Thursday, November 15, 2007

Going through the Grits

I have a theory.   Given enough time, patience, and sandpaper, a person can fell a full-grown oak tree.   I'm reasonably confident of this hypothesis. After all, wind and water can shape rock over time.   I'd say the chances are infinitely better than that of an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters completing the works of William Shakespeare.

But even if it is possible, why would you do it?   It would be a silly use of your time and resources.   Even I know that if you want to cut down a large tree, you need a large saw with large sharp teeth – preferably powered by something other than muscle.

A carpenter chooses the tools he needs to shape the wood into a beautiful, useful item.   One saw for cutting the tree, another for ripping boards.   A lathe for turning legs, a fine tool for carving designs.   Occasionally, a woodworker will shape wood by exposing it to boiling water or steam and pressing or stretching it over a form.

When the item has been built, the carpenter will want to give it a beautiful finish.   Now is the time to reach for that sandpaper.   Woodworkers talk about "going through the grits."   Sadly, this has nothing to do with devouring Southern corn porridge seasoned with salt, pepper, butter, and maybe a bit of cheese.   To a woodworker, going through the grits means to move progressively from coarse to fine sandpaper to remove blemishes and leave a smooth finish.   As tempting as it might be to skip a few grades, this may not produce the best results.

We are a lot like the oak.   Adversity may cut and scrape and pound and expose us to great heat and pressure.   Pain and loss and tears and grief are some of the tools that shape our lives into things of beauty and purpose.   The apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 5:3-4:
…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
If we follow Paul's advice, if we will offer a sacrifice of Thanksgiving through pain and adversity, adversity can transform us.   Helen Keller believed:
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

There are no shortcuts – we can't bypass the saws for the sandpaper.   Trials can give us perspective, produce humility, drive us to a reliance on God, create hearts sensitive to the needs of others, teach patience, strengthen our character, and increase our appreciation for our blessings – but only if we embrace the lessons they teach.   Swiss writer/philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel once wrote,
You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.
  We'll explore how we might make use of our suffering next.


Ken said...

Are you the Sandy Kanavel who went to junior high school in Tempe, AZ in the mid 1970's? If so, I knew you back then - my name is Ken. If you're her, hope to hear back from you. If not, sorry to bother you! My e-mail address is

Chanticleer said...

Sounds vaguely familiar....