Pressure To Form

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I took a break from teaching today and had a chance to sit back. It’s nice for a time such as this and our guest speaker, Beth, did something quite different from the norm. Set up front was a potter’s wheel and all accompanying materials – a bowl of water, tools for scraping and shaping, a towel and more – and she was prepared to speak on the obvious subject ahead.

I was surprised how moved I was with all of this. After all, it’s almost as if you knew the whole sermon before she started – how many places can you really go with the potter-and-clay analogy, right? She spoke as she threw (not literally throwing things across the room, but the proper terminology for shaping and molding that which is in the potter’s hands), building proper tension at all the right times. It was beautiful in its presentation but also in its truth.

She would explain what she was doing to the clay and then tell her own life story, jumping back and forth. And at one point, she said, “You can’t tell, but I’m placing a tremendous amount of pressure right now to get the clay to move where I need it to move.” That was it for me. That was my highlight, of sorts, to take home.

I find myself always attempting to wiggle out of moments that are the pressurized. I guess that’s human nature, but it doesn’t make it right. Coming up in our communal living scenario, we are facing a time this summer in which we know many changes will take place and it’s something we’re desperately working to avoid – keep things as stable as we can so we don’t encounter too much friction, worry or nervousness.

My entire history is like that – in moments of financial pressure, relational pressure, etc. – my tendency is to collapse beneath it all, unwilling to allow myself to take the shape I am intended to. And then I wonder why again and again, I am forced to go through the same thing. It’s obvious that I am supposed to do something different yet I consistently run from that which God wants to do in my own life.

Trust. Patience. Endurance. I was late to the character party. I was almost 30 when I married and for good reason – I wasn’t close to ready before then. I was a complete jerk to a number of girls I dated through my teens and twenties and there are various moments I can look back and see where pressure began to build and I would run. Same thing in my jobs and it took a complete collapse and depression to make me see that I continued to sacrifice my character and integrity just to escape things I didn’t want to go through.

Now? I hope I’m different, but I know what I am capable of. I’ve also seen the beauty that comes in allowing yourself to be thrown by the one who created all things. It hurts like hell sometimes, but the process is always worth it.

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


8 Comments

  1. Mike

    This reminds me of a book that I just finished yesterday called The Shack
    http://theshackbook.com/ and how God (Papa) truly works all for our good. Although I believe He would be happier if we would simply trust he uses sometimes the most unspeakable pressures to get us to Himself. AND we are never too late to the character party and what may seem like late to us is just in time for Him.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    This reminds me of something we discussed last weekend at a retreat that I led music for in Colorado. We talked about how God’s primary goal for an institution like marriage is not happiness – it’s transformation. We tend to judge the health of our marriage (or any relationship or even situation for that matter) by how happy and fulfilled it’s making us feel.

    But with transformation in mind, it might be better to understand that our marriage might be healthiest when there is tension, when there is work to be done, and when there is conflict, since these can be catalysts for change and growth. Interesting thought that I think we can apply to life in general. It at least gives us a hopeful perspective that God is not only going to see us through the challenges we face, but that there can be a redeeming purpose to them.

    But I sure do my best to avoid the very things that may bear the best fruit in me…

  3. Tony Heringer

    Jason – Spot on man, that fits in with a current discussion we are having in our “dudes group” around the topic of marriage. We all seek happiness, but God is after setting us apart (making us holy) which involves heart surgery — no less pleasent than the physical kind, eh?

  4. Chris Slaten

    Actually kind of reminded me of the Shack too, which I am just about to finish.

    One of the teaching elders at my church has a habit of saying, “live in the tension!” because it can be a tendancy of mine and a lot of other Christians to run to a comforting antecdote, a Bible verse, substance or sins in times of tension and pressure in an attempt to evade what we often do not realize is a transformation process. Hold still, my soul, the doctor/potter/gardner knows what He is doing and it is very,very good. The process is worth it. Amen.

  5. becky

    The most important step in throwing pots, I think, takes place before the clay is ever on the wheel. It is called conditioning, and it involved kneading and pounding the clay over and over. This causes the the molecules in the clay to line up like shingles on a roof, making it much easier to mold. Well-conditioned clay responds much more easily to the potter’s work. I think that we are the same way. Sometimes it takes a lot of pounding to get me to a point where I can be molded into something beautiful and useful. Where I respond easily to the creator’s touch.

