4. The Sanding Queen: Taking off Layers of Gunk

We have officially started working on the kitchen. As in taking out walls (that was another chapter); but for the past few weekends, I’ve been sanding. Not just smoothing rough edges, but taking off 4 coats of paint and the original varnish of kitchen cabinets. Oh, did we dither (that’s another chapter too) about kitchen cabinets! They are so expensive, and I want white. The white cabinets that one can purchase at the big box stores are not wood: laminate, thermafoil, melamine, lacquer, acrylic–they have all sorts of fancy names and initials for what is really just plastic or junkboard. I’m a purist; I like real; I like old; I like authentic, and I wanted wood cabinets. The unfinished cabinets at Home Depot and Lowe’s are oak. It seemed a shame to buy oak cabinets and paint them white, so we haunted the Habitat for Humanity Restores and Construction Junction. It took several visits in all places–and we found some other cool stuff in the meantime–but one day we came upon Really. Ugly. Cabinets. They were so ugly, we almost passed them right by.

Looks like a square robot from The Flintstones to me…

But when we stopped and figured it out, they were almost a perfect fit for the sizes of cabinets that we needed. Straight out of the early fifties–made from sandable birch plywood all through, they weren’t quite the doors I wanted, but for $225 they will work. Since we saved so much money on cabinets, the plan now is to buy really expensive countertops!

So now I am the sanding queen. You know the song. Unfortunately the only words I know are the sanding queen, da da da da da, she’s the sanding queen, da da da da da da the sanding queen. I didn’t even know it was an Abba song until I saw Mamma Mia! with Meryl Streep. (In my defense, it probably came out in the late seventies, early eighties when I was busy with babies.)

My cabinet shop was on the back porch until this past weekend when the temperatures soared into the nineties, so I moved into the air conditioned comfort of the living room and contractor husband hooked up the sanders to a vacuum. It’s a complicated system of hoses and extension cords and duct tape, and they all get entangled with each other, but the dust is cut way down, and I can sometimes take off my mask.

Sanding is boring. The arm gets tired. The sander is loud. The vacuum is louder. The back starts to hurt. The mind wanders. There’s plenty of time for thinking, for praying, for counting blessings, for wondering, for comparing sanding to real life. Cleaning off layers of grime, old paint, and junk to expose the beautiful wood beneath. That’s what trying to live a holy life is like, isn’t it? Always we’re scraping off the gunk that the world leaves on us. Some of it’s been there for years–applied incorrectly, but still it sticks until we really try to scrape it off. And, oh boy, is it hard to get out of the corners! I’m thinking of the book I read last year called Somewhere More Holy by Tony Woodlief. It is some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read; he talks about home being where the sacred and the mundane meet when we search for God in the small everyday things–like sanding, like cleaning, like taking something ugly and reclaiming it. Next weekend I’m going to be sanding again. And the week after. And the week after. I’m sure I’ll tire of it. I just have to keep remembering what the finished product will be. Beautiful. Free of gunk. As good as I can make it.

The trouble with all metaphors is that they break down at some point. And here is where this breaks down: In a faithful life of belief, we don’t do the sanding or cleaning or scraping off of gunk ourselves. God does it. And it’s sometimes painful, repetitive, boring…I’m reminded of how many times I don’t learn the same lesson. That gunk of the world is still stuck in my corners, and God must be just about at His wit’s end with me. Really, Carol? How many times have I tried to teach you that? And our best response is the same as blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-48) and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

But the best news is that Jesus will never give up on us no matter how many times we forget, or screw up, or just get tired. Even when we are not faithful, he is. Jesus was faithful when he went to the Cross for us; he was faithful when he taught the disciples the same lesson over and over; he is patient even when we are not. His love for us was and is deeply personal and indescribable, and we could never in an eternity pay him back. In return, we owe him honor and praise and obedience–not to earn his favor, but  to be thankful for his patience and faithfulness to us sinners.

The really hard question here is how do we become more holy? And of course, that question is fraught with paradoxes: We can’t try to become more holy to save ourselves; and we can’t pat ourselves on the back for the things we finally manage to get right; and we shouldn’t try to be holy just for holiness’ sake. So how do we clarify that desire to be holy to please the God who died so we could take on His righteousness? Obedience and conduct and love,  1 Peter tells us in verses 14 and 22 of chapter 1. Don’t be conformed to the world and your passions. (Paul tells us almost the same thing in Romans 12:2) Holiness is to be set apart–to be like Jesus, loving as He loved. Peter uses familial language here–invoking the love of God our Father– and calling us to be obedient to Him as we would to our parents; not to earn His favor, but to reflect Him, and love Him, and be thankful to Him for His mercy.

The same cabinet as above, sanded clean and repainted…

Every day we must give up our own will, our ambitions, our possessions, our pride–and confess our sins–so Christ will heal us anew. Only he can peel off the layers of dirt and sin to expose who we are really designed to be underneath. Everyone knows that if you don’t get all that old paint, varnish, and gunk off before you repaint, the job will be botched and the piece ruined. Are we willing to undergo the pain of the peeling and burnishing of our souls to be ultimately refined and made holy by God? Jesus went to the Cross for us, are we brave and courageous enough to be reclaimed by Christ?


For Further Study, Read 1 Peter 1:13-25

Questions to think about:

  • The other common metaphor for God cleansing our sins is peeling an onion. When each layer is peeled off, there is another layer of sin. And tears. Like sanding off layers of paint and varnish to expose the beautiful wood underneath, sanding off the layers of sin involves patience and sometimes feeling as if you can’t breathe. It also involves fresh coats of varnish or paint to protect that clean precious wood. What steps can we take for protection against our most common sins?
  • Verse 15 in 1 Peter reads, “…but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct….” Sometimes, many times, I just feel as if holiness is something that totally eludes me and that I am making no progress toward a holy life. Is there a cure for this? Surely, I am not the only one who feels this way; what do you do?
  • Here’s a paperwork assignment: Read the 1 Peter section of Chapter 1 above (entitled Be Holy) and write down all the concrete ways he gives us to help us in becoming holy. The section of Ephesians 4 & 5 — Living as Children of Light or Instructions for Christian Living–also gives us concrete ways of life to adopt for holiness. Check those out again, too.
  • Another thought — my go-to remembrance verse is in this section too: “…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ…” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

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