A few months ago, I invited my friend to join me for a pottery class at a new local studio for her birthday present. We both love to try new things and were intrigued by the experience of using a potter’s wheel to create something out of clay.
When we arrived at the class, the teacher gave us step-by-step instructions. We each sat down behind a wheel while she passed out a ball of clay to each student. Our first task was to slam the clay down in the center of the wheel to get it to stick. Then we were to wet a small sponge and soak the clay.
Our teacher encouraged us to gently nudge the pedal to get the wheel spinning. With wet hands, we learned to center and cone the clay. Coning helps to mix the clay and work out inconsistencies or air bubbles before shaping it. We used our fingers to lift the clay into the cone shape and then our palms to push it down again.
Once the cone was centered well, the teacher showed us how to smooth and shape the clay into a flat disk. She said to make it look like a mini flan. (She had me at flan. Hello, one of my favorite desserts!)
The process of forming clay on the wheel was longer and harder than it looks.
The trick was to keep adding water to keep the clay supple and moldable. We pressed, pulled, and pinched until that ball of clay eventually became a bowl or vase.
Metaphors for life abound in the pottery studio.
A few times, the teacher came over, stuck her hands in front of me, and started to work with my clay. At first, I wanted to take control of the clay myself. I wanted to learn by doing it myself. But soon I realized the value in surrendering to her expertise. In fact, I learned a lot from watching my teacher and her techniques.
The first surprising lesson was that it requires lots of water to make a clay pot on a wheel. Clay is naturally hard and heavy, but water makes it workable.
Our souls are much the same. We need consistent hydration. We need the living water that only Jesus offers. On our own we are heavy, brittle; we are dust. With Jesus’s living water, we are malleable clay. The very same water that He offered the Samaritan woman at the well has the power to transform us from the inside out (John 4:13-14 NLT). He is our Thirst-Quencher when we are parched, our Teacher when we lack technique, our Shepherd when we need a gentle guide.
In the pottery studio, I also learned that pushing on the pedal to speed up the wheel does not actually make the work go faster. I had to be slow, deliberate, and intentional if I wanted to make a beautiful bowl.
It turns out in pottery-making, as in life, you have to trust the process. It’s rare that someone would sit down at a pottery wheel and make something perfect on the first try. Oftentimes the clay needs to be reworked, reshaped, and reimagined.
This brings to mind the story where God sends the prophet Jeremiah to the potter’s house to show him something important He wants to relay to the people:
Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there. So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.”
Jeremiah 18: 2-6 (NLT)
God uses this visual to remind the people that He is the Master-Potter, molding them like clay. He calls them back to repentance and rest in Him.
The prophet Isaiah uses a similar metaphor of clay and Creator:
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Isaiah 45:9 (NLT)
These verses remind us that the Potter can do whatever He wants with the clay. He can push out our inconsistencies, transform our too-jagged edges, and smooth us to symmetry. It might feel uncomfortable or too-long in the waiting, but we are not to resist His design work. We are to submit to His molding and making, and behold His creative process embodied in us.
After the class, our teacher fired our creations in the kiln — a hotter-than-hot oven — to set them. When it was done, I traced my finger along the smooth edges of my bluish-teal bowl. I held it with a quiet sense of pride because it wasn’t fancy, but it was my creation.
That little bowl sits on my bathroom counter now, holding some of my favorite jewelry pieces. It’s a sweet reminder that God is the Potter, and we are but dust mixed with water in His heart-shaped hands.