several years ago, i took a personality test while attending a weekend seminar at our church. it was a test designed to figure out "my gifts." a well known test (however, the name escapes me at the moment--apparently remembering things wasn't one of my gifts). but what i do remember about this test is that after page after page of questions, and after question after question of analysis, my number one defining personality trait was determined to be (drum roll please...) efficiency! efficiency. really? not mercy or justice or compassion or kindness or gentleness or holiness or even cleanliness...but plain old, boring, unromantic, ho-hum efficiency. this test declared that the thing i valued most was being efficient. now, efficiency isn't a bad thing, but for me, it is right up there with remembering to floss and balancing my check book. i remember sitting at the round table with my test results and wanting only to slink out of the small group discussion. my husband sat next to me, and like an embarrassed school girl, my hand moved to cover my score. my word. my answer. my label. my verdict. i didn't even want this man, the man who knew me better than anyone, to see.
i have no idea if this test was particularly accurate or not. maybe i was just in the middle of crazy motherhood and what this test was truly declaring was that i simply wanted to be more efficient. like every frazzled mother, i desired efficiency. maybe it was my high and lofty ideal for that moment, that weekend, that particular season of life, mostly because i was thinking about the blazing chaos i had left behind a few hours earlier in my home -- the dishes piled high in the sink or the floors unswept or the multiplying piles of laundry. maybe this test was only capturing the wishful woman i was deep inside, at least for that weekend. a woman secretly hoping the housecleaning fairy might show up while she was negligently spending her saturday at a seminar trying to figure out who she really was...is...should be.
i don't know. it is all so interesting to think about, isn't it? i don't mean my personality test, but who we are and what we should be and how God has designed us. i think i mostly live in the world of sometimes. i am sometimes organized and sometimes chaotic. i am sometimes brilliantly efficient and sometimes incredibly inept. i am sometimes a cleaner, purger, deleter and sometimes a clutterer, hoarder, holder. i am a sometimes woman. i bet this fits you as well. what i've learned this far in life, is that we are all a great big mix of messy contradictions, and between you and me, i'm kind of thankful. i cannot imagine how boring it might be if we all lined up in neat little rows or sold ourselves as perfect little packages. i know people try that, but it's not for me.
i mean, don't get me wrong, i've tried. and i certainly like when people happen to catch me on a good day. i'm not one bit opposed to someone noticing a (rare) put together kind of perfect moment. but then there are other days as well, aren't there? not too long ago i had a woman approach me in the grocery store. she had heard me speak at our church's women's retreat last year and she wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed it -- that was her amiable intent. however, as our carts came closer in the canned goods aisle, i am sure what she heard was two of my children bickering -- loud and ugly -- and a third child (with a dirty face), secured in the basket, whimpering and whining uncontrollably for more fruit snacks. what she heard was their mother doing her angry-but-i'm-in public,-mother-thing. you know what i'm talking about...when we are forced to use low growls and clenched teeth and hard stares to get the attention of our children in public places. the kind of parenting which implies: oh blessed child of mine, you'd so be disciplined if i wasn't gathering taco supplies for tonight's dinner in a busy supermarket. that look. that sound. this nice woman was attempting to say all of these sweet things to me and for a brief moment, i considered abandoning my three children and the cart of taco supplies near the rows of canned corn, and instead accompanying this delightful woman and her clean children around the rest of the store. i wanted to hear the lovely things she had to say, i did not want to be pushing around my cart of unruly children and unhealthy food.
it was much later when i was able to laugh about that embarrassing exchange at the market. much, much later. it seemed to sum up the paradox of life -- at least of my life. sometimes together and sometimes a mess. why can't i just embrace that this is how it works? this is how God made me. we don't need those cute little labels the world tells us to pursue. that's not living for Christ, it's living for others. i love talking about this topic with kids and teens, but it is just as true for those of us who are a little more wrinkled and worn. we care deeply about what other's think. i know some people say they don't...but, personally, i think we are all a little wired that way. well, perhaps not my dad. he just says whatever comes to mind whenever he wants, wherever he is...and after being his daughter for 43 years, i'm pretty sure he isn't too worried about what others think.
but unlike my dad, i've always cared a little too much about how i was viewed and if i was valued. i can remember even back in grade school, my friends and i used to make up little paper note surveys. you probably did too. using our notebook paper and pencils we would write out the following:
do you think i am:
check all that apply.
half vulnerable and half excited, we would hand these out to our peers -- to our best, reliable girlfriends and to those awful, wonderful, unpredictable boys. and nervously we would wait for the results to return. we'd wait with sweaty pre-teen palms and heady, hopeful hearts. we'd wait to find out what people thought of us. we'd wait to find out who we really were. as if these little notepaper checklists would determine our worth, our measure. but in my seventh grade mind, those check marks meant everything. they meant the world. i remember shedding tears over a boy who failed to check pretty and thought me only nice. nice? oh how average. oh how utterly devastating.
the Potter has shaped us and poured into us exactly what He wants...exactly what He wants us to be, and yet, for some crazy reason, we are often more intent on the check marks of others to figure out our value. why is this? though i haven't made an awkward little survey like that since middle school, i still do it. even at age 43, there's something inside of me still wanting to pass out little papers and ask my most affirming friends to please check all that apply. i might do it differently now: a little more articulate. a little more elegant. a slight bit more cool. but in my own grown up version, there's no doubt, i do it.
“can I not do with you, israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord.
“like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand." ~ jeremiah 18:6
i know God is the potter and He's shaping me always, but it is sometimes hard to resist molding myself to the things and ways of the world. the natural sin in me works like this, whispering into my ear about what i should do or who i should be. spinning evil thoughts about what i should be more of or less of. other's opinions have always been kind of important to me -- even back in middle school. especially back in middle school. but truly, i am no different now in my midlife. just last week i was shopping (therapeutically shopping, that is) in tjmaxx when a piece of art work caught my eye. it said, BE and then listed all these words which it was encouraging me to BE. i considered it for a minute: could i take it home and hang it on my wall? no. no, i just couldn't. it was all very nice, but as i stood there reading over those words, i felt the seed of anxiety begin to take root deep inside, i didn't want something on my wall telling me what i needed to BE. i already felt guilty enough about what i wasn't BE-ing and certainly didn't need a piece of bold-lettered canvas reminding me of my shortcomings. no, this was one maxx for the minimum i would just have to pass up. i didn't buy the wall hanging, but, for some reason, i photographed it. i'm not exactly sure why. anyone watching might have thought i was BE-ing, at the very least, a bit strange.
here's the deal though, all of these bits and pieces of who we are have come from that slimy chunk of clay God carefully selected before the beginning of time. and from that clay He will shape us and use us for His glory. He alone determines our worth, our value, our results. we are all of these things as His hands choose to allow -- as His hands mold and form and smooth and refigure. we are but spinning clay in the hands of a steady, loving potter. and He puts in and pulls out that which He wants us to be -- nothing more, nothing less. no doubt, it is messy, dirty work. have you ever seen the hands of a potter? they are working hands: clay encrusted fingernails, stained palms, crackled skin. when God has His hands on the spinning wheel of our life, He isn't afraid to get dirty. it is messy, but without doubt, the highest calling of art. He has created us, after all, in His image. and this sometimes woman, sometimes forgets that.
"yet you, LORD, are our Father. we are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand." ~ isaiah 64:8