My kids love to play "Africa". I find ground up rocks all over the yard, pulverized into dust. I look down at the red clay and I remember the Lord God formed man out of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). We're all sons and daughters of Adam, sons and daughters of dust, sons and daughters blessed with the breath of life only God can breathe.
We all start as terracotta, baked earth. It's the simplest way to turn dust into something useful. Clay pots baked at a modest temperature, over fires, in pits, in some of the oldest fireplaces and furnaces known to man. Under the right conditions, terracotta can last a long time. It doesn't crumble easily.
But we aren't sculptures. We're not solid. We're not made to last.
We are hollow. We're pots. The kind you'll only find shards of when you excavate an ancient civilization. If you live your life like a sculpture, placing your trust in the solidity and beauty of humanity, you will always wonder at your hollowness. The hollowness of your relationships. The hollow and fragile nature of your own health. The hollowness you feel inside when it is just you, alone in the dark with your fears and your insecurities.
We weren't made simply as a work of art, to bring beauty to this world. We were made to be filled up, like a flower pot.
We have a higher purpose - and it's a strange one. It's to bring glory to God through our hollowness, our brokenness.
Paul says we hold the treasure of life in earthen vessels. The book of Job reminds us that we live in houses of clay with foundations of dust. Don't we all begin as terracotta, formed by the Potter out of the dust of the earth, fit for a purpose, but weak and easily broken?
Something magical happens when you glaze terracotta. The porous surface is bound to the glaze by the higher heat of a kiln, and all the pockmarks and weak places the pot was born with are filled and made strong by the glaze. Like the furnace of faith, the heat hardens the glaze and strengthens the pot in an irreversible process that will forever change the pot. Holley Gerth reminds us that, in Christ,
You're not only amazing. You're enough. You're beautiful. You're wanted. You're chosen. You're called. You've got what it takes...not just to survive, but to change the world.Faith isn't easy. While the glaze protects us from the water damage of rainstorms of life, Satan can still chip away at the beautiful surface of a glazed pot. If we allow him leeway while we struggle to weather the storms, he'll chip away with fervor.
One of the great mysteries - great wonders! - of life is that God will use any cracked pot. In Paul's words, we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7). When we are under fire, it is common for those around us to marvel at the strength we show. During the hardest storms of my life, when I'm left wondering how I'm staying afloat, and my strength and confidence are in shreds, I am at my ugliest, and I have lost sight of my purpose in Christ, I've grown sick of hearing "how do you do it?" or "you're so strong" or "your faith must be enormous". To wear the admiration of others with any pride would be a complete farce. I know beyond any shadow of doubt that the strength I'm apparently demonstrating does not come from within. If I am able to walk through the trial with any grace at all, it is because of Christ's strength and not my own. The suffering Christian knows deeply the truths of Job 4:19, and marvels that God would ever find glory through the faltering faith of the suffering.
How great the patience of God! Look upon man in his life. The very foundation of that cottage of clay in which man dwells, is in the dust, and it will sink with its own weight. We stand but upon the dust. Some have a higher heap of dust to stand upon than others but still it is the earth that stays us up, and will shortly swallow us up. Beauty, strength, learning, not only cannot secure them from death, but these things die with them; nor shall their pomp, their wealth, or power, continue after them. Shall a weak, sinful, dying creature, pretend to be more just than God, and more pure than his Maker? No: instead of quarrelling with his afflictions, let him wonder that he is out of hell. (from Matthew Henry's commentary on Job 4:19)
Sometimes, in the intensity of life's greatest battles, whole sections of pottery are sheared off, and we are left broken. You may be like me, with large sections of your life broken off by disease or hardship. You can't see your beauty anymore, you doubt you are useful for much of anything, certainly no longer fit for service of the most high King. Gerth addresses this in her book as well:
You're not the "it" girl...it's a good thing. When we look at the kingdom of God, there aren't "it girls" (or guys). There are only "is girls". God looks at you and says, "She is loved, accepted and valued. She is created just the way I wanted her to be.
And the amazing thing is, even if we're reduced to one shard of our original beauty, the curve of the pot that God created will still cradle a handful of dirt and plants will grow from that soil. Whether suffering has stripped you of ministry opportunities, career, physical strength or beauty, you're still fit for God's purposes for your life.
In the end, what He wants most is simply us. Our hearts. Our dreams. Our days. Then what we do with our skills is just a natural response - and ordinary activities such as cooking or cleaning become just as sacred as leading a church or going on a mission trip. (Gerth, Who Am I, Really? p. 33)