Love and Clay – A Messy Devotion

By Tricia Woodland from Uptown Shelby Association

When I was asked to write a devotion that would be a part of a collection reflecting on “love your neighbor” my mind was first drawn to the question of “Why me?” As the recipient of the invitation, the answer to this question would help give me direction on writing this devotion. Was it my background in Christian Education, my support for local business with my work at Uptown Shelby Association, my heart for community outreach or just because I’m a nice friendly person? I do not know the answer to this question so this gives me the freedom to write what comes to mind. So this devotion will use pottery and clay as my illustrations for as some of you may know, I am also a potter.

Love your Neighbor. It seems like an easy task. It’s taught in the simplest of forms in preschool and Sunday school, heard in sermons so many times and is the mantra to many outreach ministries. But is it really that simple?

In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus is questioned about the greatest commandment. He, of course, reminds the questioner that loving God with all our heart, soul and mind is the first and greatest commandment. But then he importantly adds that the second “is like unto it” (very much like the first) love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus intentionally connected these two together in his answer. So we know this is a big deal.

So what comes to your mind when you hear the word neighbor? Yes, like you, I think about my street. I think about the neighbors I know and the neighbors I don’t know. But was Jesus really concerned about the people living around the corner? It’s comfortable to think about neighbors as people that we know that look like us, think like us, and worship like us. The biblical Hebrew word for neighbor means “to settle somewhere permanent” or it can mean “a foreigner”. So now, ‘neighbor’ takes on a much broader definition of people to love.

So let’s reflect on the word Love. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 13 4-8, we are given a list of thing that love is and isn’t. These verses are read at most weddings and it is easy see how they would be a good set of instructions for marriages. But can these attributes be used when loving thy neighbor? I believe they can.

As I mentioned I am a potter. Time after time I take a soft mushy lump of clay and form it into a beautiful piece of pottery. Each
time I throw a piece of pottery, I look at that lump of clay and ask
it what it wants to be. It has the potential to be a mug or bowl or plate or vase, all from a messy lump of clay. We too awake each day with the potential to be anything. So as in the words of Paul to the Corinthians, chose kindness. Love is Kind. Be kind.

The movements involved in throwing a lump of clay into a vessel are not always easy. It requires slow gentle pulls to make the clay move into a beautiful shape. Any sudden, sharp movements will change the shape and cause the piece to become unbalanced. To love our neighbors requires us to be gentle with them also. This is not always easy in a world full of stressors, deadlines and even quick responses through texts and social media. Love is gentle. Be Gentle.

And one of the most amazing things about working with the soft clay is the ability to fix mistakes. The clay can be healed, fixed, reshaped and restored. I often talk about how forgiving clay is. As we strive to better love our neighbors, forgiveness is a valued attribute. Love Forgives. So Forgive.

Clay is messy. Being a potter is messy. Loving those different than us, those we may be uncomfortable around, those outside our community, well that kind of love can be messy too. When Jesus speaks of “Love thy neighbor” he is challenging us to do hard things and to get messy. Be brave. Embrace the mess. Love your neighbor.


Dear God,
Thank you for all the love and blessings you give me each day. Help me God, to look outside my comfort zone, to love neighbors I have never met, to be kind, gentle and to be forgiving. Lead me to love people, seek opportunities to meet my neighbors, and to do hard things and get messy in your name. Amen.