Have you ever had people come into your life and, even if it’s not intentional, make it more difficult?

Maybe they’re critical or judgmental; they’re excessively needy and demand more than you can give relationally, emotionally or physically; sometimes they take the opposite position of anything you say or do; or they’re just plain mean, undermining or cruel with their words.

Sandpaper people I’ve called them…abrasive, irritating or generally rough to be around.

Are you like me and see them as thorns, prickly and inconvenient?  Have you shared Paul’s lament and prayed for God to remove them from your side?   When someone closer to me is particularly trying– friends…family…or even my own children, I’ve begged God to change them.

Years ago as a young mom, I was struggling through an emotionally draining, almost soul-defeating season with a strong-willed child.  I read all the “right” parenting books; I prayed, earnest and unceasing, and plumbed the depths of scripture for treasureous wisdom; and I sought the advice and counsel of many.  But it would be my father-in-law who would pose an inflammatory question that would ignite fiery indignation within me…changing me forever–

“What if this is about you?”

No sooner had the question left his lips and landed my ears did my defensive torrent erupt.  How dare he suggest my son’s behavior was my fault!  I hurled a half dozen recent incidents to illustrate just how wrong he was.  He patiently waited until I finally had to take a breath.

I didn’t say how he’s acting is your fault  he began, his tone gentle and loving.  I said maybe this is about you.  He went on to explain that maybe, just maybe, God was allowing the dynamics of the relationship with my son to do a refining work in my life.

My father-in-law…the prophet.

But weary and hard of hearing, my cluttered mind and frustrated heart would take days to actually hear his wisdom. It clicked when I was at Target strolling the toys.

A Rock Tumbler ephinany.

My Rock Tumbler set was one of my favorite childhood toys, no less than magic in my estimation.  A bag of ordinary rocks transformed into extraordinary polished stones, just by adding water and grit (3x) and spinning them for a few weeks in a tumbler.

Looking at that Rock Tumbler I suddenly understood what my father-in-law had been saying….

A rock will remain a regular ol’ rock unless and until it’s rubbed the right way.

Different grinds of grit produce different results and all are necessary to produce a polished stone.

Change doesn’t happen overnight; it comes in due time.

Like rocks tumbled or rough wood sanded, a person changes over time when external forces rub them the right way.

This revelation might not be new to you, but back then, for me, it was revolutionary.

It forever changed the way I viewed difficult people and circumstances.

My perspective realigned to consider what God was trying to teach me (or allowing me to learn) in challenging relationships and situations.  Rather than give in to defeat or frustration, I embraced this opportunity to mature in the faith and grow in wisdom.    ”WHAT did God have for me in THIS?” was the question I found myself asking over and over again.  This didn’t make the difficulties go away, but it gave purpose to them.  

Yes!  All working together for good!

I realized that praying for God to change other people (or my circumstances) was tantamount to telling Him I didn’t trust Him!

Sobering.  Convicting.  And motivating to change myself.

To look at Sandpaper People through the eyes of Christ and not my own is nothing short of life changing.  But I’d be lying if I told you this is always my first response to difficult people.  Even though I believe it to be true and worthy and right, sometimes I still resist seeing others through the lens of Christ.

Can you imagine the difference it would make if we believed God was accomplishing a Kingdom work in the midst of our difficult relationships?

  • We would discover opportunity to love and pray for the unlovely; maybe not quite an enemy, but those who make life difficult.  (Luke 6:27-36)
  • Obedience to God would propel us toward peace with others (Hebrews 12:14, Romans 12: 18)

What else can you see resulting from believing God is refining you and conforming you to His image through the Sandpaper People in your life?  

Do you recognize at least one relationship where you need to recalibrate your thinking?  Can you see God working to change YOU or reveal hard truths in the midst of trying relationships?  How do you typically respond?

For my good and your good and for the glory of God, would you join me in getting over our collective selves, and beg God to reveal what He wants us to know?  Even go so far as to ask for MORE Sandpaper People to Holy rub us the right way?  Do we dare?!

By Robin Dance, who would love for you to join her on her 31(ish) Day Adventure in Europe.

(Note:  I’ve been on the road since my post was published; forgive my delayed response?  Why, thank you!)

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  1. 1

    Oh wow, have I been through seasons with Sandpaper people, and while the tumbling is not fun – I love how God has shaped me through it.

    What a great metaphor – and a beautiful attitude shifting way to look at those relationships I’d rather not engage in! Especially those in the church. I’m going to share this with some ministry friends…thanks!

    • 2

      Hmmm, Diana, I emailed a response to you but don’t see it now; must have been a glitch.

      A n y w a y, I wanted to thank you for sharing this. That’s a blessing back to me!!

      • 3

        Robin -
        I did get the email, haven’t had a chance to respond! Thanks – it was you who blessed me first that morning.

  2. 4

    This speaks volumes to me and I think it has the ability to transform how I see sandpaper people. I have one particular person in mind. Wow. Thanks for sharing this post.

