To Be a Clod

Amy Carmichael was one of Elisabeth Elliot’s heroes, and both women are heroes of mine.

Recently a newsletter from the Elisabeth Elliot Foundation closed with this poem by Amy Carmichael, which Elisabeth had quoted in one of her radio broadcasts:

From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified;
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire;
Let me not sink to be a clod;
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.

—Amy Carmichael

 I first read this poem as a young adult. I may have been in college or a newlywed when I first read Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton. I couldn’t help but be inspired by Amy’s fervor, courage, and determination to follow God wherever He led her. She became a missionary to India. It might be more correct to say she made India her home for the rest of her life.

There’s something about youth that is inherently passionate. Most young people have a burning desire to make their lives count, to make a difference, to further a cause bigger than themselves.

But after several decades, we tend to get more settled, don’t we?

Being settled isn’t always a bad thing. Though I continue to learn and grow, I am more settled in my convictions, less like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).

I’m more settled in my self-image. I’ve never been super-model material, but I am okay with that now.

I’m more settled in my marriage. After forty-three years, my husband and I know each other pretty well. We’ve worked out our differences and learned to complement (and compliment) each other. We still find plenty to talk about.

But I hope I never become settled in the sense of complacency in my faith and walk with God, to let “easy choices” of “silken self” give way to the “subtle love of softening things.” We can be more inclined to do so as our physical capacity begins to decline.

I’ve often wondered at Amy’s use of the word “clod” in the next-to-last line. After the beautiful phrasing in the rest of the poem, “clod” seems like a jolt, like stubbing your toe on a rock. I would guess Amy probably did that on purpose.

A quick look in the dictionary shows that a clod is a lump, usually of dirt or clay. But it’s also a term used for an oaf or dolt. Amy may have meant the word in the latter sense. But I like to think of it as a lump, especially since she spoke of sinking to be a clod.

I’m not a soil specialist; I am not even a gardener. But when I think of a clod, it seems like it has three possibilities for its future.

First, it could erode. Wind and rain could chip off tiny bits of it until nothing is left.

It could get harder due to the sun beating down on it while it just sits there.

Or it could be tilled, broken up into useful soil again.

The last thought brings to mind Hosea 10:12: “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

The ways God has used me have changed over the years with age, health issues, life circumstances. I can’t (and don’t even desire to) do things I once did.

But that was true of Amy, too. After a fall, she became an invalid for the last twenty years of her life. How she ministered to others changed. But she still followed hard after God in her heart, met with people as she was able, wrote books, sent notes of encouragement to her coworkers and inhabitants of the orphanage and hospital on the Dohnavur complex.

Of course, age and declining abilities are not the only contributors to cloddishness. It’s easy at any age to settle into a cozy lump of inertia.

May God give us hearts soft and pliable to His leading and will rather than soft to comfort and pleasures.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

8 thoughts on “To Be a Clod

  1. Great post! When I think of feeling settled, my first thought is physically, where I live. I think that’s because I went through several moves as a child, and my first marriage was to a military man which brought many, many moves. I ended up in Florida for over 30 years, thinking that that was where I would live the rest of my life. But then 5 years ago, I moved to Tennessee. To finally feel settled in one place is a great comfort to me. Feeling settled is so much more than that though, isn’t it? Spiritually, I have now become more settled, in my relationship with God and what I believe. That has led to feeling more settled with others and my circumstances. I never want to ossify and never grow, but it’s nice to settle into what is most important in life.

  2. This is a great post, and I like the poem! It’s true, it’s good to be settled in some ways, but I don’t want to become too complacent or so used to being comfortable in something that I’m not open to what God wants to do.

  3. Amen to that prayer – I don’t want my desire to be comfortable lead to me becoming a complacent and unwilling clod. This is the first I’ve read that poem and it’s quite thought-provoking.

  4. Another amen to the prayer here! I too love EE and ACarmichael. I love your point about us generally being so passionate in our youths — and you’re right, that does fade and settle with age. I’ve pondered that. But such a good extension to consider that we don’t want to do that spiritually. Good food for thought here! Speaking of food — your Crumbl comment made me think. I had fully planned to cut my cookie into 1/4s and make it last 4 days. But after I ate 1/4, I realized that it really wasn’t that big 😉 Yep, I ate the whole thing. Oops! I told myself, like you, that I wouldn’t get one often so it was okay.

  5. Thank you Barbara for this timely post. Yes, life changes over the years bringing with it challenges that may feel like big lumps of baked hardened clay.

    But it’s what we do with those lumps that is important, allowing God’s love to flow over them definitely turns them into rich soil for His growth in our life once again.
    Blessings, Jennifer

  6. Pingback: February Reflections | Stray Thoughts

  7. What a lovely poem, clod does kind of jolt ya at the end huh? I’ve never read any of Amy’s works, but I have come across quotes by her every now and again. I’m going to have to read about her.
    Thank you for sharing this with Sweet Tea & Friends February Link up.

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