Whether or not you’ve heard the term used, I’m fairly certain you have at least one “sandpaper” person in your life. These are people that just rub you the wrong way. They irritate, annoy, bother, harass, and generally make life difficult. When I first heard the term, I did some research into it, and apparently, an author named Mary Southerland has written a book on how to deal with sandpaper people. (I haven’t read the book, so I’m not endorsing or critiquing it here.)
I first heard of this when someone described herself as being a sandpaper person in my life. It got me to thinking about the idea and whether anyone should want to define themselves this way.
Of course, we all have people in our lives that are difficult to handle. Southerland’s book is geared towards helping Christians see these difficult people as a means God uses to sanctify us. The image of these people being used to rub off our rough edges is how you get the term, “sandpaper” people.
This is all well and good. It certainly is appropriate for us as believers to remember that God is working on us even through the trials and tribulations of life. Remembering this can help us focus on His work and not on ourselves.
But what do you do with someone who is a self-appointed sandpaper person in your life? What I mean is, what if someone decides that they know best how God should be working out your sanctification and that they just know that God is using them to rub off your rough edges?
Is being a sandpaper person a gift of the Spirit that Paul forgot to mention?
Of course, all parents have to discipline their children, and therefore, will be an active part of the sanctification process for their children, especially in the young years. Pastors and elders will also be called upon to help members of their congregation see that their behavior is sin. And certainly, there are occasions when Christians must come to a brother or sister in Christ and lovingly speak the truth to them.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a person who sees himself (or herself) as on a mission to refine you. Maybe you do need refining in the area they noticed. But maybe you don’t. Maybe instead of rubbing off the rough edges, this self-proclaimed agent of sanctification is actually cruelly injuring an area that is already tender.
I think there is a great danger when we focus on the sanctification of others instead of our own. God may very well use us and our sinful behavior as a means of sanctifying someone we know. But I don’t think we should volunteer for the job.
In fact, from the little bit I’ve read of the book, the author, Mary Southerland, believes that sandpaper people are abrasive and difficult because they don’t understand how to treat others. She even has a chapter called, “Be Confrontational: Caring Enough to Confront.” She points out that abrasive people need to be confronted about their behavior so that they can learn to change.
So let’s be gentle with each other and remember that God is working on each of us in different ways. Sanctification is a lifelong process. God alone knows all the work He is doing in our lives. And as I tell my children, let’s remember to give each other the same grace we want to be shown.