John 13:34-35 "I give you a new commandment: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (HCSB)
We live in a world that hoards a myriad of problems. However, you will be thrilled to know that I have discovered the biggest problem of all – people! In my opinion, if there were fewer people, there would definitely 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. It is imperative we understand that we cannot base love for difficult people on feelings but on God’s love that is released when we choose to love a sandpaper person – as is. In reality, we cannot change them anyway. God has to do the changing if there is to be a lasting change. Our responsibility is to love difficult people with a love that never gives up, with God’s love.
I often have the opportunity to love people who rub me the wrong way. Don’t you?
My husband, Dan, was the pastor of Flamingo Road Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for thirteen years. I was involved in many areas of that ministry, but my first love was the women’s ministry.
On the third Thursday of each month, hundreds of women gathered for a community Bible study and a time of connecting with God and with other women from every walk of life. As the Bible study teacher, I prayed fervently that God would make me sensitive to the needs of every woman attending. Consequently, I taught series on life issues – relevant topics that I hoped would draw in those women who would ordinarily never set foot in a church. It worked! Bank executives, housewives, secretaries, and doctors – you name it – walked through the doors of our church, many for the first time!
As the years went by, I began to notice a different type of woman in the audience. Actually, she was no different from the others; she just looked different from the others. Tattoos, multiple and strangely located body piercing, unusual and sometimes radically bizarre clothes stood out from heavily made up faces. However, one thing was the same. Their eyes were filled with the pain of a broken life, silently asking the question, “Can someone please help me!”
I quickly learned that ministry is messy. If there is no mess, there is no ministry. Sherry was my first real mess. I will never forget her standing at the back of the auditorium looking utterly lost and completely out of place. She had seen a newspaper ad describing the current series, “In His Eyes”, a study leading women to discover their worth in God. Layers of make-up, suggestive clothes and the smell of alcohol told me Sherry was running as fast as she could from God, from her sin, desperately hoping to find someone who cared enough to stop her and then help her.
Afterwards, Sherrie waited patiently. When the last woman turned to leave, I walked over to Sherry and sat down beside her. Minutes passed with no words spoken. In her eyes, I saw raw pain and a wounded heart, the results of a shattered life. I also saw the fear that I would turn away. I was the first to speak. “I am so glad you came tonight. How can I help you?” A sob escaped as she dissolved into tears. I took her hand, waiting until she was able to speak. It was if an internal dam had broken and raging waters of sin and shame were finally released.
Sherry had been raised in a Christian family but at the age of thirteen, decided she was ready to live life on her own. As days and weeks passed, she found herself in places she never thought she would be and at the ripe old age of fourteen, Sherry became a prostitute to support her drug and alcohol addictions. Sleep was a luxury she could no longer afford, unless it paid well. Food was either provided as part of her services to men or fished out of foul-smelling garbage cans lining back alleys. Cardboard boxes and newspapers became her bedding as the bottom fell out of her world, casting her into a dark, slimy pit. A drug overdose landed her in the county hospital, where doctors delivered the ultimatum that if she did not change her life, she would soon lose it.
In the hospital, Sherry met a student volunteer who gave her the newspaper running an ad for our bible study. “Somehow I knew I was supposed to be here tonight. Can you help me?” Sherry pleaded. My heart soared with the thrill of leading a lost lamb to the Shepherd. For an hour, we read scripture, prayed and found the answers she had come seeking. Finally, Sherry surrendered to the One who loved her most, inviting Jesus Christ to take control and “please fix my screwed up life”. It was a precious moment of transformation. When she asked if I would teach her how to live this new life, I decided right then and there that God needed my help in saving Sherry.
During the following weeks and months, I spent hours each week teaching her how to study the bible, how to pray, how to deal with her sin and how to withstand temptation. Sherry became my personal project - and I was failing miserably. She was off and on various drugs, always promising that this time would be her last. I often smelled alcohol on her breath and she seemed much more interested in spending time with me than with God.
After several frustrating months, I finally realized that I had indeed become Sherry’s savior - and let me tell you - I make a lousy savior. There is only one true Savior, and I am not Him!
I relinquished her to God and the results were amazing.
She began to depend on Him instead of me. Other women stepped into her life as friends and mentors. As I began to accept and love her just as she was, Sherry was set free to become who God had intended her to be all along. My love had failed, but God’s love didn’t and never does. His love is the only love that wholly embraces and transforms the broken lives of sandpaper people. It is an unfailing love that never gives up.
I am often tempted to slap that huge “S” on my chest, don my self-made power cape, and pronounce myself “Superwoman.” It never works.
What does work is making the deliberate choice to love that sandpaper person, inviting God to work in and through us to bring about change – His change.
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. Sandpaper people desperately need someone who will look beyond their abrasive behavior and rough exterior to recognize their worth.
That’s where we come in.
Sandpaper people are a reality of life. God uses these difficult relationships as catalysts through which He lovingly upsets comfortable plans and purposefully redirects safe and carefully calculated steps. The results can be chaotic and unsettling, but will always be life-changing. After all, a changed life is what God's heart is all about. Our hearts should be as well.
My life would be so much easier if everyone was just like me. What an arrogant and ridiculous statement! Yet, I seem to approach many relationships in life and with that attitude – unlike my Father. Jesus embraced and celebrated the differences in people. God is calling us to do the same.
Taken from Mary Southerland’s book, Sandpaper People.
For more information, visit Mary’s website: www.marysoutherland.com