One of my earliest memories is staying at a neighbor’s house for a few days when my younger brother was born. Some of the new and unusual things that this family did created lasting memories in my impressionable four-year-old mind.
I remember how strange it seemed that they turned their chairs around at the kitchen table and knelt next to their chairs when they asked a blessing on their food instead of just folding their arms and bowing their heads as we did in our family.
Another thing that fascinated me was all the interesting and unique rocks the older gentleman had collected. There were geodes, all sorts of crystals, and buckets of polished stones. I wondered how any rock could become so smooth.
The neighbor must have sensed my bewilderment, so he showed me the tumbler that he used to polish the stones. It was a metal cylinder about eighteen inches long with lots of small holes around its circumference. The cylinder was placed horizontal to the ground and connected to a motor that rotated the cylinder. The cylinder had a flap that opened so that one could place objects inside. This opening could be latched shut so that the object placed inside the cylinder would not fall out while rotating.
This elderly neighbor explained to me that those really pretty smooth stones were simply ordinary rocks that had been polished in his tumbler. I am sure he recognized my skepticism, so he suggested we go outside and find some rocks together and put them inside the tumbler to prove to me that it actually worked the way he had explained.
We went outside and selected several ordinary-looking rocks of different shapes, colors, and sizes. We placed them inside the tumbler, and he turned it on. It did not spin very fast; it simply rotated at about the same speed of a clothes drier. Those rocks we had placed inside tumbled all around crashing into each other. After a few minutes, the neighbor showed me a few small specks of stone that had fallen out of the holes in the cylinder into a catch basin underneath it.
He explained to me that when the rocks hit each other as they tumbled inside the cylinder, the rough edges of one stone would chip off because of the impact that stone would have on the rough edges of another stone. He explained that through this process, all the stones would have all their rough edges knocked off, and they would eventually become smooth and polished like the stones I admired in his collection.
He went on to explain that this process did not happen overnight but would take time. A week or so later, he invited me back to show me the progress as those ordinary rocks I picked up in his yard became beautiful polished stones.
Over the years as I recalled this experience, I realized that it taught an important life lesson. We are each like those rough and jagged rocks I picked up in my neighbor’s yard as a young boy. God has placed us in this tumbler we call life, where we get knocked around by all the other thick-headed numbskulls we come in contact with each day. We all are irritated by the stupid and hurtful acts of other people. Sometimes it seems that the greatest irritation comes from dealing with the imperfections of members of our own family. What’s with this? Can’t other people be less irritating?
I have observed that much of the difficulty in interpersonal relationships stems from people being hypersensitive to the offenses that invariably flow from human interactions with other imperfect individuals. It is easy to focus on how wrong the offender’s actions were. They hurt us. So, our perspective becomes myopic, and all we see is the error of the other person.
Now, another big life lesson: whenever someone else does something that annoys us, instead of focusing on how wrong the other person is, we should look inside ourselves to figure out why it bothers us so much. After all, there are many things that are not right in the world that do not disturb us. So why did this particular action, as wrong as it was, irritate us? That is the right question.
If we are honest with ourselves, usually we will recognize that the reason someone else’s rough edge bothers us is because we have a rough edge of our own that conflicts with the other person’s. We have little or no control over others, but we ultimately have complete control over ourselves.
Consequently, if we learn to identify why something bothers us and then let it go, our rough edges will be chipped off. As life’s hard knocks chip away our imperfections, we will find that not only are we less bothered by other people’s imperfections, but we will also be less irritating to others.
The key, then, is to be willing to let go of our imperfections instead of holding on to them. We go through life holding on to things. As a babe, we held on to our mother’s blouse and our father’s finger. As a child, we held on to our toys and schoolbooks. Today, we are still holding on―holding on to our wallet, our job, you name it. We seem to be programmed to hold on to things, and the more personal, the tighter our grip.
Isaiah mentions that we carry our sins behind us with a cart rope. (Isaiah 5:18). This image has helped me a lot in learning how to let go of my issues and move on. Our sins generally result from us using inappropriate behavior to deal with some emotional issue or deficiency that we have. Accordingly, I view our emotional issues as the cart that we carry the heavy load of our sins in, and we pull both of them behind us with that rope Isaiah refers to.
Sometimes the burden of those emotional issues and accompanying sins seems almost too heavy to bear in order to move forward. But let go? No way! Why, those issues and sins are mine, and they are very personal to me. So, I tighten my grip on that rope and trudge along in life ever so slowly, making very little progress.
The sad point is, however, that while my hands are clenched around that rope, I am not open to receive the gifts of love that God offers me. We all need to learn to open up and let go of our past so that we can receive the blessings from God that he offers us right now.
I have found that the following exercise actually helps me let go and open up to receive God’s healing love. You may want to try it as well.
Think of some situation that upsets you, or think of the last time you did or said something you wish you had not. Take a few moments to identify what the underlying issue was that made you upset. Was it that someone did not value you? Did you feel abandoned? Were you nervous because you were not in control of the situation? Try to identify whatever the behavior was that upset you or that you are ashamed of, and try to tie it to some basic fear and its source from your childhood.
Now close your eyes and visualize that big cart loaded up with all the inappropriate behavior and emotional hurts from your past. Visualize that you are pulling that heavy cart up a hill, and you can hardly take another step because it is so heavy. Hold your closed fist out in front of you like you are pulling that rope with all your effort.
Now, slowly count—one, two, three—and open your hands. Visualize that rope slipping through your fingers. Turn and watch that cart and all your issues roll away. Now look forward with your hands opened out in front of you and visualize your Savior standing there with open arms to receive you.
Can you feel his love? Do you feel relieved of the burden you carried just a moment ago? If you felt your load lightened to any degree, you have found the source to heal your pain. Christ is the source to turn to for peace. He wants us to let go of our emotional garbage so that we can grab hold of the treasures of eternity that he offers us.
It usually does not happen all at once. My wife says it is like peeling onions. Once you finish one layer and you think you are done, there always seems to be another layer, and each layer seems to bring its own set of tears. But, in the process, we become more in touch with our emotions and experience greater joy and peace of mind. We are freed to love others more deeply and benefit from reciprocal loving relationships. We draw closer to God, and He is able to bless us with His healing Spirit.
I sincerely hope that we all will learn to let go and open up to God so that He can draw us near to Him and shine as polished gems in his hand.