    • 5

      Brittnie,

      ~ big smile ~ That’s kind of how I felt when my eyes were open to the truth of this. It thrills me to think my experience might pay it forward to others; thank you for letting me know.

  3. 6

    Wow. This is hard to read, which means it’s probably the best kind of true.

  4. 8
    Killian says:

    What always humbles me is realizing that I am probably someone’s sandpaper person. It’s an uncomfortably hard thing to face, one I chafe against…..note the word “probably” in the last sentence. May I extend grace to those I see as difficult people that grace might be extended to me. Father, thank you for your mercy.

    • 9

      your shared thoughts/words of truth were what I needed to read and then needed to tell you that I totally agree with you Killian. as I often say “live and learn” and then “learn to live”! to His glory and honor. we are all an ongoing work in progress this side of heaven. thank you Father for Your daily outpouring on us of Your unconditional love, mercy and grace!

    • 10

      Killian,

      Before I remembered to share my “31 Days of Europe” link, I had signed this post with a note about what you just said–that I MIGHT be someone else’s Sandpaper Person (or many people’s….yikes). It’s that one finger pointing out and three pointing back that gets me every time…. Grace to you.

  5. 11

    Sandpaper People! Just these words make me smile and give me clarity! I would not be who I am today without my very own special brand of sandpaper people! It wasn’t easy but boy was it worth it!

  6. 13

    This is a concept God really hammered home to me through the “Boundaries” books. The line that made me get it was “You don’t put a fence around your yard to tell your neighbor what to do with his yard.” Lightbulb! That was when I realized boundaries were less about controlling others’ behavior and more about controlling my own behavior. It revolutionized many of my relationships, and it continues to convict me when I start venturing into that “God, change this person!” territory.

  7. 15

    AMEN!!!! Thank you for sharing this, because I desperately needed to hear it. I too have a strong-willed child and the strained relationship causes me so much grief. As soon as I read “What if this is about you” I knew it was true for me.

    Thank you for your honesty and perspective!

  8. 17

    “Like rocks tumbled or rough wood sanded, a person changes over time when external forces rub them the right way. ” I quoted you in my blog this morning. Amazing man your father-in-law. An amazing daughter-in-law he has as well!

  9. 20

    This is so thought provoking. How courageous was your father-in -law, he must love you very much. Courage + love = worn out sandpaper. Love that thought!

  10. 22

    I love your term “Sandpaper People”! Awesome! I’ve encountered many of them, and it’s hard to to pray for them, and I still think we should. But, praying that we can find their purpose and how God wants us to change is definitely on the prayer list, too. I’ve always thought of this as going through the Refiner’s fire. Now I think I’ll visualize a rock tumbler.

  11. 24

    thank you Robin for your writing and sharing about the Sandpaper people in life. it was God’s perfect timing for me to read this and now to take it and learn and grow from it so that I may live and give more of His unconditional love, mercy and grace to others since this is what He would have me to do as His child. in His love for me I freely receive these daily from Him so how do I not give these back to those I encounter daily?

    • 25

      cj,

      The neatest thing about this being perfect timing for you to read it, is I began writing it in my head YEARS ago! Isn’t that cool? It’s one I’ve begun many times but only now have I completed it…for you. Gosh, that makes me smile (plus, your response to the Spirit’s conviction in your life.)

  12. 26

    Thank you so much, Robin, for sharing this. It is just what I needed to hear today. I’ve been struggling with how to rightly handle a particular sandpaper relationship, and this was encouraging to my heart. I will keep on keeping on and let God do His refining work in my life.

    • 27

      Rachel,

      Wonderful. I’m in a season of relative smooth, but goodness knows I’ve had my share of rough. I DO pray that with new eyes you can see this person differently. For you good and God’s glory. xo

  13. 28

    A worthy and relative post for all of us who struggle to love the sandpaper in our lives. I have realized as I have learned to pray for these people…sometimes I am seeing a reflection of myself…you know the flaw within me that everyone else sees, but me?
    Thanks for sharing this well written lesson on thorns and how to handle them. God bless you!

  14. 30

    Simply, amen.

  15. 31

    Very good read. When my husband and I were trained as lay leaders in our church, we had to take classes on how to lead small groups. Our tag for people like this was “Extra Grace Required.” EGR’s. Sure enough, our first group was full of them and we did not enjoy that experience, but learned and grew from it. Having a baby interrupted that group and we started one in our own home for 5 years. Only one EGR in that group and, Robin, just like in your story, he was a prophet. Rumor had it that for every 1 prophet you have, you need 10 people with the spiritual gift of mercy to quell any hurt. Short on those, but the group hung together and learned to love him and honor him and to open ourselves to his unbidden wisdom. Sandpaper people – it has an easier ring to it! Thanks for the excellent post!

    • 32

      Janet,

      Sometimes all I can see is that annoying fly in the ointment..it really does take a work of grace and mercy to see it any other way.

