“A common jar of clay can never become a noble masterpiece, unless it is broken by its master, refined in fire, and renewed.” – Sharif Khan

There is a passage in scriptures that I have always found troubling. It reads: “Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” [Romans 9: 20-21]. It troubles me, because no matter how hard I try to live a nobler life, I look to the brilliant stars above me and wonder if my life has already been written ‘for common use.’

Haven’t we all wondered at times if we were destined for greatness or gloominess? Is our destiny sealed by a written fate or is our outer-world but a reflection of our inner-world determined by our thoughts and will? Can the common jar of clay become a noble masterpiece? Can the wild bush become a walnut tree?

History dictates that the common jar of clay will always remain a common jar of clay; it can never become a noble masterpiece on its own accord. Ancient relics that have been buried for thousands of centuries have remained relatively the same after being uncovered by archaeologists. Likewise, nature dictates that wild bush seed will always yield wild bush, and nothing else. The jar of clay, the wild bush, they cannot change because they have no will. If they do have a will, it is very weak, and so bound by their make. Or, depending on how you look at it, very strong, because they are determined to be who they were born to be. Either way you look at it, they cannot change because it is not in their nature – they cannot think for themselves.

Humans on the other hand do have a will, and a much stronger one at that: we can choose to kill someone or save a life, we can study in our field of endeavor or choose a life of crime, we can work out to become an Olympic athlete, or we can pig out and eventually die of a heart attack. As humans, the big difference is that we all have the faculty of reasoning and can significantly change the environment around us.

Although many of us have heard numerous examples in life where people from complete poverty and everything working against them beat the odds to become great, we still, in our heart of hearts, skeptically ask ourselves the question, “Can a pauper become a prince?” Can we really, truly change our character? Intellectually, it would seem the answer is no. But my intuition tells me yes. Or is it the part of me that hopes and dreams and wishes, but always falls short, because it is just that - a dream, and nothing more? The part of me that marketers love to take advantage of: you too can become a bestselling author, an academy award winning actor, an Olympic athlete, if you take our program, pill or practice.

Yet we have seen paupers turn into princes have we not? Sidney Poitier, the legendary actor, grew up in extreme poverty to become a shining prince and take home an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in acting and filmmaking; John Steinbeck was a university drop out who worked as a sales clerk, farm laborer, ranch hand, and factory worker, and yet became a literary giant who won both the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature. Mother Teresa was a nun who taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta, but later experienced ‘a call within a call’ becoming a world leader who won the Nobel Prize for Peace and earning the tribute, “Saint of the Gutters.”

It would seem then that these examples defy scriptures; that the pottery for common use has become pottery for noble purposes. But it is easy to forget that the maker that makes us for one purpose, can also break us, and re-make us for another. The potter can break common clay, refine it and purify it in fire, in spirit, and recreate a noble masterpiece. The forester can burn an entire expanse of wild bush land and plant in that same soil a new seed.

Any person who has achieved greatness has been ‘broken-in.’ They have encountered life situations that have broken them, humbled them, brought them to their knees, and cut their egos down to size, shattering their limited conception of self. It is in these moments of breaking that they have learned to persevere. It’s God’s way of making the wise foolish, and fools wise.

We are all clay in the potter’s hands. And the world breaks everyone. All of us have experienced situations in life that have tested us severely. Hey, shit happens…but if it didn’t, we’d all be constipated. It’s a good thing! But if we refuse to humble ourselves, refuse to take risks in life, refuse to see our own worst faults, stubbornly refuse to learn from our failures, and keep repeating the same mistakes, the shit piles up pretty fast! And that can be very painful.

We have only ourselves to blame for being put to common use and settling for mediocrity. If we were to read the scriptures more deeply, we would realize that the maker is in us, for it clearly states, “Behold the Kingdom of God is within you!” [Luke 17:21] And so living a life of noble purpose requires surrendering to the master within – letting go and letting great. Only by willing to be broken and humbled can we be rebuilt in far stronger spiritual clay. For as Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.” ■

Sharif Khan is a professional speaker and author of highly acclaimed, Psychology of the Hero Soul, as seen on www.herosoul.com. You can reach him at sharif@herosoul.com.

Author's Bio: 

Sharif Khan is a professional speaker and author of, Psychology of the Hero Soul, a non-fiction, inspirational book about awakening the Hero within and rekindling people's passion for greatness. As President of Diamond Mind Enterprises, an organization devoted to helping people awaken their inner potential to live their highest life, Sharif has dedicated over ten years research in the field of human development and leadership.

A dynamic and highly engaging public speaker and workshop facilitator, Sharif provides inspirational keynotes and leadership development seminars that entertain, educate, and empower. His unique approach focuses on unlocking each participant’s hero potential.

Currently, Sharif is working on a novel about redemption and the hero's journey. He is an avid reader and movie buff, a Learning Annex Instructor, and also serves as Director of the MetroActive Writer's Club in Toronto where he resides. Sharif can best be described as a true renaissance man who enjoys the arts and literature, some jazz and blues, intellectual conversations at cafes, and just about anything new that moves and opens the soul.