Sandpaper Hearts: Marriage as a Refining Process
Over ten years ago my fiance and I were sitting in the pastor's office for premarital counseling. We were barely in our twenties, trying to finish college degrees and find part-time jobs that would pay the rent for married student housing after the wedding. After passing us folders filled with questionnaires and devotions on marriage, the pastor cleared his throat and said, "Let's start with this. A good marriage is like sandpaper. God will use your spouse to smooth out the rough edges in your character if you let Him." I thought that was a nice metaphor, but we were still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. I had no idea what it really meant.
Our first argument was about the bathroom towels. One evening he came out of the bathroom and said, "Okay, you have got to stop."
"You're hanging the towels wrong."
"What are you talking about?"
"The towels in the bathroom!"
I was hanging the towels "wrong." They were supposed to be hung on the bar so the folded edge faced the door. I stared at my new husband carefully creasing and smoothing our green bath towels and wondered for a moment if he'd lost his mind.
"Hubby, you're lucky I've hung them up at all, much less thought about which direction the fold faces."
"You can't keep doing this! It's wrong!"
After a good ten minutes of exasperated explanation on his part and incredulous laughter on mine, we came to a compromise of folding the towels in thirds so that no matter how I hung them, a creased edge would face the door. It was my first scrape against my husband's need for order and orderliness, and I caught a glimpse of what the pastor meant about sandpaper. It took us almost eight years to realize he was so picky about the towels because he was in the middle of Officer Candidate School where they had to make every room identical right down to the towels in the bathroom.
After ten years of marriage, there have been countless other scuffs and scratches. I'm a chatterbox while my hubby can go for hours without speaking. He is a calm even-keeled man who rarely gets angry. I'm easily excited, easily discouraged, and easily irritated. He likes to buy presents and treat our children and me to trips, meals, and other fun things. My friends tease me about my gargantuan collection of unused gift cards and my unspent Christmas money from 2014. I'm barely on time or late to every appointment. He's fifteen minutes early. Every argument or problem has exposed rough places.
Because of my husband, I realized I'm a really bad listener.
Because of him, I have had to apologize for laziness more times than I can count.
Because of him, I know just how arrogant I am and how much I need to learn humility.
Because of him, I have seen how my complaining made good jobs bad, bad jobs worse, and miserable situations almost unbearable.
Because of him, I was convicted that my temper wasn't under control, no matter how much I claimed it was.
Because of him, I have seen how ugly my heart can be.
After ten years we don't look like we did when we met in the lobby of the men's dorm as juniors, outside or inside. We have more wrinkles, gray hair, and scars. Our sandpaper hearts have been scraping against each other, scouring and scrubbing until we both have tender, even raw places in our souls. But this isn't the cold, unfeeling process of entropy. We are being shaped by the hand of the Carpenter, and the coming glory is worth the discomfort.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." -2 Corinthians 4:16-18