“Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.”
Jeremiah 19:10-11 (NIV)
This past weekend, I took a couple of days to spend with my friend Matthew at the lake. We both have April birthdays, so it was a mutual birthday celebration.
One of the things I love about the lake is that the combination of quiet and separation from daily routines allow for a level of contemplation and conversation that normal daily schedules don’t afford. In those conversations this weekend, Matthew and I peeled back deeper layers of knowing and being known.
One of the things I love about my Enneagram Five friend, Matthew is his natural curiosity that leads to a depth of knowledge and understanding about how humans feel, think, and behave. This feeds his work as a therapist. Matthew unpacked for me some of the things being studied on the cutting edge of his field in the area of neurobiology, the study of the brain.
Matthew shared with me how the brain, like a computer, has both hardware and software. In our earliest years, our experiences and the feelings they stir in us lead to the hard-wiring which becomes our mental hardware. As we grow, the emotional center of our brain (how we feel) and the resulting hardware center of the brain (how we think) combine to determine how we see everything around us (what we believe). As he described this, it sounded awfully hopeless to me. If my brain becomes hard-wired in these patterns at an early age, is re-wiring it even possible?!
“Yes!” Matthew answered emphatically. “God made our bodies with the ability to heal, and that includes the brain. But there is one ingredient that is essential in facilitating the rewiring process: pain.”
In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet Jeremiah is told by God to take a clay jar from the local potter, gather some civic and priestly elders, and take them to the “Potsherd Gate” of Jerusalem which overlooked the Valley of Hinnom. The Potsherd Gate was so-called because the area right outside the city wall was a garbage dump for people’s broken and useless pottery. The Valley of Hinnom had long served as an area where citizens of Jerusalem met to worship pagan deities like Baal, which included the sacrifice of first-born children to the god Molech.
Having reached the gate and overlooking the Valley, Jeremiah smashed his clay jar and prophesied that God was going to lay waste to Jerusalem because of her unwillingness to turn away from the worship of their false gods and their detestable practices. This prophetic word picture had a layer of meaning for the elders he brought along with them. Rulers in that region, particularly Egypt, would write the names of their enemies on pottery and then smash them as a curse.
God was sending His people through a painful siege followed by a painful captivity in Babylon. God ultimately wanted to rewire His people’s thinking and beliefs, their minds and hearts, which had become hard-wired to hold fast to their duplicitous worship system while stubbornly rejecting God’s ways. As I read this in the quiet this morning, I heard Matthew’s words echoing in my own heart: “…there is one ingredient that is essential in facilitating the rewiring process: pain.”
Matthew and I spent some time talking through some of the most painful experiences in our respective life journeys. In doing so, we learned some intimate details about one another, things we’d never shared before. We were not only able to extend grace to one another, but we were able to appreciate and articulate how God used those deeply painful experiences to teach us important qualities like faith, endurance, patience, joy, and hope.
In the quiet this morning, as I get ready to head into another work week, I am reminded that God repeatedly reminds me throughout the Great Story that I am to rejoice, exult, and “consider it all joy” when life gets shattered like an earthenware jar. If I am willing to respond to those painful stretches of the journey with spiritual openness, God will use them rewire my heart and mind in ways that are otherwise impossible.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.