It was a few weeks into the term in my pottery class and I was having trouble. I still wasn’t able to create a decent piece of work using the potter’s wheel. I was getting tense about it. Most of my classmates had by now managed the skill of throwing on the wheel and were producing perfect cylinders. My cylinders were not working. Either I tried to bring them up too quickly and their walls grew too thin, or a jerk of my hand would put them off centre and a wild wobble would result in nothing more than a pile of goo. Every time my instructor walked by, I got more nervous and tried harder. The harder I tried the more I failed.
Then one day my instructor came up behind me as I was attempting to centre the lump of clay. He was a big man with huge hands and he towered over me. I looked up, ashamed of my incompetence, but instead of a scowl, I saw him smile. “Relax,” he said. “Trying too hard just causes more failure.” He put his large hands on my shoulders and kneaded my tense muscles. “Now, take a deep breath and try again,” he said.
I positioned my hands on the clay but the lump continued to wobble. I slumped back on the chair and looked up again. “Will you show me?” I asked. My instructor nodded and told me to try again, then leaned over me and placed his hands over mine, guiding them gently until the lump was spinning at perfect centre. When our thumbs pushed down into the centre the lump gave way and formed a perfect donut shape. Then he took his hands away. “Gently,” he said, and stood back as I slowly drew the walls of the cylinder up. He laughed with delight when I clapped my hands at the finished product – a perfect cylinder. I had no trouble producing them from that time on.
I’ve thought about that day many times over the years, when I’ve become stressed about one situation or another. I’ve found myself there lately, with the whole world shutting down in the face of an unseen yet insidious virus. I have come close to allowing myself to get tied up in knots over the situation, forgetting that God is standing with me, waiting to guide me, waiting to give me the peace that seems so elusive.
Then I remember my pottery instructor’s large skilled hands and I remember to ask for God’s help.
It comforts me to know that even Jesus’ disciples sometimes failed to understand that, when they are with Jesus, there is no need to worry. There was that day they sailed across the Sea of Galilee, for instance. The wind began to rage, and it looked like their boat would sink. Jesus was sleeping through it all until they woke Him.
Their words show the depth of their fear and confusion –
“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38, NIV).
Jesus stood up and commanded the wind and the waves to be still and they obeyed Him. Then he turned to his disciples and said –
“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40, NIV).
Their response was to wonder, “Who is this?” At first I groaned when I read that. Didn’t they know by now? Didn’t they understand who He was? But, in pondering it, I think that is the perfect response. When we see the hand of God move, it is fitting to ask who He is, to seek Him in a deeper way and recognize His power and sovereignty. And to relax in it.
Yes, these times are hard, but I remember the words of Job. After he had gone through all the difficult times of sickness and loss, when God showed Himself, Job responded –
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5, NIV).
I pray that, like Job, we will look up to Jesus, seek to know Him more, ask His help and acknowledge that whatever might come, if it gives us a clearer picture of Him, it is worth it.