I have a vague memory of the first time I was sanding. I don’t remember what it even was that I was working on, but I remember my uncle telling me to sand with the grain. Showing me what the grain in the wood was and how when you sand a piece of wood you want to sand with that grain, or you’ll make a mess of the sanding process. It was good advice, for sanding, and for life.
The refining process, the maturing process is kind of like sanding. We are trying to take off the rough edges, and make a finished product of the parts of our life. So how can the parable of sanding help in life?
Here’s my thought: we have natural in-born tendencies and drives. As a father of six kids I see this in my growing and maturing little collection of humans. One is very driven and control oriented, one is organized and perfectionist, another is slower but curious and deep, they are very different And they have some rough edges, we all do. Sanding with the grain means finding ways to encourage them to be the best versions of themselves. Sanding across the grain is when I tell them not to be who they are, when I act as if their natural tendencies need to be changed, when I act like their natural bent is itself the problem.
I think the concept of understanding and working with your in-built tendencies/God given passions has more applications as well. Sometimes I think we confuse refinement with squashing. If you are passionate about pleasing others so much so that it causes problems in your relationships, the answer isn’t to try to change your in-built desire to please and turn yourself into the harsh and hard nosed person that you probably can never be. Instead, look for how your pleaser approach can contribute, and for places where you can safely put your passion to work. It also means that can recognize the need to protect yourself from your natural tendency when it isn’t safe to give it full reign. That can be accomplished in a number of ways, but not least by the balance of others in your community with different and balancing passions.
And perhaps the idea of working with the grain even extends to the kinds of communities and relationships we invest in. Not everyone is our type of person, and not every community is our type of community. Find a place or a person that can keep you in that zone between comfort and challenge, where you can trust enough to take the risks you need to, to grow. Maybe sanding with the grain means recognizing the warning signs early in a relationship when you and another person are so completely at odds that you will never stop struggling to understand each other. That’s a headwind that your relationship might not need.
So don’t confuse a rough edge with your grain. You have both. Refine the rough edges and also learn how to sand with the grain. I think the results will be amazing!