The story is told of a young boy who carved a small sailboat from a block of wood. When the boat was finished, he couldn’t wait to try it out! Racing to a nearby stream, the boy knelt on the shore, gently slid the boat into the water and let it go. With a quiet reverence, the boy watched his precious boat gather speed as it floated away. He did not realize that there was an undercurrent in the stream until the boat was swept away beyond his reach. His precious boat was gone! The little boy frantically searched until there was no light but could not find his boat. With a heavy heart, the young boy headed home.
Several days later, the little boy was walking down the main street of his small town, when he saw a wooden boat in the toy store window. He couldn’t believe his eyes! It was his boat! The boy raced inside and came face-to-face with the owner of the store. “Mister, that’s my boat!” he cried. The owner frowned in disbelief and said, “Young man, I just bought that boat. If you want it, you’ll have to buy it from me!” Near tears, the boy exclaimed, “Please, sir! I worked so hard on that boat, and then I lost it! It really is mine!” The owner shook his head and said, “Nevertheless, I paid good money for it and you will have to buy it back if you want it.”
The little boy raced home, emptied his piggy bank and ran back to the store, his savings clutched tightly in his little hands. He dumped all of his money on the counter and asked, “Is it enough?” The owner smiled and handed him the boat. The little boy cradled the precious boat in his arms and said, “Little boat, you are twice mine. Once because I made you and once because I bought you.”
God loves you. He created you. The words of Psalm 139 beautifully express the heart of God toward each one of us: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).
A healthy self-image is not one of pride or arrogance, but rather one that coincides with God’s viewpoint. It is learning to accept God’s evaluation of who we are, learning to see ourselves as God sees us, no more and no less, learning who we are in His eyes and giving Him permission to make us what He designed us to be. In His eyes, every person is valuable. We are all sinful and broken, wounded and sick, and He loves us still. In fact, Jesus is drawn toward brokenness. Broken people are why He came. With tenacity and stubborn love, He pursues those others may only shun – like the woman at the well.
John 4:5-9 “Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans” (NLT).
Little is known about this woman and what we do know is not good. She was immoral and spiritually ignorant, an outcast despised by the Jews and even by her own people. She was very popular with the men of the village who bought her to satisfy their own physical pleasure and then tossed her aside like a broken, damaged and used doll. I am certain this woman had no illusions about the fact that she meant absolutely nothing to these men. In the beginning, she may have convinced herself that they cared for her and perhaps even loved her, but I imagine that illusion was short-lived. In fact, while studying her life, I have many times wondered if there had ever been a man in her life that she could love or trust. I do not know what drove this woman to such an empty and futile existence, but I do know as far as Jesus was concerned, that old life was over. It did not matter to Him. He looked at this woman through eyes of healing and forgiveness and saw His precious child. He just loved her – right where she was and just as she was. He recognized her worth, her value – and He loved her.
God loves you. He paid for your sin. God defined His unconditional and relentless love for you and for me when He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth as a baby. And Jesus said, “Yes!” What an amazing gift! The love of God for us compelled Jesus Christ to willingly exchange a throne for a manger, divinity for humanity and Heaven for Earth.
John 3:16 (NIV) “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
God’s love changes everything and everyone who receives it. God’s love protects and breathes life and purpose into every minute of every day. God’s love is a gift beyond measure that surrounds us and covers us when the fire of life rains down.
I know many of you are experiencing those fires of life this year. No job and no prospect of one. Someone you love is very ill or maybe you are the one battling to survive each day. A rebellious child has broken your heart. A secret addiction is slowly destroying your life. Your spouse packed his bags and walked out the front door because he no longer wants to be married.
Do not believe the lies of the enemy when he tells you that your God has forsaken you. God is with you – Emmanuel. He endured the cross, completely and absolutely alone because He loves you. No one can take your place in the Father’s heart. God knows your pain and He understands. God created you and paid for your sin for one reason alone – He loves you. Not because you are so lovable, but because He is love.
“We are God’s workmanship.” Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
Sandpaper people, the people who rub us the wrong way, are not only a reality of life but a gift from God. How? God has used these difficult relationships as catalysts in my life through which He has lovingly upset my comfortable plans and purposefully redirected my self-ordered steps. The results have often been chaotic and unsettling, but always life changing!
Our son, Jered, has played football since elementary school. Over the years, he has endured several injuries, but as a junior in high school, experienced his first surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot, the orthopedic doctor explained exactly what he would do during surgery. “First of all, I will remove the scar tissue that has formed around the break. I will then insert a metal screw to connect the broken bones.” As he spoke, I was comforted by my mind’s depiction of a shiny thin and smooth metal screw resting gently in my son’s foot. There are times when ignorance is a blessing.
The surgery went well and after two weeks, I took Jered in for a follow-up visit during which the doctor once again x-rayed his foot to make sure it was healing properly. The doctor walked in, smiling and waving an x-ray in his hand. “Your foot is healing beautifully,” he announced with great pride. Curious, I asked the doctor if we could see the x-ray. As he slapped it up against the light board, I was horrified to see a thick, long metal bolt. In fact, on closer examination, I was certain the beginnings of rust could be seen on that barbaric screw jammed up into my son’s precious bone.
Seeing the look on my face, the doctor assured me that everything was fine. I was far from convinced and had a few questions that needed answering – immediately. “Is that screw supposed to look like that or did you put the wrong screw in my son’s foot? Will he be able to play football? Will his foot hurt when it rains? Will that enormous screw set off airport security detectors? Will Jered’s foot ever be as strong as it was before the surgery?” I asked. The doctor listened patiently, smiled and said, “Well, now that you mention it, I need to be honest and tell you Jered’s foot will not be as strong as it was before.” The evil doctor then grinned and said, “It will actually be stronger.”
I find it interesting that all through life, the greatest strength is forged in broken places. The same is true in dealing with difficult people. God is not committed to our comfort. God is committed to creating His character within us. One way He accomplishes that goal is through the abrasive and coarse work of sandpaper people as they grind off and sand away our rough edges, even to the point of breaking. Suffering comes in many ways, but always with the purpose of making us strong enough to endure pain and weak enough to rely upon God.
Many times, it is through difficult relationships that we experience the most pain. Peter writes that God will “make everything right” which indicates the promise that He will take our circumstances and relationships, adjust them and make the broken pieces fit together in order to equip us for service. “Making everything right” can also be translated in the original language as “mending nets”. A fisherman’s net was a vital part of his livelihood. A broken net meant no fish. One broken net affected the fisherman’s ability to make a living and provide for his family. It was imperative for the fisherman to keep his nets in working condition, constantly mending the broken places.
Every time we are broken but allow God to do the mending, we become stronger and new life is provided. Paul was certainly no stranger to trials, pain and broken nets. “We know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 NCV) I must admit I have been known to insert the name of my current sandpaper person into that verse so that it reads, “I know that my sandpaper person produces patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope.” What an amazing progression, from a difficult relationship to Godly character and then on to hope. Hope follows pain because pain forces us to trust God and rely upon His power to mend a broken life. It is in that abandonment to God that we find hope.
Difficult relationships and the brokenness they bring can make us either bitter or better. It is our choice. We can insist on comfort and forfeit character or we can embrace the brokenness, knowing that God will use it for our good. Sandpaper people are grindstones. Whether they grind us down or polish us up depends on what we are made of. Harry Truman said: "Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow and only one thing endures - character."