When I travel, I find out that many people tend to react in a shocking or stereotypical way when I tell them that I am from Texas. The response ranges from a weird, uncomfortable facial expression to a sarcastic, “Oh, so you’re from Texas, the wild and rebellious state, huh!?!” Nevertheless, this typical and stereotypical presumption is not exclusive to Texas alone. As a matter of fact, many Texans make erroneous assumptions about other states and people that they do not know from what they have read, learned, or heard. It is very easy, but sad at the same time, to be reserved and hold judgment against others without knowing them for who they are. However, each person and encounter presents us a unique opportunity to really open our horizons and be formed by God‘s love.
The Prophet Jeremiah gave us a beautiful image of ourselves as clay in the hand of God who is the Potter. (cf. 18:1-16) I remembered having to work with clay for the first time in high school for an art class project. We were told that clay has to be the right consistency else it will not set right. If it was too wet, it will not be able to hold its form. If it was too hard, it will crack easily when it goes into the furnace. On top of everything, we had to learn how to understand and appreciate its physical conditions, as well as our capabilities, in order to truly form it into a piece of art according to the best of our abilities. That lesson stuck with me…
Of course, God is the ultimate and skill Potter so He would not have any limitations or problems with His skillsets. However, we, as clay needs to have the proper consistency and structural substance in order to allow Him to properly form us. If we are too soft, not committed, and easily persuaded by the things of this world, we will never have enough courage to stand firm and be strong with Him. When mundane, appealing, or beneficial things come to tempt us, it becomes easy to simply give in and allow ourselves to be formed and filled by those things. On the other hand, if we are too stubborn, hard-headed, and self-righteous, we will not be flexible enough for Him to re-form, re-create, and transform us with His love.
If we are too hard, we will crack when we are in the furnace; if we are too soft, we will be bent out of shape. Therefore, substantial consistency is important! We need to be both firm but flexible, grounded in our values and commitment, but also at the same time, humble and docile to be formed by the Almighty. If we do not know how to be formed by Him and receive life from His love, we will crack under pressure or give up when things get hard.
First of all, we have to stop asking for what we want and ask Him to perfect us in love, to love Him more and more, to allow Him to model and form us as clay in His hands, and to bring to fulfillment what He has begun in us. Without our docile surrendering to Him, we will remain as hardened clay that cannot be formed. The easiest — but hardest — thing is that we have to let go, little by little, of our miserable sentiments and self-pities to become more capable of having the same sentiments as those of Jesus. It is necessary to die to ourselves in order to become like the Son of God with simple, childlike, and trusting faith, hope, and love.
The ability to be loved, formed, re-formed, and re-created by God‘s divine providence and love is the personal gift that we give to Him in response to His love for us. It comes from our own personal recognition and desire that we are not in control but are in His hands. It springs from our willingness to not define and create ourselves as we like but allow Him to form us into what we are called to be — in His image and likeness. Of course, it will always be our continual struggle to be docile and humble, listening and allowing ourselves to be opened to His loving spirit. We will put up resistance at times. We will think that we know better. Our hearts will get hardened and filled with doubts at times, or we will succumb to the pressures of this world and those who are around us. However, it is very important to recognize when we have closed our hearts to the Almighty in order to return and allow Him to heal us deep from within.
No matter how imperfect we might be, we are still His loving creation, made in His own image and likeness. Furthermore, if we recognize that we are still works in progress, we will also have to allow His loving grace to be at work in others as well. Too many times, we have become the people who judge, define, and pressure other people according to our standards, demands, and expectations. We often desire people to be like what we want them to be according to our egocentric standards and timeline instead of allowing His grace to be at work in forming them just as He is forming us slowly.
We all have to recognize that the other person is probably struggling to be formed by God just as we are at times, too! Therefore, we have to allow the Almighty to be at work and allow ourselves to become instrumental in leading people to the truth in His love instead of expecting them to be what we want them to be. The saddest reality, but also the easiest temptation, is to allow ourselves to be frustrated, demanding, and resentful because we are never happy since we put ourselves as the criterion and standard of judgment of others instead of becoming His instruments of loving peace. It is so easy to understand, but also very hard to accept, that all of us are clay in the Potter‘s hands, works in progress, and He is still working with each and every one of us. Hence, change begins with us by how we conform ourselves to His love and allow ourselves to be formed by Him each and every day — not others.
At the end of the day, we can only accept who we are in all of our blessings and limitations, gifts and struggles, treasures as well as broken hurts and pains. Nonetheless, the most beautiful mystery that defines and interweaves everything that we have is that God loves us and wills our good. Even though there are so many “experts” trying to sell us an ideology, a self-made system, or some revolutionary methods, none of them have really taught us how to seek and attain wisdom. Everyone is so worried about making a name for themselves, getting attention, being successful, self-made, powerful, or influential, but no one has really spent enough time to help us become wiser, especially to attain the everlasting, never-changing, and perennial wisdom that is beyond manmade standards and comes from the Most High.
Our life of faith invites us to seek, discover, love, and become the people that God wants us to be, created in His image and likeness, formed out of love and for love, meant for higher, transcendental goods that are beyond this world. Therefore, no matter where we are or what is currently going on in our lives right now, I would like each and every one of us to enter into a personal, intimate, trusting, and loving relationship with God to understand, know, and embrace who we truly are in all of our brokenness and imperfections.
When we are able to be who we are, with everything that we have, we will be able to bear all things and use everything as testimony and witness of His wondrous and loving works in us. We are not ashamed to let people see our imperfections. We do not have to pretend or put on a show, nor do we have to let people think that everything is perfect and fine, in order to be and live as people of faith. In our imperfections and brokenness, when united with the love of God, give testimony that His grace is at work in us so that people around us can see that He is living in us and His light is shining through us, even in our imperfections or cracks from past brokenness and resistances. When we know who we are, we become people who preach Jesus Christ and not ourselves so that our hearts shine forth the everlasting and transformative love of God, that His life can be manifested in our very human nature. This is the real, personal, and intimate faith for we have believed and spoken from our very experience of His love for us.