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On Sandpaper and Cheese Graters

I don’t know if you heard it, but this past week, I heard a collective groan in our society. For some, it was a groan of relief. For others, it was a groan of disbelief. Still others groaned in fear. Whatever fueled it, the collective sound was unignorable; reverberating- even today.

The past several years, and particularly the past several months, have been some of the most divisive times in our history--at least what I can recall in my own lifetime.

For a lot of people, this has been a mournful time of deep loss. Relationships lost over "left and right". We feed on social media posts, sound bites and the news cycle; things that reinforce the divide (have you seen The Social Dilemma* yet?). We abandoned any attempts at seeing and hearing one another. Instead, we behave as if seeing and validating one another’s pain will somehow invalidate our own.

It’s felt as though the country has been gridlocked in some twisted game of Red Rover, where there is no hope of sending anyone “over”. No one is breaking through. No one is joining forces with the other side. We are falling short on our ability to come together at a time when we all need it most.

I know a lot of people are singing from this song sheet right now. But to be effective, we will need a little more action and a little less singing.

Myself included.

Sandpaper People

It’s difficult to sit with those who don’t agree with me. It’s challenging to listen with the purpose of understanding, rather than listening with the intent to respond and try to change their mind. It’s hard to sit with people who rub me the wrong way. And even harder to attempt to see where they are coming from. And the hardest thing? To love them. Right where they are.

The fact remains that I struggle with my sandpaper people.

Have you ever heard that term?

You can probably guess what it means. Sandpaper people are the individuals in our lives who can rub us the wrong way, whether in word, action, or belief. These are people we typically find ourselves avoiding for one reason or the other.

Except we’ve forgotten something. If there is to be growth, or unity (which is different than uniformity), or anything that will help to heal our collective humanity, if there is to be any hope of protecting one another and finding the justice that includes rather than excludes, we must come together at the table. You and me. Whether we agree with one another or not.

Even the science is clear on this. Diversity (all kinds) makes us smarter, improves our creativity and builds our compassion and empathy for each other. It even has financial benefits to our economy. (click here for more on this idea.)

But wait! There’s more! (That was just said in my best announcer voice.)

Jesus Used Sandpaper People

Scripture encourages the same ideas. I heard a wise pastor teach recently on how, in what might have been the first “short-term mission trip,” Jesus sent disciples out in pairs to accomplish the mission at hand (See Luke 10) .

Don’t lose sight of the fact that He intentionally paired two of the most opposite humans of their time--a tax collector and a zealot--bonding them together for a common cause. They were forced to travel with one another, listen to one another, and work with one another to create the desired outcome of bringing hope and healing, even though they were indeed one another’s sandpaper person.

I think Jesus made this odd couple into fellow travelers because He knew what we often forget...

while sandpaper can rough things up, it can also help to smooth things out.

We might need a sandpaper person to help smooth our edges—edges that have the potential to cut others. These challenging people help us grow, help us become safer to be around.

Cheese Grater People

However, we don’t want to confuse our sandpaper people with cheese grater people.

You can probably guess what I mean by that, too. Where sandpaper people can be helpful in our attempts to grow in grace, we might need to develop some strong boundaries when it comes to cheese grater people.

Where sandpaper people might be a challenge, they ultimately seek to understand, to heal and grow themselves and to make the world a better place for all of us, together. Contrast that with cheese grater people who seem to have one job--to shred. To take what was whole and reduce it to tiny pieces.

When we’re talking about cheese grater people, these individuals may be wounded themselves, but rather than having a goal of healing and connection, they tend to wound others and promote divisiveness instead of inclusion.

My guess is by now, a few people have come to mind. Perhaps in both categories. It’s important to take an inventory of our relationships and see where we might be having these experiences.

It is equally (perhaps even more) important to look within ourselves to see if we might be a sandpaper person ourselves, or perhaps we have some traits of a cheese grater?

I know. These are hard things to consider, but we can do hard things. We can heal from hard things, too.

On the flip side: if you have gone through your list of friends, family and acquaintances and have happily found it void of cheese grater people, congratulations! But if you’ve found it void of sandpaper people, it’s possible that you are either the most gracious and understanding person on the planet.- OR, you’ve somehow managed to pad your life with people who agree with you on everything and hold little to no variance in opinions or life experiences from those your own.

If the latter is true, then let me encourage you to step way out of your comfort zone and add at least one person who might “rub you the wrong way” to the list of people you interact with on a regular basis.

In times like these, there is no shortage of people who are anxious or fearful of the state of the world. This can manifest in some prickly behaviors. Sometimes, people just need a compassionate soul to come along and help them catch their breath. Talk them off the wall. Share their peace.

Perhaps that person is you.

*The Social Dilemma is a documentary on Netflix in which social media creators and developers help us explore the impact of social media on our ability to relate to one another. It shines a light on how social media exploits its users and promotes divisiveness and addiction.

For more resources and tools to help, check out the resource tab at

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