  16. 33

    Wow, BEAUTIFUL!!! I love everything about this. Discerning and responding to His invitations while engaged with people who make it so easy to pick out THEIR faults and completely miss what the Lord is trying to accomplish within OUR hearts…. So, so, SO GOOD!!! And insightful. Thank you so much for sharing this!!!

  17. 35

    Thank you for the gentle reminder. :)

  18. 36

    I needed this today more than you’ll ever know. My father has always been verbally & emotionally abusive, but it’s much, much worse now that he has dementia; all behavior controls are coming off. He’s been banned from being along with my mother in her nursing home room, and has trashed both my brother and me to everyone he meets. It’s the most difficult situation of my entire adult life. It’s become impossible to love him, and very difficult even to think about him, much less pray for him. I really needed your words at this time in my life. Thank you.

    • 37

      Oh, Kate….{{hug}}

      My father suffered with dementia, and though he wasn’t as you described your father (as abusive), once his mind evaporated a variety of horrible things would flow from those lips. Awful things. So I can only imagine in your situation. I’m praying for you right now; yours is a DIFFICULT circumstance, so painful, and I understand (at least in part). Oh, I’m praying for you to see how God might use this in your life; what a glorious work of the spirit for you to have those eyes. xo

  19. 38

    This is a beautiful piece. It resonates with me and I know that the sandpaper people do serve a refining function in our lives. Thank you for stating it so eloquently and reminding me to look for what I need to learn from them. Sometimes it is as simple as …don’t be like that when you have choices to be made on how you will treat others. Sometimes it is a lot more complex. Thanks again!

    • 39

      Yes, Bonnie–great point. All situations are NOT the same! Some ARE harder than others. It’s important to remember that and temper your response. Very good reminder.

  20. 40

    Wow – praise God for your father-in-law. What a loving challenge! I’m sharing a house with people who aren’t family for the first time and have been thinking of them as “sandpaper people” for the past few weeks…but you’ve motivated me to shift my attitude! Thanks, friend…and all praise to Him for refining us into who we’re meant to be :)

  21. 43
    Ellington says:

    Thanks ever so for this!
    I really needed to read your words today!

    • 44

      Ellington, You have no idea how affirming it is to hear that from a reader; the fact that any experience I share may be of benefit to others, reminds me that we aren’t living for ourselves. Thank you for THAT reminder.

  22. 45
    Amber K says:

    I very much so related to this post. God has worked through some difficult relationships for me as well. I love what you said about seeing them through the eyes of Christ, and not our own. So difficult, yet so important. I love the analogy of sandpaper as well. How they can be rough, but God can use them to change us, mature us, and even use those relationships for His glory. Thank you for this timely encouragement.

  23. 47

    It always amazes me how God speaks to me through blogs. My husband and I, though very much commited, have struggled our entire relationship. I lead a very lonely existence and pray consistently for God to tear down the walls. I really appreciate the sandpaper analogy. It gives my a new way to pray and to attempt to bring some lasting change to our marriage. Thank you. It’s just what I needed this week.

  24. 49

    I needed this today.

    Thank you.

  25. 50

    As always, you know how to say things in the most beautiful insightful way. Love this post. What a great reminder of God’s plan in all things. Thank you for sharing.

  26. 52

    I’m in one of those places now. She is borderline evil and I keep wondering what is my place in this. Am I supposed to love her like Jesus? When is enough enough? I so what to do the right thing….but it is hard. My prayer? Refine me oh Lord….

    love you friend.

    • 53

      Lisa,

      {{hugs}} I think you know the answers to your questions, you just don’t like them. Been there, done that (more than I’d like :/). I had one of those in my life years ago; I’m still processing how to love and relate. I choose to forgive……….

      xo

  27. 54

    Robin, this is really awesome. I just forwarded it to the hubs!

  28. 56

    Oh robin:: I desperately needed this – I’m in a leadership role at our church and am dealing with sandpaper people now…thank you for being the nudge I needed!

    • 57

      Lib,

      Oh, hon…I’ve been in a church leadership role, too…and it bout killed me. This was when I was younger and hadn’t gain a more mature perspective, so I’m praying that over you as I type (it’s a helpful prayer regardless of age, no?).

  29. 58
    Beth Williams says:

    I had a long season (about 1 yr) at work with “sandpaper” people, if you will. I was taken out of clinic and given “ancillary” jobs to do. Hated it, my job & was miserable.

    I kept praying for a different job/situaiton. I also prayed and asked what I was to learn through the situation. The verse that kept me going was “He who is faithful in little things will be given much”. Fast forward 1 year and now I’m back in clinic big time & had my job reevaluated with a nice raise.

    God truly blessed me during that time of shaping & molding!

  30. 60

    Sand paper people, I really like this phrase and it is so apt to describe certain people in my life. Thank you for your message it has left me thinking…

  31. 62

    I had a pastor tell the congregation that God sent me there to irritate him.

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