In response to my post on being thankful for the difficult in our lives, a friend’s comments included this line: “A whittling down of ourselves to make us what we need to be.”
That’s a fascinating word. Whittle. It immediately brings ups a related word: carve.
Think of the words we pair with those two.
We whittle away or whittle down. Skilled fingers take a piece of wood and cut away a bit here and a chunk there until eventually, they hold a work of art. We even use this phrase to describe working , bit by bit, at a large project. We whittle away at it; and eventually—the finished result!
We carve out. Sculptors are sometimes quoted as saying they see what is in a piece of marble or a slab of wood before they even start their work. Carving is a prying away of the unnecessary, inessential, inappropriate, irrelevant—until the image the creator has “seen” finally emerges.
Isn’t that the way God forms and molds us? He is at work, whittling away the things in our lives that need to go in order for His masterpiece to finally emerge. “Whittling down of ourselves to make us what we need to be.”
We were created in the image of God! (Doesn’t that just take your breath away?) But as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we’ve inherited so much that sullies and burdens and binds and tarnishes that image. We’ve taken on selfishness and disobedience and pride. All of us had trained as citizens of the kingdom of darkness instead of sons and daughters in the kingdom of light.
Yet God’s promise is that we are now His masterpiece, created anew! There are many days I don’t feel like a masterpiece of any kind … let alone a masterpiece of the great Creator. But this word “whittling” has opened a new thought for me. God is whittling away at this chunk of wood I know as Me. He sees the image within; He knows what He has created there (a new person, with a new life born of HIS Spirit!) and He is carving out that image, bit by bit cutting away everything else.
And that is exactly why we can be thankful in all things, even the difficult and trying and painful. God promises that He is at work on His new creation within us. He knows what He intends to make us. He knows what needs to go. He whittles away all the old stuff Self has collected, so that the new life He has given us can grow and thrive.
Most of the time, we don’t like the whittling. It often means going through hard times. It involves learning new habits and discarding old and comfortable attitudes. It’s discipline, and that requires effort and stretching. Yet Scriptures says this is a sign the Lord loves us!
We often erroneously equate discipline with punishment. Discipline is training, forming, instruction, and exercise. (Think about the discipline of an athlete.) The Lord is disciplining, training, and forming us as His masterpiece. Through everything, He’s whittling away.
From the testing and trials—and remember, those tests and trials are in the day-to-day details just as much as they are in outright persecution—He builds endurance and faith and patience and godliness. As He whittles down ourselves, the image He intends to create in us emerges.
“So be truly glad,” says Peter. “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while” (1 Peter 1:6). What better hope than to know that the Creator is still at work on His creation in me!