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  • Larry Payne

Clay Pot Parents

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

If you are a parent, do you remember the day you brought your firstborn home from the hospital? My wife and I often joke about the day we brought our oldest to the house. We had planned, prayed, and prepared for her for months. On that day, placed the carseat on the dining table, looked at each other and said, “What do we do now?”

That is the question every mother, father, and stepparent has faced many times over. What do we do now with the responsibilities we have day in and day out? It’s an especially difficult question when troubles come to the child or the family. A story from the Bible offers some helpful perspectives.

The Apostle Paul faced tough issues with his spiritual children, the believers meeting in Corinth. Several issues that were bothering the community of faith are mentioned in 1 and 2 Corinthians. It was a tough time to be a spiritual parent!

Maybe some of you can empathize with the hardship of raising children. It seems that trouble comes to every family. Parents fight. Kids make bad choices and get in trouble. Whatever the source, our skills at parenting can be pushed to the limit.

We find some words of help for our parenting in 2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18

7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us…

The Apostle named himself as a “clay jar.” Clay pots were the everyday workhorse in the ancient kitchens, easy to acquire and rather fragile. In today’s world this would compare to a plastic butter dish, so common that it is not even worth recycling. In Paul’s work, he is embracing a humility borne out of his own checkered background. He had persecuted the church. He knew others were more eloquent. Perhaps his family had disowned him. He was a mess, a flawed clay pot.

But I also think he had in mind the work of the divine potter described by Jeremiah, whose work with the clay could make something beautiful out of mud. God had knocked him to the earth and in mercy had raised him up with energy, courage, and wisdom. Now he was devoting every ounce of energy to the followers of the Jesus Way. The common pot was still a wonderful creation touched by the masterful hand of a potter.

Today a handmade item has more value than a factory produced one. We love the special work required to make it special. I think we should hear Paul saying each of us is like any handmade item, unique, carrying some flaws, useful for a purpose the creator has in mind.

I know I’ve struggled with my very common knowledge and skill in parenting over the years. Kids don’t come with a handbook, do they? Most parents do the best they can in a world of imperfections, troubles, stumbles, and hopes. Families are a boisterous experience! I marvel at the skill it takes a mother to handle all that is needed hour by hour. Only a mother could fix a dinner, answer a work email, soothe a toddler, and listen to the problems of her husband—all at the same time! Maybe it was Eve who invented multi-tasking while Adam was pulling up weeds in the south 40! Yes, we are clay pots and Lord, help us not to crack.

My wife and I have four married children. Sometimes it’s a challenge because they are so different. One tells great stories, while another is quiet. One family has a nice bankroll while another struggles a bit. Two families are city folks, and two are country kids. You get the picture. Each clay pot is special.

There’s another perspective Paul offers. The clay jar holds a treasure inside. The message of Jesus was shining from the pot. 2 Corinthians 4: 6-7…6 For it is the God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 

Paul knew the Spirit of God brought transforming power to the heart of faith. He had seen spiritual confusion become conviction and enemies become allies. New communities of equality were breaking down the caste system of the empire. Women were praying alongside men, in contrast to the separation of Judaism. The hopes of freedom were growing with each convert to a kingdom that was far greater than the Caesar could ever bring. Common people were experiencing an extraordinary God.

In our world with many distractions and negative messages let’s not ignore the treasure of God at work right now. We should also celebrate the work God can do in our families. God uses the love and nurture of mothers and fathers to train children for life. That is a miracle. For most of human history, children were an economic commodity. The boys worked on the farm or trade and the girls produced the babies. In some societies the girls were dreaded because they required a dowry to be paid. Now we can thank God for decades of public education that has provided skills for our children. Millions of children are now treasured as a true gift of God, as Scripture says they should be. Energized by the love flowing from God, millions of parents have fostered that care.

Years ago, an older, single woman could be seen boarding a subway in New York City every Thursday. She was aged beyond her years. Her name was Adelaide Rosado and she was going to prison, not for her crimes, but to visit her son. For more than 20 years she had made the six-hour trip to the prison every week without fail. Her son was doing 40 years for ghastly crimes, ones the judge called actions by the “devil incarnate.” But she was his mother and would not abandon him. So, every Thursday they met for an hour in the visitor’s room, supervised by armed guards. They talked, laughed a little, complained to each other, then shared a brief hug. She knew he was a criminal. But she said, “I’m his mother, This is what a mother does.”  

Our task as mothers, fathers, step-parents, grandparents, or caregivers is not done quite yet. Each day is an opportunity to share more wisdom, love, and support for the generations that follow. It’s a tough world out there. In God’s grace, you can a beacon of unconditional grace no matter what has happened among your family. May the bright light shine through the cracks of our clay pots.

(Photo by G.deGermain on

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