Our loving Heavenly Father has many roles he plays in our lives. First and foremost, of course, He is always our Father. But often prophets talk about God's role as a shaper of souls, someone who helps mold us into the best we can become.
Elder Richard J. Maynes talked about this very thing at general conference in October 2015. He talked about the pressures of the world which so often try to warp and shape us into something below our potential. However, "centering our lives in Jesus Christ and His gospel will bring stability and happiness to our lives."
He then gives a story to illustrate this example:
"Elder Taiichi Aoba of the Seventy, who resides in a small mountain village in Shikoku, Japan, was asked to teach a class at a youth conference. . . . Elder Aoba decided to use his vocation as a teaching tool. His work is making pottery.
"Elder Aoba relates that his classroom of youth really sprang to life when they saw how he was able to almost magically transform the shape of the clay in his hands to plates, bowls, and cups. After his demonstration, he asked them if any of them would like to give it a try. They all raised their hands.
"Elder Aoba had several of the youth come forward to try out their new interest . . . none of them were successful in their attempts to make even a simple bowl. . . .
"He asked the youth why they were having such difficulty making pottery. They responded with various answers: 'I don’t have any experience,' 'I have never been trained,' or 'I have no talent.' Based on the result, what they said was all true; however, the most important reason for their failure was due to the clay not being centered on the wheel. The youth thought that they had placed the clay in the center, but from a professional’s perspective, it wasn’t in the exact center. He then told them, 'Let’s try this one more time.'
"This time, Elder Aoba placed the clay in the exact center of the wheel and then started to turn the wheel, making a hole in the middle of the clay. Several of the youth tried again. This time everyone started clapping when they said: 'Wow, it’s not shaking,' 'I can do this,' or 'I did it!' Of course, the shapes weren’t perfect, but the outcome was totally different from the first attempt. The reason for their success was because the clay was perfectly centered on the wheel."
This story struck me when Elder Maynes first shared it; however, a video I recently saw completely transformed the way I think of this relationship between the potter and the clay. In a video posted by Insider, a master potter shows how he shapes ugly bits of clay into beautiful creations seamlessly.
If, like the youth in the story, we are compared to potters shaping our own lives and characters, it's easy to see how centering our lives on Christ is far more difficult than it sounds. It takes consistent, continual practice and plenty of clumsy attempts before potters can begin to create the beautiful ideas in their minds. And even then, they make mistakes, they vary the pressure slightly or get a little off-center and end up having to start from scratch again.
How many times do we too need to readjust our lives and start from scratch? Luckily the more practice we have in the small techniques that bring success and happiness (scripture study, obeying the commandments, service, etc.), the more likely we are to have success in the future.
But this video also caused me to start thinking about my relationship with God and how the trials and blessing and challenges and miracles in my life keep shaping me into something He has in mind for me, but that I can't see yet. I might be content to be a small cup, and when God keeps smashing me into an ugly lump I might feel frustrated. But He does that only to establish a good base, to make me strong enough so I can become a beautiful vase or some other wonderful creation only He can envision.
And it's notable to me that every piece a potter creates is unique, shaped with deliberate and personal patience. He painstakingly touches each one. His fingerprints are literally traced in everything he creates: just like our Heavenly Father's fingerprints and hands are visible in every aspect of our lives. We have all been personally cradled in our Creator's hands.
While this shaping can be painful, frustrating, and require much patience, it can also be an astoundingly beautiful process. The benefits of His touch are apparent in my life even know. I don't have to wait for my shaping to be complete to realize he has helped make me into something useful, beautiful, and unique and that I am on my way to becoming the creation He always intended me to be.