    Conditioning also makes the clay more elastic, so you can stretch it and bend it and make coils out of it and it won’t break. Clay that has not been conditioned well will crack and break apart when it is bent and stretched. I think that the pounding that God sends into our lives makes us stronger. Better able to stand up to the stretching and bending that are to come.

  6. Mike

    I worked at a pottery for a year while in college. My job some of the time was getting the clay ready to grind. The clay was taken from the ground not far from where I live and piled in a hill behind the pottery. The clay was then scraped by a blade on the back of a tractor under a shed where it had to dry for several days. When thoroughly dry it was placed in a hopper and transported inside where it was placed in a grinder and ground into near powder consistency. Even then sticks and rocks sometimes made it into the ball that would be turned. The rest was up to the potter. Kinda cool when I think I am but dust and the Potter is doing it all until Christ is formed in me. A simple earthen vessel.

  7. Leslie

    I just recently graduated from art school with a focus in ceramics and i remember how frustrating it would be, when learning to throw, how easy the instructor always made it look. then it would be the students’ turns and we would tirelessly complain at how easy it was for tyler (the instructor), and how hard it was for us. we had the same clay, the same wheels, yet somehow when we’d try to control the clay it would collapse or tear. even now, when i’m throwing i sometimes think how i pitty the clay. I think how in a master’s hands it could be so much more…how sometimes the pressure i give, results in failure, rather than something beautiful. How often do i allow myself to be moulded by someone other than the Master…my circumstances, my culture, entertainmet…and all the pressure i feel from them just results in pain. It’s all about whose hands we’re in.

  8. becky

    This potter and clay thing has been going around in my brain since I read this entry, and I have to disagree with you on one point, Matt. There are many places you can go with the potter and clay illustration. People in Jesus’ time would have been much more familiar with the process of pottery so, like shepherding illustrations, there would have been more depth and richness to their understanding. Here are just a few examples I’ve thought of in the last couple of weeks. I’m sure you can think of more.

    I already mentioned the importance of conditioning in making clay strong and pliable, but it also works out air bubbles which will expand in the kiln and cause the pot to explode. They are like sin in my life. They seem so small and insignificant; maybe not even visible from the outside. But when the heat is on, they can grow and cause my life to self-distruct.

    Then there is centering the clay: applying even, downward and inward pressure on the lump of clay on the wheel until it is firmly attached to, and perfectly in the center of, the wheel. If you don’t do this, the clay can fly off of the wheel, or your pot will come out lopsided. Like the clay, my life needs to be firmly attached to, and centered on, Christ or I will be spiritually misshapen.

    The hands of the potter make a huge difference. I have very small hands, and therefore throwing a large pot is much more difficult for me than for someone with large hands. All of my pots just seem to come out miniature sized. God’s hands are large enough to handle the most gigantic pots, but delicate enough to create small, elegant pots. Also, handles are most often made by “pulling”, which is holding a lump of clay in one hand, and squeezing and pulling down on it with the other. No two people will have handles that are exactly the same. The handles are shaped like the grip of the hand that pulled them. Whose grip is shaping me?

    When throwing the pot is finished, it is set aside for a few days until it is dry. This is when the pot is the most vulnerable: when it is dry, but has not yet been fired. And it is the same with me. I am most likely to break when I am spiritually dry, and have not been tempered by the fire.

    Finally, when glazes are applied to the pot, they are really very unattractive things. They look chalky and dull, and you can’t see what they will ultimately look like. And until they are fired, they can just be washed off and replaced with something else. The heat of the kiln melts the minerals in the glazes, and hardens them into a beautiful, water-resistent, permanent coating. The glaze makes the surface non-porous, so it can hold food or water. Many things in my life are like unfired glaze. They seem dull and lifeless until I am put through the fire. Spiritual fires serve to harden those qualities that God has been painting onto me; make them more permanent; bring out their beauty; make me able to be used to bring spiritual food and water to others.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

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