We live in a world that hoards a myriad of problems. You will be thrilled to know I have discovered the biggest problem of all ? people! In my opinion, if there were fewer people, there would be fewer problems. Let’s be honest! Some people are more difficult to get along with than others; they “rub” us the wrong way! I call them “Sandpaper People”. Sandpaper people come in all shapes, sizes and colors and sometimes they are us! We try to change them, run from them, ignore them and even take a stab at fixing them. If only it were that simple. It rarely is.

Getting along with sandpaper people requires a new point of view, seeing them as God sees them. We cannot base love for difficult people on feelings, but on God’s love that is released by choices we make in dealing with sandpaper people.

Choose love. Ephesians 2:10 “We are God’s workmanship.”

The artist came to the park every day when the light was just right, positioning his easel and paints under the same familiar shade tree. For hours, he watched people strolling by, searching for just the right face to paint. A beggar sitting across the path caught his eye. Thinking of God’s handiwork in every human being, the artist resolved to paint the man as he imagined he could be. With the last stroke, the artist breathed a sigh of satisfaction. It was done. And it was some of his best work. The artist then called the beggar over to see the painting. “Is that me?’ the beggar asked. “That is the “you” I see!” replied the artist. The beggar stared at the painting, and with tears in his eyes, softly spoke, “If that’s the man you see in me, then that’s the man I shall be!”

Sandpaper people desperately need someone who will look beyond their abrasive behavior to recognize their worth. Sandpaper people have allowed someone or something to assign an identity to them that is false. As a result, they live a life they were never intended to live, bound to an unhealthy self-image, having no concept of who they really are or what they can become. Desperate to fit in, they try on different identities like trying on new clothes, wondering why none of them fit. Sandpaper people fail to understand that their identity was established before the world began, in the heart and mind of God. That’s where we come in. When we make the deliberate choice to love a sandpaper person, we are inviting God to work in us and through us to bring about change; to create His image in us so we can then see His image in others. Difficult relationships find it hard to survive in an atmosphere of love because stubborn wills yield to love as the worth of a soul is recognized and valued.

Choose patience. 2 Timothy 2: 24 “They must be patient with difficult people.”

Patience is vital when dealing with sandpaper people. Instead of trying to control them, we must be patient because patience is more powerful than control can ever be. “It is better to be patient than powerful.” Proverbs 16:32 Patience comes from within and is not dependent upon external circumstances. Patience empowers us to embrace difficult people with joy. If you are like me, you tend to consider it pure joy when you escape, rather than embrace abrasive people. Sandpaper people are not sent into our lives as punishment but as opportunities for patience to work.

My daughter and I are exactly alike, which means we can really push each other’s buttons. I remember a particularly rough day when everything was a battle, none of which I seemed to win. Everything I asked Danna to do was met with opposition and multiple reasons why she didn’t want to comply with my wishes. With rapidly waning patience, I threw up my hands and announced, “Fine, Danna! Just do whatever you want. Now let me see you disobey that!” The look of surprise on Danna’s face was priceless as was the lesson I learned that day. The greatest patience is best refined in the midst of the greatest conflict. When those conflicts come, use them, learn from them and embrace them as a tool for good in the hands of God.

Choose forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Sandpaper people are hard to forgive ? but need forgiveness the most and most often. Sandpaper may conceal an old wound, a wrong never forgiven or a sin never confessed. Sandpaper people orchestrate difficult circumstances and broken relationships in an unconscious attempt to prove they don’t deserve and should never dare to expect forgiveness. In other words, sandpaper people will deliberately set themselves up to fail. That’s where forgiveness comes in.

When sandpaper people experience forgiveness, their innate plan of self-destruction is thwarted. Guilt and blame feed their hellish insecurity, determining coarse actions, dictating grating words and opinions while corroding relationships until someone chooses to see that difficult person through the eyes of God, until someone chooses to forgive them, sandpaper and all.

Because sandpaper people often unknowingly inflict pain, they may never ask to be forgiven. Forgiveness doesn’t wait on an invitation. It simply works – an independent act between you and God totally separate from the way a difficult person responds or reacts. Forgiveness is a demonstration of love that leads first to action and then to an attitude. True forgiveness is a powerful weapon in the war against emotional pain and is a key part of every relationship ? especially those relationships with sandpaper people. In fact, I suspect many sandpaper people exist to teach us how to forgive the way God forgives.

Choose encouragement. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Encourage one another.”

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If you want to disarm a sandpaper person, become their cheerleader! By focusing on their good points, your perspective of that person will change. Other people’s perspective of that person will change and even that person’s own perspective will change.

When our son, Jered, was in second grade, he had a classmate, Kyle, who qualified as a first class sandpaper person. One morning, Kyle came to school with both arms in a cast from wrist to elbow. The teacher explained that Kyle would need a friend to help him do class work, eat lunch, go to the restroom, and in short, be his personal slave for eight weeks. In the silent, tension-filled classroom, it seemed as if everyone was holding their breath, hoping Kyle would somehow disappear. He didn’t. Disappointment clouded the teacher’s face until Jered said, “I’ll do it, Miss Chism.” A sigh of relief erupted as everyone stared at Jered in gratitude, unable to understand why he would link himself to this abrasive kid, but clearly glad he had.

Over the next few weeks, Jered discovered that Kyle wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, they became friends. Then Kyle’s behavior began to change. The other children, watching this unlikely friendship unfold, surmised that if Jered liked the sandpaper boy, there must be something worth liking. After eight weeks, the class of now-wiser children included Kyle in every activity. When the casts came off, so did the old sandpaper person. All he needed was a cheerleader. Maybe that’s all your sandpaper person needs.

Choose thankfulness. Philippians 4: 6b “Always be thankful, for this is God’s will.”

Choosing to be thankful for sandpaper people is one of the most important choices we can make, as well as one of the most difficult choices we must make to bring any measure of health to a difficult relationship. Thankfulness is a foreign language to sandpaper people, their native tongue criticism and displeasure. The last thing any sandpaper person expects to encounter is an attitude of thankfulness. Yet, it is the first step God commands us to take.

Right now, begin thanking God for allowing you to experience pain at the hand of a sandpaper person. Praise Him for the shattered dreams and crushed hopes that have come through that difficult relationship. Trust Him to take what the enemy meant for bad and use it for good in your life. If you want to experience victory in your most difficult relationships, thank God for each one.

Sandpaper people are not only a certainty, but opportunities from the heart of God. God uses difficult relationships as catalysts through which He lovingly upsets my comfortable plans and purposefully redirects my safe, calculated steps. Every relationship, difficult or easy, is wrapped in God’s love, faithfully delivered with His permission and wrapped in His plan. The world is watching, as is every sandpaper person in our lives, pushing every limit to see how we will respond. It is through these difficult relationships that we grow and mature in Christ. The rough edges fall away as we welcome the lessons sandpaper people bring.

Taken from Sandpaper People by Mary Southerland;

Copyright © 2005 by Mary Southerland;

Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR; Used by Permission.

Mary Southerland is a pastor’s wife, mother of two, published author, freelance writer, international speaker and founder of Journey Ministry Inc. Article is based on Mary’s newest book, “Sandpaper People”, due to be released July 2005 by Harvest House Publishers.

For more information, visit Mary’s website: www.marysoutherland.com or email Mary at journeyfriends@cs.com.