck of impurity and dirt was removed from the clay before using the vessel I have created I would never use anyone because clay, by definition, is a type of dirt! If I took every speck of dirt out there would be nothing left to use because you would no longer be of this earth.”
I’m still confused. I can feel God still wants to change me. I know for a fact there are still impurities He wants to remove. He wants me to stop smoking and gambling, He wants me to feel Joy and love life, He wants me to help Him save other souls so how can the potter analogy be true? God answers me again.
“An earthly potter cannot change his creation once it has been fired and glazed but I am not an earthly potter! You will always be clay in my hands but now you are clay that has been strengthened so you will hold whatever shape I mould you into without the need for firing again. You are clay that has been given a protective glaze not a finishing glaze. With a protective glaze the world can throw the strongest acid it has on you and you will never dissolve. I can continue to remove impurities, and I will, but it is time for you to accept that I have answered your prayer.”
My confusion turns to apprehension because I know what prayer He is talking about. For 33 years I have prayed the same prayer; “Lord, make me into the person you created me to be.” I never had a fixed image of who that person would be so I never had a clear idea of how I would know if, or when, that prayer was answered but I did not think it would be when I was still a smoker!