Take me, break me, make me

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

July 10, 2014

“Take me, break me, make me.” That is a phrase I first heard many years ago in a sermon preached at the church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York. It caught my attention and I have been using it in my daily prayers every since.

I don’t remember the preacher’s interpretation of this phrase, but it reminds me of the biblical allegory of God as the potter and we as the clay. In the Book of Jeremiah the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord was this: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So Jeremiah went down to the potter’s house, and there the potter was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” (Jeremiah 18:2-4) Paul uses the same imagery in Romans where God is again the potter who can shape a lump of clay from one use to another if he chooses. (Rom. 9:20-24) God can mold his people, not capriciously, but can replace a design for evil with a design for good.

I have a nephew who is a professional potter, and if after firing the pot he detects a flaw, the pot simply goes to the back yard to sit around. But he has lots of choices when turning a pot to mold the clay into something beautiful and to remake something that might have developed a spoil.

Whereas a potter doesn’t break a flawed pot while reshaping it, in the spiritual life the way God molds us for good sometimes feels like a break. We may have a pattern of life that is self-satisfying, but suddenly some abrupt occurrence or enlightenment invades our space and we feel as if we are being broken. We may wonder if any good can come from the calamity. An illness, family problem, intervention challenging an addiction, or an unexpected financial loss can be the culprit. Previously we may have thought that we had the good life figured out and that God was safely secure in a self-made nook. And then we discover that what we thought was safe or true isn’t necessarily so. A change may be due. Our God may be too small. Being broken gets our attention motivating us to move forward into a new light. Being broken in the spiritual life makes us more vulnerable to the grace and mercy of God — more open, more willing to present ourselves naked before God to be received for an intimate relationship. When that occurs, the third part of our phrase happens. “Make me” becomes a new reality. God takes us, breaks us, and remakes us. Or to put it in potter’s language, God reshapes us.

Perhaps you will discover your own meaning for this phrase and welcome it as a pattern for living your life. I love praying “take me” and “make me”, but I wish I could avoid the “break me” step in between. I know, however, that the “break me” part is the unwelcome gift of humiliation to break or change my behavior, but it also provides the opportunity to take a new step in the process of becoming more nearly the true self that God is trying to shape. The false self which often carries the negative aspects of our lives needs to be left behind. The breaking may be a shedding of masks and behaviors that are destructive for us and others. Our true identity is our image in the image and likeness of God. The taking, breaking, and making are steps repeated while living the process of becoming one in unity with God.